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Public Service Commissioner Katrina McMurrian resigns after Gov. Crist doesn't reappoint her

TALLAHASSEE — Public Service Commissioner Katrina McMurrian resigned from the embattled state utility regulation board Monday, three months before her term expires, after Gov. Charlie Crist failed to reappoint her last week.

In her resignation letter to Crist, McMurrian cited the governor's request that the PSC postpone decisions on increasing base rates for Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light until his two new commissioners begin their jobs in January.

"I respect this request and want to ensure that the new commission is positioned to set the course for the agency, one guided by different leadership," McMurrian wrote.

On Thursday, Crist bypassed both McMurrian and commission Chairman Matthew Carter for reappointment when he named David Klement and Benjamin "Steve" Stevens to the five-member PSC, saying, "It was time to clean house."

He said he hoped the remaining commissioners would be more consumer-friendly. Crist previously had appointed Commissioners Nancy Argenziano and Nathan Skop to the panel; in January, he reappointed Lisa Edgar, originally named to the panel by Gov. Jeb Bush.

Crist doesn't have the authority to name a temporary replacement for McMurrian's seat without first receiving nominations from the PSC nominating council. On Monday, Crist asked the council to give him three names immediately. If the council supplies him with the names of Klement and Stevens, he could appoint one of them to finish McMurrian's term before starting his own four-year term.

Carter said Monday through a spokeswoman and that he has "no intention of resigning," opening the possibility of a tie vote on PSC issues until Crist fills McMurrian's spot.

Also on Monday, Sen. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican and outspoken critic of the PSC, called for another commissioner — Edgar — to resign. Fasano was the lone vote against Edgar during her Senate confirmation hearings in the spring.

"As a sitting commissioner who has been privy to the ongoing day-to-day operations of the PSC, you know better than anyone that the PSC lacks leadership in this time of turmoil and crisis," he wrote in a letter to Edgar.

McMurrian's resignation comes after her refusal last month to remove herself from FPL's $1.3 billion rate case after consumer advocate Steve Stewart accused her of improperly serving on a panel with one of the company's top executives and attending a dinner with him. She apologized, saying her actions created a "cloud" over the commission, but insisted she could remain impartial.

The governor's request to postpone the decisions on rate increases — both Progress and FPL are asking for about 30 percent increases in their base rates — is still being reviewed by the PSC legal staff, said Carter's spokeswoman, Cindy Muir.

For the past two months, the panel has been shrouded by allegations that commissioners and staff members have become too close to the utilities they regulate. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating.

McMurrian is prohibited by law from working for the utility industry for two years after leaving the regulatory panel. In the past, however, several former commissioners have avoided the ban by joining law firms that work for the utility industry.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com.

Public Service Commissioner Katrina McMurrian resigns after Gov. Crist doesn't reappoint her 10/05/09 [Last modified: Monday, October 5, 2009 9:23pm]
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