Public Service Commission
State deserves honest advocates
Florida consumers should be aware of troubling actions by elected officials that are putting their financial interests in jeopardy. Specifically, the Public Service Commission has and continues to be under siege by powerful utility companies with the assistance of some legislators. There is no clearer example than the recent rejection of the Public Service Commission nominees David Klement and Steve Stevens.
I strongly believe that it is vital for ratepayers to have public service commissioners who are honest, fair and responsible, and Commissioners Klement and Stevens fulfilled those qualities. Not only were they blocked from service because of their opposition to unjustified utility increases, but the Legislature also chose to block Commissioners Nancy Argenziano and Nathan Skop. These two commissioners have served Florida consumers well, offering candid, truthful, and most importantly, ethical voices on the commission. I am truly disappointed they will not have the opportunity to be reappointed.
The decision of the Legislature to block these consumer-friendly voices could not come at a worse time as individuals, families and businesses struggle under financial strains due to the economy. As we recover, we need to ensure that Floridians are able to afford everyday services and need to nominate and appoint people who understand the responsibility of the position they hold.
I am calling on the Public Service Nominating Council to put politics aside and nominate commissioners who will serve as consumer advocates and put in place much needed consumer protections so we can continue to keep Florida affordable for our people. The people of Florida are counting on us to create an environment of trust.
Charlie Crist, governor, state of Florida
State pension boss mixes public, private dealings | July 4
Pension fund shouldn't be put in jeopardy
What is Ash Williams doing to our pension system? Is there no one to stop his deliberate bad choices for our pension and its future? He needs to be fired and replaced with a competent money manager, and the board of Gov. Charlie Crist, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum needs to get off their duffs and do their jobs.
All the experts say not to invest in what Williams says is not a conflict (his associates and friends), but if not for the St. Petersburg Times and the articles they have written about what is happening to our pension plan — who knows? — the fund may go from one of the best in the nation to where Social Security is today because the politicians put their hands and wisdom on it. Get him out of there before it is too late.
Vince Bentivegna, Tampa
State pension boss mixes public, private dealings | July 4, story
It's the obliviousness
So, Ash Williams Jr., the guy in charge of Florida's pension fund, sees no conflict of interest when he invests $100 million of state money in a hedge fund company run by his buddies?
I think the biggest problem is that he doesn't think there is a problem!
Bob Gray, Lakeland
State pension boss mixes public, private dealings | July 4, story
The story on Ash Williams and the State Board of Administration's management of the Florida pension fund for 1 million beneficiaries is another solid investigative coup by the Times. My impression is that at a minimum Williams requires more oversight and stronger regulation and possibly an opportunity to resign. It's amazing that the state Cabinet will not speak openly to the Times about apparent findings that Williams offers business opportunities to friends with retiree assets for which he is a fiduciary.
The potential conflict of interest you turn up reminds me of the similar investigations in New York involving "pay to play" and the changing policies of CalPERS (the California Public Employees' Retirement System) because of bad investment experiences with hedge funds and private equity funds.
Williams has a background suggesting competence in investment, but a flexible and opportunistic approach to dealing with friends. Given the stain created by the recession and the excesses in the financial services industry, the Times should not have to cover a story like this. Unchecked power is proving to be a troublemaker in too many areas, and I would like to see my wife continue to draw her retirement from the state.
James R. Gillespie, St. Petersburg
State pension fund
Keep an eye on them
As a retired teacher and taxpayer I was pleasantly surprised that you folks are making public (thank you very much) the probable mishandling of our pension funds. If we don't notify the politicians and particularly Ash Williams of our concern for their lack of concern about how they mismanage public money, then we are all responsible.
Hold these people, who are responsible for making intelligent decisions (yeah, right, like that will ever happen) to a higher standard. Or at least let them know that we are watching them. Thanks to the Times keeping us informed.
Jeanne Kyle, Dunedin
Southern memory and Byrd | July 4, Bill Maxwell column
Bill Maxwell, one of my favorite columnists, writes: "(The late Sen. Robert) Byrd, the one-time segregationist, changed for the better. And like his beloved South, he will always be an enigma."
Get real. Byrd was a staunch racist and segregationist until, after years of bitter campaigning and suffering, the African-Americans got the vote in the South. He realized that the Democratic Party needed their votes. He immediately flip-flopped and voted for whatever they wanted. There was nothing "enigmatic" about it.
The irony is that, despite the best efforts of the Dixiecrats to reform, the South is now largely Republican. They were too late.
Pete Wilford, Holiday
Declaration of women's independence July 4, Robyn Blumner column
Society has changed considerably since 1848, and so has the vulnerability of women in it. Robyn Blumner's exorcism concerning the lack of equality for women then and later overlooks the standard violence of life then and women's need for protection.
Have conditions improved today? Yes, but in what ways? Law and order are more sophisticated, although violence is equally so. Women's rights have been legally established and women participate much more fully in the political and business life of the nation. But is that what they really desire?
W.H. Riddell, Tampa
Palette of oil and gloom | July 6
Charming, and in crisis
This was a wonderful article by Jeff Klinkenberg. My family and I just returned from St. George Island, near Apalachicola. I twice visited the coffee shop he mentioned. The artist, unknown to me at the time, served me. Before he waited on me I was struck by the art, his art, on the walls. The BP logo as the sun, the logo as a ghost over Apalach, as it is known by locals. And Apalach was a ghost town.
Fourth of July is usually their busiest weekend. Not so this year. Many cancellations. But we went anyway. Yes, the art is impressive, the architecture and ambiance quaint. "Why can't Clearwater be this cute?" my daughter asked. Another whole story.
One last comment: I learned proper verbiage. There has been no oil spill. The folks in the Panhandle call it a gusher. As it truly is.
Lorelei Keif, Clearwater