The lawyer who represents consumers in utility cases said Monday that socializing between a telephone lobbyist and two members of the state's utility panel raises questions about the officials' impartiality. The consumer representative, Public Counsel Jack Shreve, wrote a letter to panel members Thomas M. Beard and Michael M. Wilson, asking them to step aside in an upcoming case involving the lobbyist's company.
Beard and Wilson are members of the Florida Public Service Commission, which decides how much telephone and electric companies can charge.
The lobbyist, Robert L. McCullers, represents United Telephone Co., which serves the Orlando area. McCullers recently testified that he bought ski-lift tickets for Beard and Wilson at a Utah resort in early 1989.
At the time, Beard and Wilson were taking a weeklong vacation at a ski resort in Park City, Utah, prior to a conference. McCullers, using company money, also stayed at the resort, trying to get to know the two commissioners better, he testified.
The two commissioners have denied taking any gifts from McCullers. Beard, who is chairman of the PSC, said he might have accepted alift ticket from McCullers as a matter of convenience, but reimbursed him for it. On Monday, Beard said he had given Shreve's letter to PSC lawyers for review.
In his letter, Shreve said McCullers' alleged payments "affect the appearance of your ability to impartially decide" the upcoming case.
"I believe the commission should be sensitive to these matters in order to provide confidence to the public about the decisions the commission makes," he said.