TALLAHASSEE — A water utilities veteran who has spent a career navigating the water wars of Tampa Bay was named Florida's next public service commissioner late Thursday by Gov. Rick Scott.
Donald Polmann, 59, who has twice been on the short list of nominees to come before the governor, will replace Lisa Edgar for the four-year term on the state utilities board beginning Jan. 2. Edgar, 53, is retiring after 12 years on the board.
Polmann is Scott's fourth appointment to the influential five-member panel that has the power to raise or lower customer utility bills. The four-year term pays $131,000 a year.
For the first time, the governor did not select a legislative insider or incumbent to the post, as he did when he reappointed Edgar in 2012 and subsequently reappointed Public Service Commission members Art Graham and Ron Brise to second terms, and named former state House Rep. Jimmy Patronis to an open seat. All were candidates preferred by the state's politically powerful utility giants, which were among the largest contributors to Scott's re-election bid in 2014.
Polmann was one of the finalists recommended in 2012 when Scott reappointed Edgar and again in 2013 when the governor reappointed Brise and Graham.
Polmann received his bachelor's degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, his master's degree from the University of Florida and a doctorate in civil engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Polmann served as director of science and engineering at Tampa Bay Water, a regional water supply authority. He has spent most of his 30-year career focused on drinking water regulation and protection.
Polmann, who is self-employed as a consultant in civil and environmental engineering, has the support of state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. In a letter of recommendation on Polmann's behalf, Latvala said he had known Polmann, a constituent, for 15 years and that Polmann "was a major player in the transformation of Tampa Bay Water from the previous agency, the West Coast Regional Water Authority."
Scott choose Polmann over two other candidates, Gainesville City Commission member Todd Chase and Florida SouthWestern State College professor Cynthia Wilson Orndoff. He must be confirmed by the Florida Senate for his term to be official.
In his interview before the PSC nominating council Aug. 18, Polmann said his "family heritage in construction and blue collar work" will inform his outlook as well as his experience as a water manager.
"On one hand, I've witnessed the struggles of making ends meet, both at home and in the family business, in a tough economy,'' he said. "How can we possibly raise utility rates with those conditions prevalent in so many places in our communities? On the other hand, we find infrastructure in our cities and towns throughout our state sorely in need of repair, replacement, upgrade, and yes, expansion, as our state's economy grows."
"… We've been seeing more and water breaks, sewer plant overflows, power outages, etc. — quality of service — and reliability must be addressed,'' he said.
He added that his expertise in water and environmental resource management, operations research, risk and uncertainty, regulatory and policy compliance, quality assurance and strategic planning, and the state's Sunshine Law will serve him well to find the balance between competing issues and interests, including utility investors.
The PSC is an agency that reports to and is funded by the Legislature, but commissioners are appointed by the governor after receiving a list of recommendations from the PSC's nominating council, which is dominated by legislators.
Contact Mary Ellen Klas at email@example.com. Follow @MaryEllenKlas.