Argenziano: The people think we suck!by Dara Kam | September 15th, 2009
Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano summed up her view of the public’s view of the regulatory panel mired in controversy while considering a proposed $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike.
“The perception of people out there – they think we suck,” said Argenziano, a former state senator who is asking for a grand jury investigation into possible misconduct in the regulatory agency.
“Is that a technical term?” asked PSC Chairman Matthew Carter.
“That’s my technical term,” retorted Argenziano.
Argenziano participated by telephone in the panel’s discussion about how to handle what they called a “spaghetti bowl” of ethical questions about the regulators’ relationships with the utilities they oversee.
Commissioner Nathan Skop offered an unlikely solution: move the agency out from beneath the governor, who now appoints the five-member panel.
“A lot of these problems could be solved if the commission were in fact in the judicial branch of government. All of this nonsense would stop,” Skop said.
Skop then launched into a scathing rebuke of the transgressions that have been reported over the past few weeks.
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate for utilities to recommend commissioners to serve on committees. I also don’t believe it’s appropriate for regulated utilities to recommend commissioners for speaking engagements. And I certainly do not think that it is appropriate for utilities to engage in ex parte communications during regulatory proceedings subject to appellate review by the Florida Supreme Court,” Skop said. “Both the Florida Bar and the Florida Supreme Court would find this conduct completely unacceptable.”
One of the intervenors in the case yesterday filed a motion to disqualify McMurrian from voting because she was a panelist at an energy conference in New York after being recommended by a utility official. Some of the issues discussed at the conference came up during the rate case, possibly violating “ex parte communication” laws restricting communications between the regulators and the utilities about a pending rate case, Stephen Stewart charged yesterday.
The night before the New York conference, McMurrian dined at a steak dinner with other panelists, including an FPL executive.
A tearful McMurrian pleaded with her colleagues to “give me the benefit of the doubt” after Skop’s comments.
McMurrian, who has worked for the PSC for 15 years, said that state law prohibited her from speaking about the allegations so she could not defend herself.
“When I hear things about my colleagues or staff I try to give those people the benefit of the doubt,” said McMurrian, whose term ends on Jan. 1 and is up for reappointment.
“I believe that I have held myself with honor in this job. I’m very aware of the things that are going on…I care about this place. I care about all of you. And I truly want the best for it. And that’s whether I’m here or not,” she said.