PSC Chairman bans Blackberry PINsby Dara Kam | September 9th, 2009
Public Service Commission Chairman Matthew Carter today banned the use of all communication or messaging by the utility regulators and their staff other than e-mail until an internal investigation is complete.
One PSC aide was fired and two others, including Carter’s, were placed on administrative leave after it was revealed that the aides gave their Blackberry personal identification numbers (PINs) to a Florida Power & Light Co. lawyer.
PINs are messages that can be exchanged between Blackberry users without creating a public record.
The communication controversy is taking place against the backdrop of two hearings that involve FPL: a proposed $1.3 billion rate hike and a proposed $63 million increase to cover the costs of nuclear power plant enhancements not yet built.
“We are all aware of the controversy which has arisen regarding use of communications technologies within the Commission. While we are currently conducting a review of these technologies and how they relate to maintaining public records, I am directing that pending the outcome of this review the Commission should disable all communications or messaging capabilities that are not captured through our existing e-mail system,” Carter wrote to the PSC commissioners in an e-mail sent today.
Commissioner Lisa Edgar, who put her aide Roberta Bass on leave after it was reported that Bass gave her own and Edgar’s PINs to an FPL exec, requested the IT review.
Carter said he believes the PSC use of the Blackberries – which allow the PINs and instant messages that also leave no paper trail – are used the way other state agencies use them.
“But we have an obligation to ensure that recordkeeping and public records requirements are clearly and consistently applied. Upon the conclusion of our review, we will develop policies as warranted to provide necessary guidance to Commission staff,” he wrote.
The FPL rate hearing was delayed after the commission learned that its lobbyist, Ryder Rudd, had attended a Kentucky Derby party at the Palm Beach Gardens home of FPL VP Ed Tancer. An internal investigation could not prove that Rudd had broken any laws or rules. Ryder resigned yesterday.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is conducting an investigation into the PSC’s relationship with the utilities it regulates. And Commissioner Nancy Argenziano, who fired her aide Larry Harris for giving out his Blackberry PIN, has asked for a grand jury investigation.
Sen. Mike Fasano also wants the Senate to hold hearings on what he suspects is the cozy relationship between the commission and its staff and the utilities.