PSC staffer used “poor judgment” at PBC Kentucky Derby partyby Dara Kam | September 2nd, 2009
A Public Service Commission staffer used “poor judgment” but an internal investigation did not conclude that he broke the law by attending a Kentucky Derby party at the home of a utility company executive.
But at least one PSC commissioner, Nathan Skop, demanded that PSC Office of Strategic Analysis and Government Affairs Ryder Rudd resign anyway.
Rudd went to a party at the Palm Beach Gardens home of Florida Power & Light Co. general counsel and VP Ed Tancer. Rudd oversees a staff of 28, some of whom are working on two FPL cases – a proposed rate hike and a natural gas pipeline.
The panel learned on the first day of the rate hearing last Monday of Rudd’s attendance at the party. Rudd had called several members of the panel over the weekend. He was removed from the FPL cases while the agency’s inspector general conducted an investigation, the results of which were released today.
Meanwhile, Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials are looking into a complaint, spokeswoman Heather Smith said. But she said the agency was not conducting a formal investigation.
“We are reviewing the information we have. At this time it does not appear to rise to the level of a criminal issue. We are still doing some additional work to determine what the next steps might be,” Smith said.
PSC Commissioner Nancy Argenziano said the incident looks bad and Rudd failed to use common sense in going to the party.
“Darn right there should be an investigation,” Argenziano said.
Ethics complaints have been filed against two PSC commissioners, including Katrina McMurrian, who is accused of dining with officials of the utilities she regulaties.
“Did they do anything intentionally inappropriate? I can’t say that. But does it look good?” Argenziano said.
Rudd and his wife attended the party for one and a half hours, he told PSC Inspector General Steven Stolting, according to Stolting’s report.
Rudd said he reimbursed Tancer $50 in cash the next day but had no record or receipt of the payment, Stolting wrote.
At issue is whether Rudd broke rules prohibiting staff from accepting gifts from those whose cases they are involved with and another that bars any communication between staff and parties whose cases are currently under consideration.
“We concluded that attendance by Mr. Rudd at the party, although not specifically prohibited by law or rule, constituted poor judgment and could create negative perceptions given the pendency of FPL docketed matters for which Mr. Rudd and his staff had responsibility.In addition, it presented circumstances which could result in violations of administrative rules restricting communication between Commission staff and parties to docketed proceedings and prohibiting acceptance of gifts by Commission staff,” Stolting found.
Skop called Rudd’s behavior “a clear cut ethics problem and perception issue” in a written statement.
“I would also note that the Executive Director previously spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to hire an ethics consultant to provide ethics training to Commission employees. The SGA director received this training,” Skop went on.
Skop asked that Rudd, who went to work for the PSC late in 2007, be fired immediately.