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Benjamin “Steve” Stevens’

Crist taps two new utility regulators

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist selected two new utility regulators, including West Palm Beach assistant city administrator Eduardo Balbis, to fill upcoming vacancies on the Public Service Commission.

Crist also tapped Julie I. Brown, a former city attorney for Tampa.

Balbis, 38, is an environmental engineer who has worked for West Palm Beach since 2008. He’s also a member of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning council and serves as chairman of the East Central Regional Water Reclamation Facility Board.

Brown, 35, is associate legal counsel for First American Corporation and also is the sole owner of J.T. Swann Realty Inc.

The new commissioners will fill the seats of current PSC Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano, a former state senator, and Nathan Skop, an engineer, attorney and MBA. Skop and Argenziano, whose terms expire in January, were outspoken critics of the PSC and were not among the candidates selected by the PSC Nominating Council for reappointment.

Crist passed over Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, who led the PSC Nominating Council until he resigned to apply for one of the PSC posts, and former PSC Executive Director Mary Bane.

Bane was in charge during a PSC scandal involving staffers sending secret BlackBerry messages to utility employees during rate increase hearings last fall.

The Senate must confirm Crist’s new hires. Last year, they refused to confirm two of his picks – Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, a Panhandle bar owner and accountant and David Klement, a newspaper editorial writer.

UPDATE:Senate sends Crist’s Public Service Commissioners packing

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Read Commissioner David Klement’s response saying “this whole process is a farce” after the jump.

The Florida Senate refused to confirm two of Gov. Charlie Crist’s utility regulators after a heated debate on the Senate floor this afternoon.

The Senate’s action means the two will not fill out the remainder of their Public Service Commission terms, unlike other gubernatorial appointees, and came in the shadow of Crist’s veto of GOP-backed SB 6, the controversial teacher merit pay plan.

Lawmakers will have 30 days to meet and provide another list of three names for each PSC slot and give them to Crist, who makes the final selection.

Opponents of Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, a Panhandle accountant and co-owner of a bar, and David Klement, a former newspaper editorial writer, said the two are not qualifed to serve on the commission that sets billions of dollars in utility rates.

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Guv’s utility regulators could be sent home

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010 by Dara Kam

GOP Senate leaders refused to sign off on two of Gov. Charlie Crist’s appointees to the Public Service Commission and the likelihood of the pair getting confirmation from the Senate required for them to stay on the job is dim.

Committee chairman J.D. Alexander, who is also the Senate’s powerful budget chief and has long been at odds with Crist, abruptly called an end to the meeting this morning with three minutes left on the clock as the panel was in the midst of interrogating Commissioner David Klement.

That drew the wrath of Sen. Mike Fasano, a Crist supporter who has been a vocal critic of the PSC but praised Crist’s latest appointees. An irate Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said Alexander was “rude” and “inappropriate” to cut off the meeting before voting on the appointees.

Alexander denied that the failure to confirm Crist’s appointees was political retribution against Crist, who alienated GOP leaders with his veto of SB 6 and increasing speculation that he is going to break away from the Republican Party and run as independent in the U.S. Senate race against primary opponent Marco Rubio.

Alexander’s committee isn’t scheduled to meet again before the session ends on April 30, and the budget chief doesn’t appear interested in keeping Crist’s picks on the panel.

He said that Klement, a former editorial writer, and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, a Panhandle bar owner and accountant, are unqualified to regulate billions of dollars in utility rate because they lack financial expertise.

The committee unanimously approved nearly four dozen other gubernatorial appointees before taking up the PSC appointments but left Klement and Stevens for last.

“I think we need more time to consider whether these folks are qualified. I don’t think these folks are qualified,” Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said.

New utility reg chairwoman says big changes not likely

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commission Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano began her first day as head of the utility regulatory panel by suggesting that her colleagues conduct themselves like judges.

Argenziano, a former state legislator, took over as chairwoman this morning and Panhandle accountant Benjamin “Steve” Stevens was sworn in as the newest commissioner as the panel prepares to vote on nearly $2 billion in power rate hikes next week.

Argenziano kicked off this morning’s meeting by handing out the code of judicial conduct to the other four members of the PSC in an effort to place more distance between the commissioners and their staff and the utilities they oversee.

She wants all communications placed in writing and entered into the public record in cases pending before the PSC.

The quasi-judicial panel is considering imposing changes to its own ethical standards while awaiting possible legislative changes to how the commission operates regarding communications between the utilities and the PSC.

But Argenziano, a Republican from Dunedin appointed to the PSC by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007, wants broader changes in the way potential commissioners are selected by a committee comprised largely of legislators. Those suggestions are then given to the governor, who makes the final decision.

Argenziano objects to the legislature’s influence on the selections because, she says, House and Senate leaders are dependent on campaign contributions from the utilities.

She wants the panel to become part of the court system and have commissioners appointed by either the Cabinet or the attorney general or a smaller group that would be more accountable to consumers, she said.

But lawmakers are unlikely to cede their power over the PSC, Argenziano admitted.

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Revamped utility reg panel back at work today

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010 by Dara Kam

A consumer-friendly former legislator with a reputation for bucking the system takes over as head of the panel that sets billions of dollars in utility rates, including a pending $1.2 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike request, today.

Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano will become chairwoman of the agency that will now bear the brand of Gov. Charlie Crist who selected four of the five members of the panel and reappointed one previously picked by his predecessor Jeb Bush.

Also new to the regulatory panel: Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, a Panhandle accountant and co-owner of a bar catering to the college crowd.
Stevens, Crist’s latest appointment, joins the PSC just a week before the regulators are set to make two important votes: the FPL rate increase and a $500 million Progress Energy Florida rate hike request.

Commissioner David Klement, a retired newspaperman who spent more than three decades as an editorial writer, joined the panel late in October.

Argenziano, a former legislator with a reputation as a feisty maverick unafraid of defying the status quo, has vowed to clean up the embattled agency blackened by allegations of improper communications and relationships between agency staff and representatives of the utilities they oversee.

(more…)

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