Gov. Charlie Crist told lawmakers to keep the state’s Public Counsel J.R. Kelly, who represents consumers in utility cases, on the job.
Kelly’s tenure appears to be in question because the Joint Committee on Public Counsel Oversight last week decided to take applications for his post – on the heels of two high-profile wins for Kelly before the Public Service Commission that saved Florida consumers more than $1 billion.
Kelly, appointed by the legislature in 2007, is a “prepared, competent, and compassionate advocate for consumers,” Crist wrote to the committee in a memo released this evening.
“I want to commend him, not only for the preparation of the two significant cases before the Public Service Commission, but also for the outstanding work he has done over the years,” Crist wrote.
St. Petersburg Times columnist Howard Troxler linked Senate President Jeff Atwater with the move to oust Kelly, which Atwater denied when asked what he has against the consumer advocate.
“Nothing! Nothing at all,” Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, said this week. “There wasn’t any evidence to suggest that. Only that there was a committee that was acting in a certain way and so someone had to take the whack for it. And so sure enough, (Troxler) whacked me. I have not said one word to any member of that committee as to any displeasure or disappointment I would have of the sitting public counsel.”
Atwater said the committee could not have reconsidered Kelly for the job in the midst of the controversial rate cases, including Florida Power & Light’s proposed $1.2 billion rate hike. The PSC shot that down instead granted the Juno Beach-based utility a $75.5 million-a-year increase, viewed by many as a victory for Kelly.
“Imagine if that committee had gone in in November and chosen not to re-up him with those rate cases pending. Pow. Rockets. So. What the legislature did was not act. This is too important. This man is out there fighting as public counsel on behalf of the public. So delay your time,” Atwater said.
The committee, led by Sen. Lee Constantine, last week discussed the applications and the process of interviewing candidates, Atwater said.
“So once you start that process then the criticism comes that it’s about Mr. Kelly.…but for heaven’s sakes at some point you need to address the process. We’ve now concluded…that a two-year term for the public counsel is too short a period of time to be able to act independently and not be acting in a way that you might see that around every corner is the reappointment of your job,” Atwater said.
“There’s been no discussion in the senate to oust Mr. Kelly whatsoever. I would venture to guess that Mr. Kelly’s going to remain as public counsel,” he went on.
Atwater said he and others want to prolong the two-year term.
“So merely the discussion of that drew the conclusion from some that people wanted Mr. Kelly out. Certainly not myself. I’ve never expressed that to a soul. And I think Mr. Troxler had an opportunity and he took it. And I have no qualms about that. That’s how the process works. I sit in this seat,” Atwater said.