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Utility regulators cleared of wrongdoing…again

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 by Dara Kam

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement found no evidence of wrongdoing in the exchange of BlackBerry messages between utility regulators or their staff and utility officials.

FDLE issued the three-page report today, long after Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs also found no laws had been broken.

The report was released as the Public Service Commission held a workshop to discuss a 17-year-old statewide grand jury report recommending changes to how information between the PSC and the utilities is exchanged to clear up the perception that there isn’t enough distance between the regulators and the utilities they regulate.

The PSC has operated under a cloud of suspicion since late this summer at the beginning of hearings on Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.2 billion rate hike.

On the opening day of the hearing, it was revealed that the agency’s lobbyist Ryder Rudd had attended a Kentucky Derby party at the Palm Beach Gardens home of FPL VP Ed Tancer. Rudd later quit.

Two commissioners suspended their aides for swapping BlackBerry messages with an FPL lawyer and another fired hers for giving his secret BlackBerry identification number (PIN) to an FPL lawyer.

Argenziano: AIF accusations “baseless” and “stupid”

Thursday, October 15th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano dismissed a business-backed group’s demand for an investigation into her BlackBerry messages with her former aide as ridiculous and an attempt to intimidate her.

“It’s highly suspicious and rather stinky at this point,” Argenziano said.

Associated Industries of Florida President Barney Bishop today asked for a PSC inspector general investigation into thousands of messages exchanged between Argenziano and Larry Williams, a former aide whom Argenziano fired for giving his secret BlackBerry personal identification number to a Florida Power & Light Co. attorney.

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Lopez-Cantera joins AIF demand for utility reg investigation

Thursday, October 15th, 2009 by Dara Kam

State Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera joined the call for an internal investigation into BlackBerry messages sent by utility regulators.

Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, serves on the Public Service Commission Nominating Council that selects who gets to serve on the regulatory panel. The governor makes the final picks.

“The PIN messages sent and received by Commissioner Nancy Argenziano and released by the PSC, coupled with their discussion of private emails so far unreleased and sent to non-public accounts in an attempt to evade public scrutiny, raise serious questions about Commissioner Argenziano’s impartiality and her ability to give a fair hearing to those appearing before her,” Lopez-Cantera wrote in a statement distributed to the media.

Earlier today, Associated Industries of Florida President Barney Bishop demanded the PSC’s inspector general check out Commissioner Nancy Argenziano’s BlackBerry PIN messages.

Bishop said Argenziano may have broken rules restricting communications between the regulators and the utilities and may have acted in a manner unbecoming a commissioner, a violation of her oath of office.

It’s no surprise that Lopez-Cantera has jumped on the Argeziano attack wagon.
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“Sunshine tech team” gets PIN lessons Wednesday

Monday, October 12th, 2009 by Dara Kam

What’s a high-tech public servant to do when tweets, PINs or texts clash with Florida’ broad public records laws?

Get schooled.

That’s what Attorney General Bill McCollum’s is aiming for with a new task force designed to aid elected officials and their staff navigate in the Sunshine in a world where old-fashioned telephone calls are nearly obsolete.

McCollum, whose office is in charge of ensuring that elected officials comply with the state’s open records laws, created the task force last month in the wake of reports that Public Service Commission staff were using the BlackBerry PIN codes to swap secret messages with workers at the utilities the PSC oversees.

McCollum’s Sunshine Technology Team, headed by the attorney general’s top lieutenant Joe Jacquot, will be briefed at its first meeting Wednesday afternoon by Research in Motion, the Canadian computer company that makes the BlackBerry operating system.

The tech team includes a handful of state agencies’ open government liaisons as well as open records advocates such as Sharyn Smith, a former assistant attorney general who litigated landmark public records and open meetings cases for former Attorney General Robert Shevin.

Utility regulators to consider plan to restore public trust

Monday, September 14th, 2009 by Dara Kam

The Public Service Commission tomorrow will discuss a proposal to require all communications between the regulatory panel and the utilities it oversees in writing.

The discussion comes amid a firestorm of criticism about commissioners’ aides swapping secret Blackberry codes with a Florida Power & Light Co. attorney that would allow them to communicate without creating a public record, even during hearings.

Commissioner Nancy Argenziano fired her aide for giving his Blackberry personal identification number – PIN – to FPL lawyer Natalie Smith and two other commissioners, including Chairman Matthew Carter, suspended theirs with pay for doing the same thing.

PSC Commissioner Katrina McMurrian

PSC Commissioner Katrina McMurrian

Commissioner Katrina McMurrian, who is not involved in the secret message melee, late Friday issued a proposal “to restore the public trust” as controversies involving the agency continue to make daily headlines.

Discussion of her proposal was added late this evening to the panel’s internal affairs agenda slated for tomorrow.

McMurrian is the target of a different conflict-of-interest criticism. An intervenor in FPL’s proposed $1.3 billion base rate hike case asked that she be disqualified from voting because she had hobnobbed with FPL executives during a conference in New York earlier this year.

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