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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.

Senate signs off on Crist PSC picks – for now

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee gave a preliminary nod to Gov. Charlie Crist’s two latest picks for the Public Service Commission, David Klement and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens.

But, judging from the questions and comments at this morning’s hearings, the new utility regulators who helped kill two proposed rate hikes – including Florida Power & Light Co.’s requested $1.2 billion increase – have a ways to go.

“This is the first step in a very long process,” said chairman Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.

The committee gave the pair a preliminary nod with an 8-1 vote. Sen. Chris Smith, a black Democrat from Ft. Lauderdale, voted against the appointees because, he said, there are no minorities on the panel.

Sens. Mike Haridopolos and Joe Negron peppered the pair with questions that mirrored the investor-owned utilities dissatisfaction with the regulators that turned down nearly $2 billion in proposed rate increases since they joined the panel this year.

Negron asked Stevens, a Pensacola bar owner and accountant, about the regulator’s statements during a January hearing in which Stevens said he would oppose a rate increase in the future.

Negron, a Republican lawyer from Stuart, wanted to know if Stevens has already made up his mind about future votes.

“I’m not predisposed. I’m open-minded but I do recognize that I’ve got technical guys here, technical guys there and they’re very smart and we have to make a decision,” Stevens said.

Haridopolos was even more pointed. He said that the PSC’s refusal to grant the rate hikes has made it harder and more expensive for the utilities to borrow money.

Haridopolos also grilled both regulators on whether they feel pressure from Crist to vote a certain way after Crist threatened to fire any commissioners who supported the rate hikes.

“We expect you to call balls and strikes. And we expect not to hear about the legislature should do this or that. We expect you to do your job. We move away from the obvious politics that are being played,” Haridopolos, R-Indialantic, said. Lawmakers want commissioners “who don’t care what the governor thinks, don’t care what the legislature thinks, and look at the long term view,” he went on.

“I will take the long-term view,” Stevens assured him.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee must vote on the appointees before a full Senate vote.

Senate committee grills PSC appointees as governor watches

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 by Dara Kam
Gov. Charlie Crist waits to ask a state Senate panel to approve his appointees to the Public Service Commission. Michael C. Bender/The Palm Beach Post

Gov. Charlie Crist waits to ask a state Senate panel to approve his appointees to the Public Service Commission. Michael C. Bender/The Palm Beach Post

Gov. Charlie Crist cooled his heels for more than an hour as the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee grilled his two Public Service Commission appointees, Steve Stevens and David Klement, but left before the committee took a final vote.

Crist left shortly before 11 a.m. (Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp took his place) to attend a bill signing after being kept on ice by committee chairman Alex Diaz de la Portilla who took up two other bills before getting to the appointment confirmations.

The full Senate must approve the appointments once the committee signs off on them, if they do.

“Both of these men are men of great integrity,” Crist told the committee before the interrogations began. “That’s why I chose to appoint them from the pool that was given to me from you. I believe the Public Service Commission is a great panel. It can do very good work., and I know that these two men are dedicated to doing this. That’s all I wanted to say.”

But that wasn’t enough for Sen. Chris Smith, a black Democrat from Ft. Lauderdale who has raised concern in the past about the lack of diversity on the panel.

(more…)

More studying, fewer Bladder Busts for Crist PSC appointee?

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009 by Dara Kam

bladderCould Gov. Charlie Crist’s Public Service Commission appointee be trying to distance himself from the perception he’s actively involved in managing a bar where they offer “Free Beer Til Someone Pees” at “Bladder Bust” night every Tuesday? Where a flier reads, “Don’t Die Sober on Friday 13th”?

friday13thspecialcopyCaught at his home in Pensacola today, Benjamin “Steve” Stevens corrected a Post on Politics reporter’s question about Rick’s Cabana Nightclub to say he wasn’t a manager, he was a co-owner.

A little later, when Post on Politics asked a bartender at Rick’s for the manager, she asked, “Oh, Steve?” and dialed Stevens up.

Stevens continued to insist he was not the manager, saying that there was a day manager and a night manager and the day manager was out of town.

His main interest in the liquor store and lounge operations is the building itself, he implied.

“It’s a commercial real estate investment,” he said. “It’s being treated like that right now. Otherwise I’d be there 24/7.”

Stevens, 44, was Escambia County Sheriff’s Office chief financial officer until January, when newly-elected Sheriff David Morgan took office and brought a new management team in. According to his application papers for the PSC position, he hasn’t worked for anyone else since then.

His real estate/accounting office is across the street from the club and package store where a bar employee says he is a regular presence.

(more…)

FPL $1.2 billion rate case will wrap up today

Friday, October 23rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Read the story from The Palm Beach Post on here

Enough already.

Public Service Commission Chairman Matthew Carter pronounced that Florida Power & Light Co.’s prolonged $1.2 billion rate hike case will wrap up tonight. Period.

“We will finish tonight, ladies and gentlemen,” Carter said before adjourning for lunch.

“Everything that needs to be said has pretty much been said. How many more times can you say the same thing?” Carter told The Palm Beach Post shortly after the lunch break began.

Expect some fireworks when the hearing resumes at 2:30.

FPL Group Controller Mike Davis is going to get a grilling on the utility’s proposal to charge customers $3.7 million of the $5 million it estimates it will spend to persuade the PSC to grant its rate hike.

Some of the expenses incurred so far include $1.4 million for consultants, $450,996 for legal services, $214,632 for lodging and $143,232 for meals over a nearly two-year period.

Carter can’t be blamed for wanting the FPL case, sidetracked by what he called “shenanigans” over allegations of conflicts of interest, to come to a halt.

He was absent yesterday because of complications from two back surgeries he’s had this year.

Carter’s got a little more than two months left in his term after Gov. Charlie Crist passed him over for reappointment earlier this month.

The panel will come back at 2:30, a half hour before the newest regulator, David Klement, is sworn in in Sarasota.

Klement, a former newspaper editorial writer, will be in Tallahassee on Tuesday to vote on whether the PSC should decide on FPL’s rate case this year or wait until another new Crist appointee – Pensacola accountant and bar owner/manager Benjamin “Steve” Stevens – joins the PSC on Jan. 1.

Crist to appoint 3 month stand-in to finish utility regulator’s term

Monday, October 5th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist will replace Katrina McMurrian, who abruptly resigned from the Public Service Commission this morning, to fill out the less than three months remaining in her term.

Crist effectively fired McMurrian and PSC Chairman Matthew Carter, both appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2006, last week by refusing to reappoint them to the panel when their terms run out Dec. 31.

Crist’s general counsel Rob Wheeler asked the Public Service Nominating Council for a list of three recommendations to fill McMurrian’s place.

Wheeler asked the council’s lawyer Jay Vail to hurry up with the recommendations “so that there is no membership gap in representation on the Commission.”

There will be a membership gap beginning tomorrow, when the PSC – minus McMurrian, whose resignation was effective immediately – is scheduled to take a vote on a Florida Power & Light Co. proposed $1.5 billion, 300-mile natural gas pipeline.
(more…)

Crist tilts utility reg panel to the consumer side

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist opted for a Panhandle bar owner and a former newspaper editorial writer over two sitting Public Service Commissioners, putting a pro-consumer stamp on the panel for the first time in decades.

Crist picked David Klement, who spent more than four decades as a newspaperman and now heads the Institute of Public Policy and Leadership at the University of South Florida’s Sarasota-Manatee campus, and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, a Panhandle accountant who is co-owner of the Cabana Nightclub in Pensacola, to join the beleaguered five-member agency.

Crist snubbed current PSC Chairman Matthew Carter and Commissioner Katrina McMurrian, both appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, who were up for reappointment and had hoped to remain on the panel now in the midst of two historic rate cases: a $1.3 billion rate hike sought by Florida Power & Light Co. and a $500 million increase proposed by Progress Energy Florida.

Renegade Commissioner Nancy Argenziano, an outspoken critic of the panel and appointed by Crist in 2007, will become chairwoman next year, meaning no more business as usual for the utilities that had strong support from the regulatory panel in the past.

Read the full story here.

Crist utility reg pick owns hot Panhandle nightclub, doesn’t work for sheriff

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Dominatrix night at Ricks Cabana Lounge

Dominatrix night at Ricks Cabana Lounge


Gov. Charlie Crist’s office says that Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, one of Crist’s new appointees to the Public Service Commission, “has served as chief financial officer for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office since 2001.l”

But workers at Sheriff David Morgan’s office said Stevens, a Panhandle accountant, hasn’t worked there since Morgan assumed the post in January.

Stevens, 44, is also an owner of Rick’s Cabana Lounge, a nightclub in Pensacola, according to Department of State records and his PSC application. He’s listed as an owner of Ben Bartows Bar LLC, which has the same address as the bar.

State Rep. Dave Murzin, a Pensacola Republican who chairs the nominating council that included Stevens in the list of six candidates given to Crist, had called Stevens an “accountant extraordinaire.”

What they’re saying about Crist utility reg panel sweep

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Consumer groups applauded Gov. Charlie Crist’s choice of two outsiders to serve on the Public Service Commission shifting the balance away from a utility-friendly panel for the first time in decades.

Crist ousted PSC Chairman Matthew Carter and Commissioner Katrina McMurrian, both appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush and whose terms end Dec. 31, as the panel gets ready to vote on two pending utility rate increases, including a proposed $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike.

Instead, Crist tapped David Klement, who spent more than three decades as a newspaperman and now serves as director of the Institute for Public Policy and Leadership at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus, and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, an accountant and chief financial officer for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.

The regulatory agency has come under fire for allegations of coziness with the industries it oversees as the FPL and Progress Energy Florida rate hearings are underway. Thus far, one PSC staffers has been fired, two more resigned and two have been placed on administrative leave in the aftermath of reports that some of the aides swapped secret BlackBerry messages with an FPL lawyer.

Here’s what consumer advocates had to say about Crist’s selections.

(more…)

Crist cleans house at utility reg panel

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist appointed two new utility regulators to the Public Service Commission, snubbing current Chairman Matthew Carter and Commissioner Katrina McMurrian.

Crist tapped former newspaperman David Klement and Escambia County Sheriff’s Office CFO Benjamin “Steve” Stevens and shaking up the status quo at the regulatory panel mired in controversy in the process of deciding on a proposed $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike.

The ouster of McMurrian and Carter makes it likely that renegade Commissioner Nancy Argenziano, an outspoken critic of the PSC who accuses regulators of being too close to the utilities they oversee, will take over as chairwoman of the panel next year.

Crist put Argenziano, a former state senator, on the board two years ago to represent consumers and his picks today of two new commissioners who have no ties to utilities mark a decided shift from a PSC that has up until now been viewed as utility-friendly.

Crist to tap utility regulators before FPL rate hike vote

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist must appoint – or reappoint – two utility regulators to the Public Service Commission before the panel votes on a pending $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike.

Crist said this morning he has been paying close attention to the scandal-plagued panel and will move forward with his picks, due to the Senate by the end of the week.

PSC Chairman Matthew Carter pushed back the FPL vote to Jan. 11 – ten days after his term and the term of Commissioner Katrina McMurrian ends.

“Intriguing, wasn’t it?” Crist said when asked about Carter’s decision, adding that it won’t impact the appointment process. “We still have the opportunity to make these selections. I still get to make the choice on behalf of the people of Florida.”
(more…)

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