Gov. Rick Scott’s appointment of four new state utility regulators was unanimously approved Monday by a Senate panel, despite criticism from a ratepayers’ organization about Chairman Art Graham’s huddling with a water company’s lobbyist during a Washington, D.C. conference.
Graham already has an Ethics Commission complaint filed against him by David Bussey of Zephyrhills, an administrator with a recreational vehicle park served by Aqua Utilities Florida, whose customers also include about 1,200 Lake Osborne Estates residents west of Lake Worth.
Bussey called for the Ethics and Elections Committee to deny Graham’s confirmation over his almost hourlong meeting with Aqua’s regional president, Christopher Franklin, during a break in a national utilities conference in February at Washington’s Renaissance Hotel. Graham said the pair didn’t speak about Aqua’s rate issues.
Instead, Graham told the committee, “We were just two guys sitting back, killing time.”
But Bussey countered, saying, “How much time does it take before any wrongdoing takes place? What’s the tipping point?”
Aqua has about 16,000 customers across 17 Florida counties. Many have been hit with steep, recent rate increases, with the company doubling Lake Osborne’s rates in 2009 and seeking another 30 percent increase this year.
The Senate panel seemed unfazed by Graham’s lapse, which he called a “rookie mistake.”
Graham and Commissioners Ronald Brisé, Julie Brown and Eduardo Balbis, a former assistant city administrator in West Palm Beach, were approved for confirmation Monday. They still must go before the full Senate. (more…)