Florida Senate panel approves PSC nominees listen04/11/11 Kate Bradshaw
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A Florida Senate ethics panel approved the confirmations of three state Public Service Commissioners and the PSC Chair. The panel’s approval comes despite an ethics complaint filed against the chair after it was reported that he had drinks with a utility executive during a conference.
The Senate rules subcommittee hearings hit a snag when Zephyrhills resident David Bussey, an advocate for local control of water resources, told the panel that PSC Chair Art Graham committed a gross ethics violation earlier this year when he had drinks with a water company executive during a Washington DC conference.
"Commissioner Graham admitted to engaging in conversation with an Aqua America official for nearly an hour over drinks in the Renaissance Hotel on February 15, 2011. The Aqua official Commissioner Graham spoke with is a party of record in an open rate case before the Public Service Commission."
Bussey filed the complaint after reading a news report about the chance encounter. He also accused Graham of lying under oath about the amount of time he spent talking with the Aqua Utilities Florida executive. Bussey is an administrator at an RV park that buys its water from the utility, and is fighting a recent rate hike. After Bussey’s scathing testimony, PSC chair Art Graham appeared taken aback. He said in all his years in public service, he has never been called a liar. What’s more, he said, state statute leaves room for regulators to rub elbows with those they regulate at professional conferences.
"When you're at a conference it's anticipated that you're going to be talking to these utility people. It says you can go to the event just as long as it's not paid for by the utility company. It anticipates you sitting down at a table having a meal with a utility person. So it anticipates you being across the table with somebody for an hour, an hour and a half."
The PSC has had high turnover in recent years. Last year, the Senate ousted several of Governor Crist’s appointees who had been perceived as consumer-friendly. The other commissioners the panel recommended for confirmation are Ronald Brise, Julie Brown, and Eduardo Balbis.