Crist appoints 2 new members to utilities regulating board

Published: Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 1:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 1:38 p.m.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday named two new members to the embattled state board that regulates utilities rather than reappoint a pair of incumbents.

David Klement, a 69-year-old former journalist from Bradenton, and Benjamin "Steve" Stevens, a 44-year-old chief financial officer for the Escambia County Sheriff's Office, were appointed to the Public Service Commission.

They replace chairman Matthew Carter and Katrina McMurrian, who were seeking new four-year terms. Crist's predecessor, Jeb Bush, had appointed Carter and McMurrian. The new appointees will join the board next year but then would be subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

That would make all five members Crist appointees and put maverick Commissioner Nancy Argenziano in line as the next chairman due to her seniority.

"I like having new blood on the commission," Crist said at a brief news conference outside the historic Osceola County Courthouse. "Their approach will ensure Florida consumers will receive every protection they deserve."

Crist has been a vocal opponent of major rate increases being sought by the state's two largest electric utilities.

The commission, which regulates the rates and services of privately-owned public utilities, has been under scrutiny recently for a series of alleged ethical lapses. Critics have accused some commission members and staff of being too cozy with utilities at a time they're proposing rate hikes.

According to an investigation by The Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times, Carter's chief adviser called three Florida Power & Light Co. executives 107 times between February and August. Carter has said he knew nothing about the calls and surmised they were either personal or procedural.

The commission is considering FPL's request for a $1.3 billion rate increase.

Carter's chief adviser, William Garner and Roberta Bass, an aide to Commissioner Lisa Edgar, were placed on administrative leave more than three weeks ago pending an investigation of reports Garner had given FPL the private code for instant messaging from his smartphone and Bass had done so for Edgar's smartphone.

The instant messaging codes potentially allowed utility officials to communicate directly with commissioners outside public view.

Argenziano's chief adviser, Larry Harris, resigned at her request after admitting he gave the code for his smartphone to an FPL executive.

The commission's lobbyist, Ryder Rudd, also resigned after acknowledging he attended a Kentucky Derby party at the home of an FPL executive.

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