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Florida Trade Group Seeks PSC Ethics Investigation

Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) has requested that the inspector general of the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) investigate what AIF said are thousands of messages about official PSC business sent and received on Commissioner Nancy Argenziano's private Blackberry.

According to the industrial trade organization, Argenziano violated her oath of office and the PSC code of conduct through "a deliberate attempt to alter the outcome of what is supposed to be an impartial rate proceeding process."

AIF is a formal intervenor on behalf of Florida Power & Light (FP&L) in a rate case before the PSC.

"Associated Industries of Florida cannot sit idly by and watch the deterioration of a body that is tasked with making impartial decisions about Florida's regulated industries based on evidence and information brought before them," said AIF CEO Barney Bishop.

Alleged ethics lapses last month forced the resignation of two PSC staffers, including commission lobbyist Ryder Rudd, and two others were placed on administrative leave. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement had been reviewing actions at the PSC after Rudd admitted that he attended a party at the home of an FP&L executive. News of the review by law enforcement officials broke during hearings about the proposed rate hike request by FP&L, the state's largest publicly regulated utility.

Rudd, the PSC's director of Strategic Analysis and Governmental Affairs (SAGA), and his wife attended a Kentucky Derby party in May at the home of FP&L executive Ed Tancer, according to Commissioner Nathan Skop, who called for Rudd's resignation. The party occurred two months after FP&L submitted a $1.3 billion rate increase request. As SAGA director, Rudd had direct supervisory oversight of staff recommendations relating to FP&L cases.

Larry Harris, chief advisor to Argenziano, resigned at Argenziano's request for providing the private text-messaging code to his Blackberry to an FP&L employee. Providing the code to FP&L employees opened the door for possible PSC-utility communications outside the public eye, a sign of a relationship that the Miami Herald and other newspapers in the area have called "too cozy." Harris sought and was granted reassignment as a senior attorney within the PSC.

Two other PSC employees were placed on administrative leave after reports that they had also given their private messaging codes to FP&L officials.

Earlier this month Gov. Charlie Crist requested that the commission postpone votes on major cases until after two newly appointed commissioners take office. Crist said he would not reappoint Chairman Matthew Carter or Commissioner Katrina McMurrian, and he named two new commissioners whose terms are set to begin Jan. 2. McMurrian subsequently submitted her resignation, effective Oct. 5, one day prior to a PSC vote to deny an FP&L proposal to construct a 280-mile intrastate natural gas pipeline (see NGI, Oct. 12). The PSC ordered the project to be rebid.

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