Chairman Nancy Argenziano and Commissioner Nathan A. Skop have been ousted from the Florida Public Service Commission, meaning that four of the commissioners who voted against utility rate hikes in January have been removed.
The Public Service Commission Nominating Council met Wednesday morning in Tampa and voted with little discussion to interview 18 candidates other than Skop and Argenziano for the commission, said Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton and council chairman. The decision means that Skop and Argenziano will have to give up their spots on the commission at the end of the year when their terms end.
Argenziano, a former state senator who was appointed by Crist in 2007, issued a statement saying that the action was "no surprise." She previously told the Florida Tribune that she would be ousted by utility supporters but she was applying anyway.
In April, the Senate refused to confirm David E. Klement and Ben A. "Steve" Stevens III in a vote that was largely seen as a slap against Gov. Charlie Crist and his reform-minded nominees.
"The Public Service Commission Nominating Council and Senate and House leadership got their marching orders from Associated Industries of Florida, and have acted accordingly," Argenziano wrote in her statement Wednesday.
Barney Bishop, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, said his group didn't contact anyone on the council to oppose Argenziano and Skop. "We didn't have to lift a finger, we didn't have to get involved in this whatsoever," he said. "This is her persecution complex she used to justify her own actions. She will simmer in her own stew."
Bennett said he was disappointed by Argenziano's statement and the accusations about utilities' influence. "It kind of goes to the point -- she is her own worst enemy," Bennett said.
He said the council had closely questioned applicants for the Stevens and Klement seats about dissension and bickering on the commission. "It was time to truly clean house bring another two on board and stop that kind of dissension," Bennett said.
But Skop, a nuclear engineer who has a law degree from the University of Florida and an MBA, said he would challenge Bennett or anyone to name who among the 18 that will be interviewed are more qualified than him. Skop also said any bickering was a result of him and Argenziano trying to clean up ethical lapses at the agency, which he said put them at odds with Commissioner Lisa Edgar and former PSC Executive Director Mary Bane.
"At the end of the day if you do your job, you lose your job -- and that is what happened," Skop said. The council has nominated Bane and eight other candidates for the Stevens and Klement vacancies.
Sen. Mike Fasano, a critic of the PSC for supporting past utility rate hikes, said the council's decision was more evidence of the utilities' control over the process. "It is blatantly obvious that anyone of an independent mind and a consumer-first orientation has no place on the commission," Fasano said in a statement.
The council will meet Aug. 19 to interview applicants to replace Argenziano and Skop, whose terms end Jan. 1, 2011. Crist will have 30 days to nominate replacements once he receives the expected list of eight nominees. The PSC positions pay $133,036 per year.
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