by Deb Cupples | Ryder Rudd, a top staffer at Florida's Public Service Commission (which regulates utility companies) was removed from all cases involving Florida Power and Light (the state's largest utility) until after an ethics investigation.
Why? Apparently, Mr. Rudd openly bragged that he and his wife had gone to a swank party a few months ago at the home of Florida Power and Light (FPL) executive Ed Tancer.
Despite our nation's shaky economy, FPL has been fighting to hit South Florida consumers with a 31% rate hike, which requires PSC approval.
PSC Commissioner Nathan Skop raised the issue of Mr. Rudd's questionable socializing at yesterday's hearing. Skop commented:
"Such inexcusable conduct undermines the public trust and confidence in the regulatory process and impugns the integrity of this commission.... These are not allegations, but admissions by this employee." [Orlando Sentinel]
Yes, it does undermine the public's confidence when regulatory staff gets chummy with the very people whom they are paid (by us taxpayers) to regulate.
This reminds me of ex-President Bush's Interior Department scandal last year, when we learned that staffers accepted gifts from and "partied" (had sex, drank, took cocaine) with oil company execs. The Interior Department regulates some aspects of the oil industry.
This is not the first time such potential conflicts of interest have been raised at Florida's PSC.
In June, a St. Pete Times blog reported:
"[S]elf-described Public Service Commission investigator Steve Stewart reports that PSC Commissioner Katrina McMurrian has repeatedly raised conflict of interest questions with her attendance at both utility-sponsored events and private dinners. Both events were closed to the public and officials from the utility companies she regulates were in attendance. Take a look.
"We can't vouch for the balance of the report -- there is no obvious response from McMurrian -- but it's clear Stewart has solid documents and his timeline raises serious questions about McMurrian's judgment that the commissioner should answer."
Let me emphasize that Ms. McMurrian is an actual commissioner -- one of the five top dogs at the PSC. Ms. McMurrian was appointed by our industry friendly ex-Governor Jeb Bush.
Current governor Charlie Crist tried to balance the PSC by appointing two consumer-friendly commissioners: Nancy Argenziano and Nathan Skop. Unfortunately, they are a voting minority in the five-member PSC.
It'll be interesting to see how the PSC deals with Mr. Rudd's apparent ethical lapses.