A panel whose mission is to nominate two new members to Florida’s Public Service Commission — which regulates the state’s utilities — refused to interview two sitting commissioners who opposed a Florida Power & Light rate hike and were seeking reappointment.

Via The Miami Herald:

Two of the three remaining utility regulators who rejected the largest electricity-rate increases ever sought in Florida were given their walking papers Wednesday when a nominating council refused to interview them for reappointment to their jobs.

The Public Service Nominating Council voted to interview 18 candidates for the two positions on the state utility board — but refused to interview PSC chairwoman Nancy Argenziano or Commissioner Nathan Skop, Gov. Charlie Crist’s two appointees.

Public Service Nominating Council member Mike Hightower told the Herald Argenziano and Skop’s dismissal had nothing to do with their opposition to the FPL rate hike, but that their presence was a source of infighting and distrust.

The reference was to the dissent between Skop and Argenziano and Comissioner Lisa Edgar, who was accused by Skop of accepting text messages from Florida Power & Light lobbyists in the midst of a utility case. The state’s ethics commission ruled that Edgar’s decision to exchange the messages did not violate any rules.

FPL chief Armando Olivera told The Miami Herald editorial board on Wednesday that the company would not comment on FPL’s role in the ouster of Argenziano and Skop, but did not deny a statement by an FPL manager that the company’s lobbyists, Eric Silagy and Paul Hamilton, had either direct or indirect contact with members of the nominating council in their attempt to persuade them to oust the sitting commissioners.

The chair of the nominating council — State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton — received the maximum donation allowable ($500) from Florida Power & Light’s Political Action Committee in three campaigns since 2000.

Update

Independent gubernatorial candidate Bud Chiles has called for a grand jury investigation into PSC “corruption.” His campaign posted a press release on the topic this afternoon:

Chiles called on the Governor to petition for a grand jury to be convened, to investigate special interest influence over the PSC and its nominating process, and to recommend changes that will create a truly independent commission that looks out for the interests of Florida’s consumers.

The members of the PSC Nominating Council are appointed by the leaders of Florida’s legislature. Chiles pointed out that the Council’s actions show the corrupting influence of the utility companies’ political contributions to the parties – which total over $1.9 million dollars just in the last year alone.

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