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Staffer's attendance at Kentucky Derby party halts rate case

 The hearing into Florida Power & Light's request to raise rates started ith a bang on Monday when one commissioner called for the resignation of a Public Service Commission staffer because of potential conflict of interest and suggested he may call for a dismissal of the case.

   Commissioner Nathan Skop called for the resignation of Ryder Rudd, the commissioner's director of Strategic Analysis and Governmental Affairs, based on a phone call he had received from Rudd over the weekend in which he acknowledged attending a Kentucky Derby party in May at the home of Ed Tancer, FPL's vice president. Rudd also called Commissioners Nancy Argenziano and Katrina McMurrian.

Commissioner Chairman Matthew Carter quickly called for the meeting to briefly adjourn so that he could confer with commission's staff.

   "We want ratepayers to know the process is fair," he said. "Due process is on the line. We're just going to have to get to the bottom of this."

   Rudd told the Herald/Times that he and his wife were in Miami for the weekend and stopped in "briefly'' at Tancer's party as part of his attempts to gather information about the industry issues.

   "I do as much information gathering as possible," Ryder said. "It was a good opportunity to meet people who are pushing some of the issues I'm following."

    Rudd said he did not consider it a conflict of interest and that he "had no role in the rate case."

   Skop, however, disagrees and noted that Rudd does have a role over the division that oversees FPL's request for a pipeline.

   "My concern is this person has supervisory oversight of the staff recommendations regarding this rate case and the pipeline determination," he said.

  Skop also asked the Public Service Commission staff if FPL had complied with the commission's order last week to release the salary data of its top executives. Staff said it had not. Skop ordered FPL to get the data in by 5 p.m. or he would consider further sanctions, including possible dismissal of the case.

   Argenziano said that the attorney general and the PSC's inspector general should investigate Rudd but the investigation into potential conflicts with the regulated industries should also include other staff and fellow commissioners on the PSC.

   "This should prompt a thorough invesetigation of the whole place and that means commissioners," she told the Herald/Times. She said she believes that some staff and some commissioners are "too cozy'' with individuals they are charged with regulating.