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Committee decides to make public advocate compete to keep his job

Amid allegations that it was politicizing the job of the public advocate on utility cases, the Joint Committee on Public Counsel Oversight decided to move ahead and seek applications for the job, thereby forcing Public Counsel J.R. Kelly to compete with others to keep his job.

Rep. Jim Waldman, a Coconut Creek Democrat, said that the legislature went through the process of seeking applicants for the office two years ago when Kelly was first hired and the law only requires that he be reconfirmed. He doesn’t see a need to open it up for new applications “unless the whole point is political.”

"Our jobs are political,'' he said, referring to legislators. "I want to make sure the public counsel position is not a political position. …I can’t imagine in the economy that we have right now that we won’t have a number of applications…It’s time consuming and its going to cost the state more money and time and I don’t see the reason for it.''

But Rep. J.C. Planas, a Republican from Miami, moved to seek new applicants. "I would like to see what else is out there,'' he said. "I don't think this is a reflection on Mr. Kelly."

Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat, suggested there will be a chilling effect on the job the advocate can do if every two years he is threatened with losing his job. "Mr. Kelly has done what I think the position is intended to do, he’s aggressively acted on behalf of the public....The advocacy position of that person is going to be mitigated in a way that's not so good for the public.'''

Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Orlando and the committee chairman, disagreed. He said the law required them to provide oversight and that means taking new applications. He also said that if Kelly is reappointed despite the process it will be an even stronger endorsement of him than if he had simply been reconfirmed. "If this committee is doing its job, it is not a rubber stamp.''