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PSC chairman forces out executive director

CORRECTION AND CLARIFICATION: Communication between Public Service Commission Chairman Art Graham and Florida Power & Light executives Ken Hoffman and Eric Silagy was incorrectly described as a meeting in earlier versions of this article. Silagy is senior vice president of state regulatory and governmental affairs at FPL. Hoffman is vice president of state regulatory affairs and a full-time FPL employee. Hoffman’s employment status was incorrect in an earlier version of this article. Florida Power & Light denies that its employees ever met or communicated with Chairman Graham to advocate the removal of PSC Executive Director Tim Devlin from his position.

Timothy Devlin, the 35-year Public Service Commission veteran who serves as the agency's executive director, submitted his resignation today after only 16 months on the job. He was asked to resign by commission Chairman Art Graham. Graham did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

"As the majority of the Commission is in support of the Chairman's request for my resignation, I am tendering my resignation effective close of business on July 1, 2011,'' Devlin wrote in a one-sentence letter to commissioners late today. His personnel file includes no letters of reprimand and the last management performance review, conducted in 2006, lauded him for "excellent technical skills" "excellent conceptual skills," for doing an "excellent job managing the division budget" and for being "highly motivated and a leader."

Devlin, 59, was named executive director Jan. 25, 2010, after the former executive director, Mary Bane, had announced her retirement. Bane then applied for one of the open PSC commission seats but was rejected by the nominating council.

Sources both in and out of the agency say that on May 5, just days after PSC Chairman Art Graham was confirmed by the Senate, he called Devlin to his office and asked him to resign. Devlin refused.

So Graham added an unusual first item to Tuesday's agenda: "organizational matters."

Devlin chose not to wait for the meeting and submitted his resignation instead. He was named executive director Jan. 25, 2010, after the former executive director, Mary Bane, had announced her retirement. Bane then applied for one of the open PSC commission seats but was rejected by the nominating council.

Questions are rampant at the PSC about what prompted the ouster, which was conducted behind closed doors. Staff is supposed to serve as independent advisors to commissioners, not to agree with them. Does Bane want to come back? Does Graham, whose chairmanship expires this year, want to bring in his own staff -- from his hometown of Jacksonville -- to help him retain influence after his term as chairman expires?

The internal hostility brewing in the executive suite prompted one PSC insider to note: "staff morale was good but now it's bad again." A planned staff picnic set for May 13 was cancelled.

Why will no one go on the record? Sources within Florida Power & Light say that after Graham's Senate confirmation he met with Eric Silagy, the company's chief lobbyist and senior vice president of regulatory and state government affairs, and Ken Hoffman, the FPL LAWYER. Together, they allegedly urged Graham to fire Devlin, whose company insiders say had been too harsh on FPL. Update: Graham said Tuesday (May 24) he has never met with Hoffman. 

A year ago, Devlin made an unusual request of the utility companies. He asked them to report how many former PSC employees they had hired and how much they were paying them. The goal was to determine whether there was an indirect cost to customers when utilities are able to buy access and insight into regulators. The utilities successfully fended off the request and haven't reported the information.

Meanwhile, FPL is preparing to file another rate increase request in January. Since the company lost its appeal for a $1 billion rate increase request in 2009, FPL has been one of the four largest contributors to legislative campaign accounts, according to records filed at the Florida Division of Elections. In the last two years, senators have rejected the confirmation of two of commissioners who voted against that rate increase and a legislatively-controlled nominating commission refused to recommend the other two for reappointment.

Now, Commissioner Lisa Edgar is the only commissioner remaining who voted against the rate increase and she was part of the unanimous vote to name Devlin to head the agency to replace Edgar's long-time friend, Mary Bane. Tomorrow's discussion may tell us more.