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PSC appoints former senator, Curt Kiser, to be its new staff counsel

The Florida Public Service Commission picked former state senator and Tallahassee lobbyist Curt Kiser to serve as the agency's general counsel Monday, vowing to make a "clean break'' and bring a fresh start to the embattled agency.

Kiser, who served in the legislature from 1972 to 1994 and most recently represented the Florida Press Association and the American Cancer Society as a legislative lobbyist. He served for 17 years on the Public Service Nominating Council, was author of several pieces of utility-related legislation including the bill to create the state public advocate before the utility board, the Office of Public Counsel.

Commission Chairman Matthew Carter nominated Kiser because, he said, he could help improve the agency's image, help with its public records problems after staff members were caught giving Blackberry codes to lobbyists, and work with the legislature to usher in practical reforms.

"People think we suck," Carter said. "In that context, we need to mke a clean break from the past and move forward. He has the necessary legal acumen and management skills."

The vote was not without controversy, however. Both commissioners Nathan Skop and Nancy Argenziano didn't vote on Kiser, after both commended him as a good candidate. Skop, however, was hoping to appoint Mike Twomey, the long-time utilities lawyer for AARP and other utility companies. Argenziano conceded that Twomey was a friend and long-time advisor to her on utility issues when she was in the legislature. She seconded Skop’s motion to appoint Twomey and Edgar recused herself. Commissioners Matthew Carter and David Klement said they preferred Kiser and voted against Twomey, thereby forcing the the motion to die on a tie vote.

Klement then moved to appoint Kiser. Skop said he recused himself and Argenziano didn't vote, neither of which gave a reason, and Kiser was appointed.

“Congratulations,’’ Skop said to Kiser who was sitting in the room. Argenziano said she was confused. “I’m not sure what just happened,’’ she said. She said later she wanted to slow down and decided not to vote because she feared they were headed toward a stalemate.

Skop said Twomey and Kiser were good candidates but preferred Twomey's practical experience to Kiser's legislative resume. "To be effective as a general counsel, you have to have specific knowledge," he said. "We don't have the luxury of a learning curve."

Argenziano seconded the nomination of Twomey but when Edgar recused herself, the motion failed on a tie vote. Edgar said later that she removed herself "due to the possibility of a personal conflict of interest'' with Twomey. She would not elaborate.

Skop said he had no conflict with Kiser but had "strong opinions that Mike Twomey would be a better fit for the organization'' and that not voting "was the appropriate thing to do on a procedural motion."

Kiser had expressed frustration two weeks ago, after the PSC recruited him in September asking him to apply for the job, then extended the deadline twice to allow for more applications. He called the 3-0 vote from the five-member panel "strange."' He will start work on Tuesday.

Kiser served for 17 years as a member of the Public Service Nominating Council, was author of several pieces of utility-related legislation including the bill to create the Office of Public Counsel, the lawyer who represents the public before the utility board.

The Internal Affairs meeting of the PSC then got even more bizarre as Skop suggested they appoint a new legislative lobbyist to replace Ryder Rudd, who resigned after attending a party at the home of Florida Power & Light executive. He also urged the commission to vote quickly on replacing the PSC's executive director Mary Bane, who is resigning at the end of the month.

Edgar strongly objected to Skop's plan to have the commission pick Rudd's replacement when they had already agreed it was to be filled by the general counsel. And Carter said the commission needed to take time in its efforts to replace Bane, suggesting that none of the three internal candidates were qualified.

The internal infighting may continue on Tuesday, when the commission is expected to pick its next chairman. Traditionally, the job goes to the most senior commissioner who has not held it before. Under that scenario, Argenziano is next in line.

Carter said Monday he will nominate Argenziano and Argenziano said she will accept it if chosen.