Ousted PSC Commissioner Resigns Early
Saying that she heard loudly and clearly the message sent by Gov. Charlie Crist when he appointed someone else to her seat on the Florida Public Service Commission instead of reappointing her, Public Service Commissioner Katrina McMurrian said Monday that she would resign immediately.
McMurrian, one of two commissioners ousted last week by Crist, sent a letter to Crist saying that her replacement should come earlier, rather than later, to start moving the commission in a different direction.
“The commission has been asked to delay our vote on major cases until the new commission is in place,” McMurrian said in a resignation letter sent to the governor Monday. “I respect this request and want to ensure that the new commission is positioned to set the course for the agency, one guided by different leadership.”
While Crist had already named a replacement to take her seat in January, officials in Crist’s office said Monday that state law requires appointing an interim commissioner and said they’d start searching for one.
Crist’s appointees to replace McMurrian and PSC chairman Matthew Carter, Escambia County Sheriff's Office chief financial officer Benjamin "Steve" Stevens, 44, and David Klement, 69, a former journalist who heads the University of South Florida's Institute for Public Policy and Leadership, are not scheduled to be sworn-in until January of next year. After effectively firing McMurrian and Carter, Crist urged the PSC to postpone action on to hold off on making final decisions on rate hikes requested by Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy until the two newly appointed commissioners join the panel.
The turnover in the PSC comes amid criticism about appearances that the panel is too close to the companies it regulates. The cloud has mostly been over staff interactions with company officials, though McMurrian did take some heat for attending a dinner with an FPL executive as the company was requesting its rate increase, and for speaking at a utility-sponsored conference.
She defended her actions but acknowledged the political reality of the firestorm that has engulfed the PSC in recent months.
“There are rules that govern all aspects of the commission process,” McMurrian said. “I know the rules, and I have followed them. But members of the public have spoken, and the governor has spoken. They want a new set of rules… and new leadership.”
Crist’s office asked the PSC nominating commission to compile a list of candidates to serve the remaining three months of McMurrian’s term.
“We respectfully request that the council provide Gov. Crist with a list of at least three nominees to complete the term of Florida Public Service Commissioner McMurrian as soon as possible so that there is no membership gap in representation on the commission,” Crist’s general counsel Robert Wheeler wrote Monday afternoon to the Senate lawyer who advises the nominating council.
Last week, in reaction to Crist’s decision to reshape the PSC, McMurrian appeared nostalgic about her long PSC career, which spanned work as a regulatory analyst, a commissioner’s aide and ultimately commissioner.
“I’ve been here since I graduated college,” McMurrian said. “I’ve enjoyed every bit of my public service here.”
But in the statement accompanying her early resignation Monday, McMurrian acknowledged the flipside of that history, which may have been her undoing this fall as Crist responded to the increasing scrutiny of the PSC by turning to a pair of applicants with no obvious background in regulatory work or the industries the panel oversees.
“No doubt, I am an insider,” she said. “I started out at the commission in 1994.”
Elsewhere, a stringent Senate PSC critic who had urged Crist to appoint any of the other outside candidates to the commission said that he wanted a commissioner the governor re-appointed earlier this year to follow McMurrian’s lead. Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said that Commissioner Lisa Edgar, who consumer advocates have said sides too frequently with utilities in rate cases, should do the “honorable thing” and resign as well.
“With Commissioner McMurrian’s decision to resign prior to the expiration of her term I believe the governor’s desire to clean house at the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) has begun in earnest,” Fasano wrote Monday in a letter to Edgar. “As a sitting commissioner who has been privy to the ongoing day-to-day operations of the PSC, you know better than anyone that the PSC lacks leadership in this time of turmoil and crisis. With the governor’s appointment of two new commissioners he has sent a clear signal that the time has come for a top-down rebuilding of the PSC.”
“The PSC and its mission is far more important than any single individual’s continued employment,” added Fasano, who opposed Edgar’s re-appointment this spring.
The unexpected early vacancy in McMurrian’s seat on the PSC means the panel will be a member short when it takes up a proposed $1.6 billion Florida Power & Light fuel transmission line on Tuesday morning. The PSC has already held an evidentiary hearing about the proposed 300 mile pipeline from Bradford County in northeast Florida to Martin and Palm Beach Counties, a third such portal for transmitting natural gas in the state, but the panel will meet Tuesday to determine if it is necessary.
The commission will also continue this month considering separate rate increases for the two largest power companies in the state - a $1.3 billion proposal from Florida Power & Light and a $500 million plan from Progress Energy. The first of the two votes on those rate increases is expected in December.