Art Graham Appointed to Florida Public Service Commission
Gov. Charlie Crist took to heart concerns raised by lawmakers about a lack of diversity on the Public Service Commission, naming two African-Americans, Rep. Ronald Brise and Jacksonville City Councilman Art Graham to the panel.
The pair will have to be confirmed by lawmakers, but they will immediately assume the seats vacated by David Klement and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, who failed to gain Senate confirmation earlier this year. While some lawmakers cited concerns that Crist had created an all-white panel when naming them, others claimed Klement and Stevens ran into trouble because they voted against rate increases for the state’s two largest power companies.
When Crist appointed Klement and Stevens last fall at the height of a conflict-of-interest scandal at the PSC, he passed over an application for re-appointment from former chairman Matthew Carter, who was at the time the panel’s lone African-American.
But in announcing the picks of Brise and Graham Wednesday, Crist focused on their backgrounds, not their race.
“Art has a great track record of public service during the past 12 years, and as a councilman, he has already worked to protect utility consumers,” Crist said of Graham, 46, in a statement. “His experience in the private sector has given him an understanding of the importance of ensuring the private sector’s responsible use of resources.”
“Ron is known for his willingness to fight for Floridians, which is exactly what the Public Service Commission should do,” he added of Brise, 36, who is Haitian-American and represents heavily Haitian North Miami in the Legislature. “He is dedicated to serving the people of Florida and protecting their best interests.”
Brise is a Democrat. Graham is a Republican.
Brise, one of two sitting legislators to apply for the PSC post, was often overshadowed by the candidacy of term-limited Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs. Constantine had led the PSC Nominating Council until he resigned this spring to apply for a seat on the commission itself.
Constantine could still win one of the $130,036-a-year jobs on the PSC because he also applied for the PSC seats currently held by Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano and Nathan Skop, whose terms are up in January. Both Argenziano and Skop sought to be reappointed, but were knocked out of the running by the nominating council.
Brise, who has served in the Florida House since 2006, was a bit of a surprise PSC applicant because he is not facing term-limits this year. But he is a former telecom executive, having served as vice-president of Miami-based voice-over-Internet provider IPIP Corp, and he said in his application that his time in the Legislature piqued his interest in the PSC.
“As a policymaker serving on the utilities and telecommunications committee for three years in the Florida House of Representatives, I understand the challenges involved with balancing the need for energy and keeping rates reasonable while responding to the challenges of that everyday Floridians face," he wrote.
Graham, a native of the suburbs of Atlanta, Ga. and an environmental consultant by trade, has a history with Crist. After running unsuccessfully in the 2009 Senate special election won by Sen. John Thrasher, Crist reappointed Graham to the Jacksonville City Council seat he had given up.
In his PSC application, Graham touted his role on the City Council in overseeing the city's municipal electric company - JEA, as well as his work with wastewater management at Georgia Pacific, where he served as an engineer.
"A paper mill uses 15 - 50 million gallons of water per day to run the process," Graham wrote to the Nominating Council. "A key objective is to optimize the system to use less fresh water. I was part of a team that helped decrease water consumption at Georgia Pacific's Palatka mill from 50 million (gallons per day) down to 22 million."
By tapping Brise and Graham, Crist passed over current PSC General Counsel and former state Sen. Curt Kiser, who had been regarded as a favorite because of his ties to lawmakers. Kiser was hired to be the PSC's lawyer at the height of the fall 2009 scandal involving staffers communicating with utility employees during meetings. That move was seen as intended to mollify lawmakers as talks of stringent reform bills mounted.
Unlike Constantine, Kiser did not apply for the second set of PSC openings, so his bid to join the commission ended Wednesday.
The PSC Nominating Council is set to interview candidates to replace Argenziano and Skop in August.
Graham will once again vacate his District 13 council seat, forcing the governor appoint someone else to hold the position until suspended Councilman John Meserve's legal issues have been resolved.