Scott Ally Takes Seat As Florida Utility Regulator

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — One of Gov. Rick Scott’s political allies is the newest member of the commission that regulates Florida utilities.

Former state Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Republican from Panama City, was sworn in Thursday.

He formally became a member of the Florida Public Service Commission during a ceremony that also included Commissioner Julie Brown getting sworn in for a second four-year term. Scott reappointed Brown, a Tampa attorney who has been on the commission since 2011.

During the ceremony, Scott cautioned the five-member panel that it will be busy during the next four years, but Brown said she cherishes the role.

“It’s not one of the most popular jobs, and while we are one of the smaller state agencies, I believe we are one that impacts the lives of most Floridians, and to me that is meaningful work,” Brown said.

Patronis, who left the House in November because of term limits, is vice president of the family-run Captain Anderson’s Restaurant in Panama City. He was an early political supporter of Scott in 2010, when the governor was a largely unknown multi-millionaire from Naples who was challenging Republican establishment favorite Bill McCollum in a GOP primary.

Along with Scott, several of Patronis’ former legislative colleagues attended Thursday’s swearing-in ceremony. Also, Lee County Circuit Judge Nick Thompson, a former House member, administered the oath to Patronis.

During brief comments, Patronis did not discuss details of the commission’s work, though he described himself as the “low man on the totem pole” on the panel.

“I’ve always said in life, I’d rather be lucky than good,” Patronis said. “I’m not a planner, I’ve never been a planner. I just felt like as long as I was real nice to people, good things would happen.”

Scott in September chose Patronis and Brown from a list of seven finalists that also included former state Rep. Dave Murzin, R-Pensacola, and Patrick Sheehan, director of the Office of Energy in the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Public Service Commission members are paid an annual salary of $131,036, according to the state budget.

Patronis praised Scott during Thursday’s ceremony, describing the governor as “an agent of positive change.” Scott said his calls for more growth across Florida will keep the commission active.

“We’re going to get a lot more people to move to this state, we’re going to get a lot more jobs, so there will be a lot more issues that will come up,” Scott said.

Susan Glickman, Florida director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which has frequently clashed with the Public Service Commission, noted Patronis took pro-utility positions in the Legislature on issues such as carbon-pollution limits. But she expressed hope that Patronis will approach the new job from his experience as a ratepayer running a family restaurant.

“He may very well have a consumer perspective, we don’t know,” Glickman said.

The PSC ceremony came a day after Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, filed a bill (HB 199) that would make major changes in the panel, including prohibiting elected officials from being appointed to the commission for two years after they leave office.

The bill, a companion to a Senate measure (HB 170) filed last month by Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, would also limit commissioners appointed after July 2015 to two consecutive terms and divide the state into five single-member commission districts.

A news release from Legg and Sprowls in December said the proposal is intended to make the “out-of-control” commission “more reflective of the people they are supposed to serve.”

Legg filed a similar bill for the 2014 session, but it failed to advance. Sprowls was elected to the House in November.

(The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.)

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