this excellent article by Julie Patel.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Legislation to reform PSC would rule out consumer-oriented regulator
By Julie Patel, Sun Sentinel
April 16, 2010
If you dropped out of college, you're still qualified to be a Florida governor, leading the nation's fourth largest state.
Or a state senator, deciding how to spend billions in tax dollars.
Or the state's chief financial officer, responsible for the accounting and auditing of the state's books.
But without a college degree, some legislators say you're not qualified to help set utility rates paid by millions of Floridians.
These regulators "have serious responsibilities to understand complicated rate cases," said Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach. "Someone with a college degree has the ability to learn and the discipline required to receive it."
He is one of 34 lawmakers who has voted for a bill that would require those appointed to the state Public Services Commission to have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college. The provision, one of many to reorganize the agency that regulates the state's utilities, is in a bill that could be put to a full House vote this week.
Some observers see another reason for the college-degree provision: oust commission Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano.
"She is fighting for consumers, and the utilities don't like it," said Bill Newton, executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network. "Utilities are among the largest contributors to the Legislature, so it is no surprise that they are doing the utilities' bidding."
The five-member Public Service Commission has been at the center of a political firestorm over the past year after the state's largest utility, Florida Power & Light, proposed its largest rate increase ever. Contentious hearings erupted over allegations of cozy relationships between regulators and utility staffers.
Some commission officials resigned or were put on temporary leave. Gov. Charlie Crist appointed two regulatory newcomers to the commission, and the new commission rejected all but 6 percent of FPL's rate increase.
All of which put the Public Service Commission in the public eye.
Three House committees have approved the bill to reorganize the commission. Gibbons said the bill "has nothing to do with any one individual."
Five legislators who voted for it don't have bachelor's degrees, including Matt Hudson, a Republican who represents parts of Broward and Collier counties.
Hudson said he supports the requirement for commissioners because they're paid more than $130,000 a year and deal with "extraordinarily technical matters." Legislators are paid about $30,000 for their part-time work.
"Certainly these are people that are expected to know a great deal, and I think it's appropriate that we put criterion, just like you would put criterion for any executive position," he said.
Florida House Speaker Larry Cretul supports the requirement.
A college requirement is important because "PSC members are not elected," Jill Chamberlin, the speaker's spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail. "They are supposed to make decisions as judges do."
In the FPL rate case, Chamberlin said the PSC considered 176 complex issues ranging from accounting to the cost of capital. The commission has a staff of engineers, economists, accountants, finance experts and lawyers to review these issues, "but the staff does not make the decisions," she wrote.
As for comparisons to elected officials, "The Governor, the Legislature are elected," she said. "It's up to the voters to determine standards for knowledge and background."
Argenziano, a vocal critic of utilities' influence on policy and regulation, dropped out of pre-veterinary college to raise her son. She worked on weekends washing cars and painting apartments and has worked as a veterinary technician specialist, a real estate agent and part owner of an emergency animal hospital. She spent 10 years as a Republican legislator from Crystal River before being named to the commission by Crist.
"I could not get what many people my age had the good fortune to get, a formal education. But I can tell you I learned through the school of hard knocks, hard work and experience," she said.
"While I never claim to be a genius, I do know I was born with intelligence."
Public Counsel J.R. Kelly, the state's utility customer advocate, said all the commissioners he's dealt with the past few years have been "learned."
"I might not like their decisions but I could not sit there and tell you they weren't competent," he said.
College degrees aren't required for many top governments posts, but some require advanced degrees. For example, the Attorney General must be a member of the Florida Bar, which means he or she must have a law degree. Only licensed physicians can be appointed to the state Board of Medicine.
Jan Beecher is director of the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University, a utility regulation research center. She has looked at the demographics and qualifications of utility commissioners nationwide.
She knows of no state that requires utility commissioners have a college degree but a study she completed last month found that most do. Only 32 of 233 commissioners nationwide said they had completed "associate, some college, or not specified."
A few states require specific experience, Beecher said. For example, Nebraska's municipal utility regulation board has designated spots for an attorney, an engineer, an accountant and two laypeople.
"You want to be very careful not to exclude someone because your hands are tied by statutory requirements," she said. "But I certainly think education is important in our field."
She recommends that states give commissioners the opportunity to learn more about utility regulation. In most states, agency staff provides technical expertise, she pointed out.
Floridians have elected seven governors who didn't have college degrees, according to Gary Mormino, a history professor at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.
"I am leery to suggest that a college degree makes one smart or better suited to govern," he said. "Character matters more than brains or a college pedigree."
See also: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/
Reader comments at:
So, State Rep. Joe Gibbons, who stands by and pretends
he doesn't know anything about the self-evident corruption
and anti-democratic sentiments that have been emanating
from the bunker at Hallandale Beach City Hall for YEARS,
much of which took place with him squarely in the center
of it all -the same guy who had said and did what,
exactly, about the Village at Gulfstream Park
project completely exporting their Section 8
Housing, as the Diplomat is now trying to do
under their incompatible LAC proposal?-
the guy who won't say word one about what side he
favors on the Diplomat LAC issue affecting his District,
is very concerned about making sure that... someone
who is pro-consumer at the Florida Public Service
Commission has to go buh-bye?
The Gibbons that was the ranking Democrat on the
House Transportation and Economic
Development Appropriations Committee,
but who has never ever attended any of the many
regional Transportation summits and workshops
that I've attended since he was elected, which have
drawn people from all over the state and from U.S.
DOT regional HQ in Atlanta, and even from Canada?
Yes, that Joe Gibbons!
Gibbons is such a nothing representative, it's distressing
that in the year 2010, his great luck is to represent one
of the most apathetic FL House Districts in the entire state.
If this Julie Patel article is an accurate indication of
how he's going to put his representation for his corporate
clients at Akerman Senterfitt -where Gibbons is a
"consultant"- ahead of our interests, things are definitely
going to get a whole lot bumpier for him over the next few
On that you can depend.
Did you notice that the office they show him
attached to is NOT in Fort lauderdale or Miami,
but the one in Tallahassee
You might be interested in knowing that just this year,
I have been approached about five times at myriad events
throughout Broward, all by different but clearly
well-informed people, each specifically asking me
variations of the same question:
Did I know that Gibbons and his family really
live in/near Jacksonville, and NO LONGER live
in his FL House District?
Who does he think he is, Steve Geller?
Just in case you never saw it, last June I wrote an email
and subsequent blog post on June 4th that gets to the
heart of the problem as it involves the state's transportation
issues and Joe Gibbons' somnolence here in his own
It concerns an important Transportation meeting held
up at the Broward Convention Center when the
Legislature was NOT meeting, while Gibbons was,
perhaps, with his family near Duval County.
I include this series of excerpts here, along with
some pertinent facts to better connect-the-dots.
They are from:
I have been to every SFECC meeting held in Gibbons'
district since he was elected, in Hallandale Beach as well
as in next door Hollywood and Aventura.
I've also been to every major public transportation meeting
held in South Florida, whether the Regional meeting I
reference above, the one held in Dania last Fall on funding
sources for Tri-Rail and commuter rail in the state or the
one thrown by Broward County three years ago at the
Broward County Convention Center, which had hundreds
I was even at the impromptou meeting held over a year
ago at Hollywood City Hall hosted by Rep. Elaine
Schwartz and Sen. Eleanor Sobel on dedicated
That doesn't make me an expert, just concerned.
So why is it that Joe Gibbons is never seen, not even at
the ones not held during the regular legislative session?
At some point, it's fair to say that he's a no-show on this
issue in his own area.
How come Gibbons and his Committee have never held
a field hearing down here since he was elected?