tampabay.com

Crist names two new PSC choices

By ALEX LEARY
Published January 12, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - A day after ejecting two utility regulators picked by his predecessor, Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday named replacements he says are more consumer-oriented.

Crist nominated Phillip Nowicki, 57, former director of the state's automobile lemon law program, and Jeremy L. Susac, 31, who already works for the Public Service Commission as a policy adviser.

The names came from a list of six people submitted to Gov. Jeb Bush by a legislative nominating committee.

Consumer groups were quick to praise the governor. "For too long, special interests have been allowed to hijack the regulatory process. These appointments give Florida consumers a place at the table instead of a seat at the back of the room," said Ben Wilcox, executive director of Common Cause.

Crist said Wednesday he would not accept South Florida businessman Isilio Arriaga and former state Rep. Ken Littlefield, R-Wesley Chapel, on the PSC, even though they were sworn in the day before. Crist rebuffed nearly 290 Jeb Bush appointees.

Crist said Littlefield was dismissed partly because his 2003 vote for loosened regulation of phone companies helped set the stage for the largest local phone rate increase in state history. Crist opposed the increase, unsuccessfully, as state attorney general.

Both Littlefield and Arriaga said in a statement they respect Crist's decision. They will continue to serve on the commission until the state Senate confirms replacements. The job, the duties of which include regulating utility rates and overseeing competition, pays $132,690 annually.

Nowicki currently oversees Georgia's lemon law division. He held a similar position in Florida. Nowicki also has worked in the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Susac has been with the commission since 2003, first as a senior attorney, then as a policy adviser to Commissioner Katrina Tew. He was previously a lawyer in New York.

"I'm confident he'll give us a fair, impartial and unbiased hearing," said Michael Twomey, president of Florida Utility Watch Inc. "I'm hopeful the same will be with Nowicki."

In recent years, Twomey and other consumer advocates have accused commissioners of various transgressions, including unauthorized contact with utility officials who had cases before them; hosting and attending a regulators meeting mostly paid for by utilities; and attending private dinners with utility officials.

In 2005, Littlefield sponsored a bill easing ethics rules on commissioners, allowing them to attend conferences and meals subsidized by the utility companies they regulate.

Neither Nowicki nor Susac could be reached Thursday.