PSC Under Fire Over Records

Until 1978, the people who determined electric and phone rates in Florida were elected. Then lawmakers changed the system to keep politics out, but now consumer activists say the current system is keeping too many documents from the public and favoring the states utilities.

Mike Twomey of Consumer Federation of the Southeast, says, "I think things would be substantially more different if it was elected. Whether you have an elector or not, we need more accountability in the Public Service Commission."

The activists point to other problems, including the use of a memo by Commissioner Rudy Bradley, reportedly written by Verizon to justify a ruling in Verizon's favor. In the recently decided telephone rate case, documents kept secret by the PSC show residential customers will not get the bulk of the benefit from lower long distance rates as required by law.

The activists say the PSC is granting confidentiality far too often.

Walter Dartland of Consumer Federation of the Southeast, says, "We have a difficult time evaluating the performance of the Public Service Commission, and the performance of their staff, and the performance of public counsel."

The PSC maintains it is only following the law.

Kevin Bloom, PSC Spokesman, says, "Well, any party and any proceeding will set up the rules of civil procedure can ask that something be held confidential. The pre-hearing officer will determine whether or not that request is justified."

The activists are calling for a change in law to make it more difficult for the PSC to close records, but because of the secrecy, for now no one knows if they are being charged a fair rate.

The Consumer Federation is considering a constitutional change that would require PSC commissioners to face merit retention, much like appellate judges faced Friday.