Miami Herald: Probe of cleared PSC commissioner called incomplete
Sep 28, 2009
This article was published by the Miami Herald on September 26, 2009
BY MARY ELLEN KLAS
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau
Although Public Service Commissioner Lisa Edgar was cleared of ethics charges that she improperly communicated with a utility lobbyist about a pending case, the man who filed the complaint says her recollection doesn’t match the audiotape and transcript of the hearing.
Ethics Commission Executive Director Philip Claypool acknowledged Friday that investigators did not review the audiotape of the Nov. 6 hearing to see whether the time of the communication in the records matched the claims of Edgar and her aide, Roberta Bass. “I didn’t realize there was an audiotape recording that could be matched up,” he said. Until he looks into it, he added, he can’t say whether there would have been “enough evidence to meet the burden of proof” that she engaged in an unethical discussion.
Tallahassee businessman Steve Stewart filed the complaint against Edgar, alleging that during a fuel-adjustment hearing, Florida Power & Light lobbyist Ken Hoffman called Bass out of the hearing room.
Bass then sent Edgar an e-mail stating “Need to talk to you,” followed by one that said “Just talked with Ken.” Edgar responded: “Come to the corner . . . please.”
State ethics laws forbid commissioners from directly communicating with utility officials on any pending case before them and prohibits aides from serving as intermediaries for that communication.
The Ethics Commission determined two weeks ago that since the discussion did not relate to the pending fuel case — but instead was a procedural issue relating to a disgruntled FPL worker who drilled a hole in a nuclear reactor — Edgar did not violate ethics laws.
It released the final report of the investigation last week, making public a summary of testimony from Edgar, Bass and Hoffman taken under oath as part of the investigation.
Stewart said the report raised questions about Bass’ story because the time stamp on the e-mail didn’t match the order in which issues were discussed during the hearing.
According to the time stamp on the e-mail, Bass first e-mailed Edgar at 9:48 a.m., 10 minutes into the hearing and long before the hole-drilling issue came up. The audiotape indicates the hole-drilling discussion began at 10:38 a.m.
“I’m outraged that they didn’t listen to the audiotape to match up the timing,” Stewart said. “It would be hard to believe that an investigator wouldn’t find some outside source to corroborate stories and just relied upon the parties that are being accused. I think it’s an incomplete investigation.”
According to the report, Bass alleges that the e-mail message to Edgar was to tell Edgar that Hoffman had suggested a way to handle keeping the hole-drilling report confidential. The report also says that Lorena Holley, the aide to Katrina McMurrian, was part of the conversation.
`IT IS IMPLAUSIBLE’
Stewart believes “it is possible that the discussion between Hoffman, Holley and Bass took place, but it is implausible that’s what the e-mail was about.”
Edgar’s testimony “mirrored that of Ms. Bass’ concerning the details of the meeting, their e-mails, and the subsequent short discussion she had with Ms. Bass during the meeting in question,” the report said.
PSC Executive Director Mary Bane also told investigators that she was watching the proceedings from her office on closed-circuit television and confirmed that the hole-drilling discussion took place as described by the others.
Neither Edgar, Bass nor Bane returned calls for comment.
Claypool said even if investigators had listened to the audiotape or reviewed the video, they may not have provided the proof needed to pursue charges.
The Ethics Commission won’t reopen the case unless someone files a new complaint alleging new information, Claypool said.
Stewart said he is considering reopening the complaint unless the inconsistencies can be explained adequately.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com.