August 24, 2016 – POLITICO
by Bruce Ritchie
The Florida Public Service Commission said Tuesday it no longer has a copy of a document involving former commissioner Nathan Skop that was submitted on Monday with an exhibit and then withdrawn.
A PSC spokeswoman said the commission returned the document to Skop, who represents a couple challenging Florida Power & Light Co.’s $1.3 billion rate hike request. But a public records law expert said the commission should have retained the document and should provide it to POLITICO Florida, which had requested it.
During a hearing on the rate hike request Monday, Skop distributed a document that he said was an exhibit for use in questioning the veracity of an FPL witness, company president and CEO Eric Silagy.
Skop, who worked at FPL from 2000 to 2002 as a business manager, said the document addressed the issue of whether he left the company voluntarily.
When Skop was on the commission in 2010, FPL said that his departure was an “involuntary” termination and the company sought to disqualify him from a PSC case involving nuclear cost recovery. Skop said his departure was voluntary.
During the hearing on Monday, a PSC staff attorney noted that a document offered by Skop was in a red folder, indicating they were confidential, and distributed the folder to commissioners.
But Skop never cited a legal basis for declaring the document as confidential and said in his opinion it wasn’t confidential. Rather he said he was putting it in the red folder as a “professional courtesy” to the company.
After an FPL attorney said Skop was “treading on very delicate ground” and that the document would have to be verified by the company, Skop said he would withdraw the exhibit. The red folders were collected by PSC staff and returned to Skop.
A commission spokeswoman on Monday referred a public records request for the document to Skop. The records were requested by POLITICO Florida as commissioners and PSC staff were reviewing the folder.
PSC spokeswoman Cindy Muir said Tuesday that the agency no longer has the documents.
“We don’t have the document,” she said. “The commission received the document as a confidential hearing exhibit, and it was immediately returned pursuant to the party’s request and was not used at the hearing or entered into the record.”
But Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation of Florida, said the commission’s explanation is “a bunch of crap” and that the PSC should get a copy from Skop and provide the document to POLITICO Florida.
“The PSC had a duty to maintain and retain a copy of the document in question and cannot avoid its obligation under the public records law by claiming it no longer has possession of the document requested,” Petersen said.
She cited the “Government in Sunshine” manual and precedent in previous cases including a 2009 case when Florida State University said it could not provide documents involving an NCAA investigation because it did not have them.
Later Tuesday, the PSC’s legal staff said through Muir, the spokeswoman, that the NCAA case did not address the events at the commission hearing and that merely viewing a document does not make it a public record.
Asked by POLITICO Florida for a copy of the document on Tuesday, Skop said only, “I can’t send it — I’ll let you look at it.” He said the document refutes claims made by Florida Power & Light Co. in 2010 that he was terminated by the company. [READ MORE]