Public Counsel Post Could Go to Gentry
By Jim Turner
A lobbyist and former longtime general counsel of the Florida Home Builders Association will be voted on next week to represent the public in utility regulatory cases.
Richard Gentry, who spent nearly 25 years as general counsel of the homebuilders’ group, was the only applicant interviewed Thursday by a legislative panel to become state public counsel.
The Joint Committee on Public Counsel Oversight did not vote on the appointment during the meeting, which was advertised as being just for applicant interviews, said Sen. Bobby Powell, a West Palm Beach Democrat who is co-chairman of the committee.
The committee, made up of members of the House and Senate, received four applications for the position, which became open when Public Counsel J.R. Kelly resigned last month after serving in the job since 2007. Three applicants withdrew before Thursday’s meeting.
Two of the applicants landed jobs between the time they submitted applications and the completion of background checks, Powell said. A third applicant dropped out over a requirement for the public counsel’s office to be in Leon County, Powell said.
Gentry, who worked for the Florida Home Builders Association from 1983 to 2007, said he viewed replacing Kelly as a way to serve the public.
“It caused me to reflect upon the successes that I've achieved over the course of 40 years and more, and my deep experience could be brought to bear on behalf of Florida ratepayers,” Gentry said.
Gentry pointed to his four decades of experience representing clients before state and local governments.
“I've advocated before state and federal judges, governors, powerful members of the Legislature, and a range of interest groups to advance the interests of my clients,” Gentry said. “I know how to effectively navigate and negotiate issues that have real impacts on the people of this state.”
He noted that in response to a housing crisis in the late 1980s, he was part of efforts to develop what are known as the Sadowski trust fund programs to help with affordable housing.
His lobbying clients last year included the tobacco company Altria Client Services LLC; Escambia County; Hamilton Downs Horsetrack, LLC; and the advocacy group Stand Up for North Florida.
The public counsel leads an office that represents consumers in utility issues, primarily before the Florida Public Service Commission.
Among the first issues the new public counsel will face are base-rate cases involving Florida Power & Light and Tampa Electric Co. FPL, for example, has proposed a four-year plan that calls for a $1.1 billion increase in base-rate revenues in 2022, a $615 million increase in 2023 and smaller amounts in the following two years to pay for solar-energy projects.
Gentry said his approach would be to learn from the six lawyers in the public counsel’s office.
“I want to make sure that with a rate case such as that, that it gets close attention,” Gentry said. “Again, my clients are the ratepayers, and this would be a hard time to drop the ball.”
The committee will meet again at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Article reposted with permission from The News Service of Florida.