DeWine rejects list of candidates for PUCO seat

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday rejected a list of candidates to fill the seat on the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio vacated by the resignation of its former chairman days after an FBI raid of his home.

DeWine, in a letter dated Wednesday to Chairman Michael Koren of the PUCO nominating council, said the list of four candidates contained those “who could be an appropriate addition to the PUCO” but that he wanted additional candidates to consider before making his appointment.

“I reject the first list and request you reconvene the PUCO Nominating Council to provide me with a second list,” DeWine wrote. “The second list may include candidates that have previously applied, along with new applicants.”

The nominating council submitted four names to DeWine on Dec. 21 as possible replacements for attorney Sam Randazzo, former PUCO chairman.

The list of candidates included former Supreme Court Justice Judi French, who lost a reelection bid in November; Anne Vogel, a top DeWine aide and former attorney for AEP Ohio; Angela Amos, policy adviser at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; and Gregory Poulos, executive director of the nonprofit utility group Consumer Advocates of the PJM States.

The Ohio Consumers Power Alliance issued a statement Wednesday that called into question whether regulated utilities are “flexing their muscle” to hand-pick their own regulators.

“While there were names on the original list of four who had prior and present financial ties to Ohio’s regulated utilities, there were also qualified individuals on the list for consideration,” stated Rachael Belz, alliance director, in a release. “Why would Gov. DeWine turn away professionals with extensive utility market experience and consumer advocacy expertise who could have brought a fresh start and much-needed perspective to a PUCO that is currently in the shadows of scandal?”

Randazzo resigned as PUCO chairman Nov. 20, five days after FBI agents executed a search warrant at his Columbus condominium.

“He indicated to me that he felt that in regard to recent events that have occurred — the FBI search of his home coupled with the SEC filing — that he would going forward be a distraction from the work of the PUCO,” DeWine said at the time.

Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. told the Securities and Exchange Commission Nov. 19 that in early 2019 the company paid $4 million to terminate a consulting contract with someone who was subsequently appointed an Ohio utility regulator. However, the SEC filing did not specifically name Randazzo — who was appointed by DeWine in February 2019 to lead the PUCO and confirmed by the Ohio Senate in April 2019 — as the person First Energy paid.

Federal prosecutors in July arrested five men involved in House Bill 6, a law that will deliver more than $1.3 billion in subsidies and other revenues to Akron-based FirstEnergy and its former subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions, which emerged from bankruptcy last year under the name Energy Harbor.

Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, lobbyist Neil Clark and former Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges have pleaded not guilty to federal racketeering charges. Lobbyist Juan Cespedes and political strategist Jeff Longstreth pleaded guilty on Oct. 29.

Staff Writer Laura A. Bischoff contributed to this report.

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