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Municipal Power Agency Scolded By Legislative Commission

Ian Britton

  The Florida Municipal Power Agency helps about 20 city-owned utilities provide power across the state. The cities created the agency decades ago, but since then officials say the FMPA’s business practices have started raising some eyebrows. 

$1,500 to rent a Christmas tree, dinners totaling more than $3,000 and generous employee vacation and sick leave packages are a few decisions questioned in a recent audit of the FMPA. And Audit Manager Marilyn Rosetti says the FMPA’s practices don’t follow industry norms or those of comparable associations when it comes to items more closely related to energy production or purchasing such as its efforts to offset changes in fuel costs or decisions about how to invest in natural gas.

Meanwhile, FMPA Board Chair, Bill Conrad says it’s true, some of the moves the organization has made might not have been the best moves in hind sight.                                                                   

“I want to be clear that FMPA owns every decision we’ve made including those decisions that didn’t turn out the way we hoped,” Conrad says.

Conrad says the board will work to address every finding in the audit, saying the agency views the report as an opportunity to improve.  And while Sen. Lizbeth Bennequisto  (R-Fort Meyers) says she appreciates the group’s willingness to admit it made mistakes, she wants to know more about what will be done to ensure similar mistakes won’t continue moving forward.

" I want to hear a little more of the steps that you've taken as an organization and you as the chairman. And frankly, I don't know that the entire staff shold still be there," Bennequisto says.

According to the auditor’s report, board members relied heavily on staff recommendations when making decisions. Those staff members remain now. Conrad told Benaquisto he’d be evaluating whether the guidance current staffers have given has been valuable, but Wellington Democratic Senator Joseph Abruzzo points out those staff members don’t work for Conrad.

Abruzzo says he asked both the CEO and General Counsel of the FMPA to attend the audit hearing before the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee Monday. Lawmakers heard several explanations for why the two did not attend including that they had prior engagements, were ill, or thought those who did come would be better an answering the questions. Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) says those answers don’t satisfy him. In fact he says he’s concerned.

“When the committee asks that the CEO and the General Counsel to be here, it isn’t a request that says, you know send whoever you think is best to answer the questions," Bradley says.

And Rep. Debbie Mayfield (R-Vero Beach) says the situation serves as an indicator to her that the FMPA is not ready to give the issues raised in the audit its full attention.

Mayfield proposed motion that would require the FMPA to submit a report to the committee detailing how the group plans to address each of the issues outlined in the audit. The Committee approved the plan. Chair Abrozzo promised he’d subpoena both the general council and CEO to ensure their attendance at any future meetings that take place on the issue while he is serving as chair.