Sebring native French among 4 PUCO commissioner finalists

Court ruling places fees related to $1B nuclear bailout on hold

Outgoing Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judi French, a Sebring native, is among the four finalists for a commissioner seat on the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio while state Sen. Sean O’Brien and ex-state Rep. Michael Verich, who both applied for the job, failed to make the cut.

The 12-member PUCO nominating council Monday chose the final four for the commissioner job out of the 31 applicants.

Of the 31, eight, including O’Brien, were interviewed, but he was not among the four recommended.

Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, has 30 days from Monday to appoint a commissioner from the four finalists or request a new list of four from the council. The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Ohio Senate.

The PUCO oversees utility regulations in the state.

State law doesn’t permit more than three members of the same political affiliation on the five-member PUCO. Based on the current composition of the commission, this selection can be filled by anyone.

But with DeWine and most state senators being Republicans, a candidate from that political party is viewed as having a huge advantage to get the spot.

The four finalists selected Monday are:

• French, who was raised in Sebring and currently lives in Grandview Heights. A Republican, French lost re-election last month to Jennifer Brunner by 10.6 percent for a Supreme Court justice position. Her term expires Jan. 1.

French also is a former 10th District Court of Appeals judge, chief legal counsel to the governor when Bob Taft had the post, chief legal counsel to the attorney general and an environmental lawyer at a corporation and at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

• Anne Vogel of Columbus, DeWine’s assistant policy director for the past two years. Before that, Vogel, a Republican, was an American Electric Power Co. executive.

• Greg Poulos of New Albany, an independent, who serves as executive director of the Consumer Advocates of the PJM States, a nonprofit organizations that serves as a consumer watchdog in federal energy policies.

• Angela Amos, a Democrat, who is a senior policy adviser in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Market Regulation in Washington, D.C.

The annual salary range for the job is $73,715 to $195,728 with DeWine determining the exact amount.

O’Brien, D-Bazetta, and Verich, a Warren Democrat, both applied for the job by the Dec. 10 deadline.

Neither made it to the final four.

O’Brien lost re-election last month to Republican Sandra O’Brien of Lenox in the Ohio Senate 32nd District race by 2 percent. His term ends Dec. 31.

Verich is a former Ohio House member who’s been appointed by previous Republican governors to state posts. He currently sits on the Environmental Review Appeals Commission.

The seat’s term expires April 10, 2024, and became open after Sam Randazzo, PUCO chairman, resigned Nov. 20, shortly after the FBI raided his house related to the criminal investigation into the controversial House Bill 6 nuclear bailout by the state. He has not been charged with a crime. But former Speaker of the House Larry Householder, R-Glenford, and four others were charged with two already taking plea deals.

Also on Monday, Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Chris Brown ruled in favor of a preliminary injunction to stop new ratepayer fees, related to the $1 billion bailout, from being charged. The fees were supposed to begin Jan. 1. The case returns to court March 5.

Attorney General Dave Yost, who filed the suit to stop the subsidies along with the cities of Columbus and Cincinnati, said the ruling “proves that the powerful can be held accountable and that corruption will be rooted out. Everybody who pays an electric bill, whether for their own home or a job-sustaining manufacturer, is the winner today. Your pocket will not be picked.”

Columbus attorney Zach Klein said the “ruling is a win for all Ohioans. HB 6 was passed through deceit, deception and corruption, and this decision means that Ohio ratepayers will keep their hard-earned dollars instead of paying for a massive corporate bailout.”

The ruling came as lobbying intensified on all fronts on legislation seeking to repeal the bailout law, as well as several competing proposals, with just a day left in the lame duck legislative session.

The potential for legislative inaction before the session ends influenced his decision, Brown said. Fees collected under the law, which was passed in July 2019, amount to more than $150 million a year through 2026.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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