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No timetable for replacing Leonard Bentz

Southern District Public Service Commissioner Leonard Bentz had not, as of Tuesday, sent Gov. Phil Bryant a letter noticing his resignation from the Mississippi Public Service Commission.

It’s a matter of time before he does, Bentz said. Bentz was hired last week as the new executive director of the South Mississippi Planning and Development District, a publicly funded, regional economic development organization.

Bentz would not reveal a timetable for his transition, but said it would probably happen before the next PSC meeting, scheduled for Sept. 10.

He wouldn’t say who he would like for Bryant to appoint to replace him, either. He did say what qualities he would like for that person to possess.

“Integrity, leadership, the ability to make the right decision and not necessarily the politically popular decision,” Bentz said. “That’s what I hope for, and I’m sure the governor will find somebody who has all that.”

Bentz himself has labeled politically unpopular some of the decisions he’s made regarding Mississippi Power Co.’s Kemper County coal plant. Bentz and the Central District’s Lynn Posey have been the main supporters of the project on the PSC. But Bentz has been the one who has drawn the majority of the ire from utility ratepayers, the vast majority of whom live in his district. That dynamic would have likely earned Bentz a strong opponent, had he sought re-election in 2015.

That won’t happen. The focus now shifts to who will replace Bentz. A handful of South Mississippi legislators have been mentioned as possibilities. Bentz did not endorse anybody during an interview in his office Tuesday.

State law defines the presence of two commissioners as a quorum, making it theoretically possible the regulatory body could conduct business at its September meeting with only Posey and the Northern District’s Brandon Presley in attendance. That’s unlikely, due to some of the issues commissioners consider requiring unanimous vote, not a majority.

Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock said in an email earlier this week that he would not speculate when the governor might appoint Bentz’ replacement.

Whoever replaces Bentz will have to wrestle with prudency reviews — hearings where the utility will have to justify costs it wants to pass to ratepayers — sometime next year. Bentz said it was “imperative” his replacement adhere to the $2.4 billion recoverable cost cap commissioners inserted into a settlement agreement with the utility last year.

If Bentz’ replacement seeks election in 2015, their decisions related to Kemper will almost certainly be a central campaign theme.



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