Leonard Bentz, former deputy sheriff and legislator, is leaving the Public Service Commission to become the new executive director of the South Mississippi Planning & Development District.
Bentz has been under immense pressure in South Mississippi due to his votes on the Kemper Coal Plant - a project that has been seen cost overruns since the beginning and now totals $3.4 billion (according to Mississippi Power), or as much as $5 billion (according to the Sierra Club). It's no wonder Bentz headed out and took a big pay raise when you add hometown pressure, ongoing litigation, and intense PSC hearings to come.
The hiring is, of course, not without controversy. Sam Hall reports the requirements for the position were changed to accommodate Bentz. Leonard Bentz, Sr., is on the board, but according to several reports, he did not vote.
The governor will now appoint a new commissioner to serve the remainder of Bentz's unexpired term. It will be interesting to see who takes this. I can imagine with all the controversy and tough decisions ahead, few will be anxious to take this job on. The next meeting of the PSC will be August 13, 2013.
Sierra Club Director Louie Miller's statement on Bentz's new job:
“Given the massive cost overruns, hidden information, and looming rate increases from the Kemper plant, it’s no surprise that Bentz would want to get off this sinking ship. While he leaves the PSC and more than doubles his salary, he's leaving MS ratepayers with a boondoggle of an over budget project whose price tag is nearly $5 billion and growing. This is cronyism at its worst, and should strike reasonable people as outrageous. It’s an insult and an outrage to Southern Mississippi ratepayers that Bentz now has a golden parachute and can take the cowardly option of leaving before he faces the consequences of his vote to approve the Kemper plant.
“The next Commissioner will have some serious choices to make. Will she continue supporting a dirty, expensive, and unnecessary project that is billions of dollars over budget, or will she stand with Mississippi ratepayers and pull the plug on a bloated project that is now the most expensive coal-fired power plant in the country? We call on Governor Bryant to appoint a smart, experienced, and courageous Commissioner who will make protecting Mississippi ratepayers her absolute priority--even if it means standing up to Mississippi Power.”