J.R. Kelly, who has represented consumers in utility issues as the state’s public counsel since 2007, is leaving his post nine months after legislators approved term limits for the appointed position. Kelly, an attorney whose office frequently battles against utilities in regulatory proceedings, submitted his resignation to Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls on Dec. 30.
Kelly’s resignation, first reported by Politico, is effective on Jan. 14, the letter said.
“Even though I am eligible to apply for another term, I believe the Legislature has made clear its preference that no person should serve in the position longer than the 12-year limit adopted in the statute,” Kelly wrote. “After giving this matter much thought over the past few weeks in discussions with my family and seeking guidance through prayer, I have decided that now is the time for me to step down to facilitate a transition to a new public counsel on March 1, 2021.”
The public counsel leads an office that represents consumers in utility issues, primarily before the Florida Public Service Commission.
“We thank Mr. Kelly for his many years of service in state government, and wish him all the best moving forward,” Simpson, R-Trilby, said in a prepared statement on Tuesday.
A law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last year requires the legislative Joint Committee on Public Counsel Oversight to appoint an individual to the position to four-year terms starting March 1, with a 12-year cap on service. The committee is comprised of five senators and six House members, of which seven are Republicans and four are Democrats. The legislation to impose a term limit on the public counsel drew opposition from Democrats and members of several environmental groups, including Sierra Club of Florida and EarthJustice.
Former Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat from Miami, in March questioned the need for the term limits. Rodriguez said utility companies have “tables” of powerful lawyers, who have years of knowledge about the industry and commission, when they appear before the Public Service Commission.
However, Simpson, who sponsored the legislation, said at the same March meeting that term limits brings fresh ideas. There are “big” interests that oppose the utilities, Simpson argued.
“When you think of big powerful interests, make no mistake about it, there are big powerful interests on everything the PSC does,” said Simpson. “It’s not just on one side. We only talk about the one side. So, I think this brings a balance to that issue.”
A Florida State University Law School graduate, Kelly worked as a senior attorney and division director for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services prior to his appointment as public counsel in 2007.