Ohio Public Utilities Commission Chairman Sam Randazzo Resigns

Sam Randazzo, former PUCO chairman, on "The State of Ohio" set. [Statehouse News Bureau]

Update: 4:54 p.m., Friday, Nov. 20, 2020

Ohio Public Utilities Commission Chairman Sam Randazzo resigned Friday morning, days after an FBI raid at his Columbus home. The raid is presumed to be tied to the ongoing investigation of an alleged $61 million bribery scheme involving FirstEngergy to push a nuclear bailout law through the state legislature last year. 

Randazzo’s resignation is effective immediately.

“I believe my actions as Chair have done much to put the PUCO and OPSB (Ohio Power Siting Board) on a better foundation to serve the public interest. In the days ahead, I hope the Commissioners and Board Members who remain or follow me can continue this important mission,” he wrote in a Friday resignation letter to Gov. Mike DeWine. I will greatly miss working with the dedicated public servants who make up the PUCO and OPSB staff as well as other agency Directors and your team. I regret that I must step away but it is the right and necessary thing to do.”

Also this week, FirstEnergy filed an SEC report Thursday saying former company executives made an improper payment of $4 million to an entity associated with an individual who is now a state regulator.

Randazzo was not named in the FBI investigation nor in the SEC filing.

However, DeWine said Friday both matters led to Randazzo's resignation.

"He indicated to me that he felt that in regards to recent events that have occurred, the FBI search of his home coupled with the SEC filing yesterday that he would going forward -- in his words -- be a distraction from the work from the PUCO and felt that this is the best thing for him to do," DeWine said.

Before leading the PUCO, Randazzo was a lobbyist for Industrial Energy Users-Ohio, representing large energy users such as Marathon Gas and McDonald’s franchises. But Randazzo said in recent testimony on a bailout repeal bill that he never did legal work or lobbied for a utility that's regulated by the PUCO.

Last year, clean energy and environmental advocates called on DeWine to not appoint Randazzo to the position, citing his ties with the companies he used to represent.

“We didn't think he should be seated as chair in the first place and expressed our concern to Gov. DeWine at the time,” said Neil Waggoner with the Sierra Club's Ohio Chapter. “Since Randazzo's appointment, his tenure as chair of the PUCO and OPSB [Ohio Power Siting Board] has included questionable orders, inappropriate concurring statements, ongoing accusations of bias, and politicization of the PUCO/OPSB," said Neil Waggoner with the Sierra Club's Ohio Chapter.

Randazzo's is just latest name to be tossed into the mix in the statewide shake-up that began with a federal corruption investigation allegedly involving FirstEnergy, former House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Medina), and several top lobbyists.

Federal prosecutors allege FirstEnergy funneled funds through dark money groups to Householder and others for their personal and political benefit in exchange for helping pass House Bill 6, the bailout law, and defending it from a civilian referendum. Householder is facing federal racketeering charges, along with four associates, two of whom pleaded guilty in October.

House and Senate leaders in Columbus say they want to repeal HB6 during current the lame duck session, but several bills repeal measures are still stuck in committee.

The PUCO is currently reviewing the political expenditures of FirstEnergy and its subsidiaries. Instead of hiring an independent auditor, the PUCO asked FirstEnergy itself to show utility ratepayers did not pay "directly or indirectly" for lobbying in favor of HB6 – a move the Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel argues is too lenient.

The nomination process for a new commissioner begins with the PUCO Nominating Council, a 12-member panel charged with screening candidates for the position, which then makes recommendations to the governor.

Ideastream’s Gayle S. Putrich contributed to this report

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