Another PUCO Vacancy & Recommendations from the Public Utilities Nominating Commission Council
On January 22, the Public Utilities Commission Nominating Council sent Gov. Mike DeWine a list of recommended candidates to serve on the Commission for a five-year term beginning on April 11, 2021. The seat is held by Dennis Deters whose term expires in April. The 12-member Council is responsible for screening candidates and giving the governor a list of finalists. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is the sole state agency responsible for regulating utilities.
The governor rejected finalists submitted for a separate vacancy created by the resignation of Sam Randazzo as PUCO chairman, and subsequently received a new list of recommendations. Randazzo’s departure came after the FBI raided his condo and after FirstEnergy disclosed that it paid $4 million to a person meeting Randazzo’s description. Federal officials have an on-going bribery investigation into passage of a nuclear bailout law sought by FirstEnergy and its affiliates. Neither Randazzo nor any utilities have been charged in the case.
Deters is seeking re-appointment. He and three other finalists were recommended to Gov. DeWine. They are:
Amos is a policy adviser at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the independent government agency regulating the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil. She joined FERC as a financial analyst in the Office of Energy Market Regulation and now serves as policy adviser to FERC’s West Division, in the Office of Energy Market Regulation. Her duties include providing technical and legal advice to FERC Staff and Commissioner offices.
She is the only Democrat to have made the first list of recommended candidates to fill Randazzo’s vacany. Her background includes 15 years in the finance and energy industries.
Before joining FERC, her jobs included managing a Lehman Brothers energy trading desk and writing research reports on global coal and uranium markets. In her application, she noted past work for international firms where she analyzed how to apply business strategies to different (and sometimes conflicting) energy regulatory frameworks.
In doing her work, Amos says she often refers to the framework of ethics, economics, and the law that she studied in Leadership & Corporate Accountability as a first-year student at the Harvard Business School, “Ethically, we have to be mindful when considering the right thing to do. From the legal perspective, FERC has to ensure our regulations will hold up in court—but those regulations also have to protect the markets, which brings in the economic lens. At the end of the day, the businesses that provide energy have to make money to survive. And customers need to pay, but the rate must be just and reasonable—provisions exist so citizens can get the energy they need to live,” she wrote in information provided with her application.
She has an undergraduate degree in Afro-American Studies and Government at Harvard, and an MBA from Harvard.
Dennis Deters is the only finalist who currently sits on the PUCO and who is closely tied to one of the people indicted by federal officials in the on-going racketeering case involving FirstEnergy, an Akron-based utility regulated by the Commission. He is a Republican.
Public records show Deters with no investments in public utilities but his ethics statement for calendar year 2016 shows gifts from FirstEnergy lobbyist Leah Pappas and from the law firm Calfee, Halter & Griswold that employs her.
Deters was appointed to the five-member PUCO by Gov. DeWine in 2019 to fill a vacancy for a term that expires April 10. He served on Ohio’s First District Court of Appeals from 2017-2019 when he was appointed by then-Gov. John Kasich to succeed Pat DeWine, who was elected to the Ohio Supreme Court in 2016. Deters lost his bid for re-election to the Appeals Court on November 6, 2018, and left office on February 8, 2019.
Deters is connected to Matt Borges, the former chair of the Ohio Republican Party (ORP) who was indicted last July for his role in the bribery investigation that centers on a nuclear bailout bill that benefits FirstEnergy and American Electric Power.
In 2016, when Borges chaired the Ohio Republican Party, Deters tried and failed to unseat Denise Driehaus on the Hamilton County Commission. Borges sent state GOP resources to help Deters’ campaign. “This is the largest urban county where the Republicans still control the commission,” Borges, told the Cincinnati Enquirer at the time. “We lost it once a few years ago and won it back.”
The state party’s involvement allowed Deters to tap into a donor network across Ohio. Borges even took the unusual step of sending the Ohio GOP’s finance director to help coordinate fundraising efforts, and campaign finance reports show that the ORP gave $10,000 to Deters’ race.
Borges has a history with the Deters family: Nearly two decades ago he was chief of staff for Deters’ brother, then-state treasurer Joe Deters, when he landed at the center of a pay-to-play scandal in the treasurer’s office. An investigation by The Plain Dealer of Cleveland showed that Treasurer Deters’ office steered lucrative state investment contracts to donors – including some who lacked the qualifications to do the taxpayer-funded work. The contract steering caused Ohio’s investment portfolio to underperform other public investment accounts governed by similar restrictions.
After an investigation by the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, Borges pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for improper use of public office. He later got his record expunged and had no more encounters with the criminal justice system until last July when federal officials accused him of bribing a person for information about the campaign to try and repeal the bail law. He has pleaded not guilty.
Commissioner Deters has a Bachelor of Arts in English and government from the University of Notre Dame and a law degree from the University of Cincinnati.
Russo spent 20 years leading Russo Site Consultants, which contracted primarily with utility companies such as AT&T.
Over the past few years, he’s worked for various other companies on a number of wind and solar farm projects in Michigan and Wisconsin, leading site investigation, landowner relations, environmental research, and other aspects.
“I have been developing new utility scale solar farms and was instrumental in building some of the largest wind farms East of the Mississippi river,” his cover letter states.
He has applied to be on the PUCO several times and he told the Ohio Capital Journal why he is applying again: He believes PUCO’s interests are “purely corporate” and he would provide a much-needed consumer voice. “I’m a populist type of guy, helping citizens more than corporate. I’m not sure if the governor’s going to like that.”
Russo called himself an ‘’underdog” and suggested that powerful utilities have too much influence over the PUCO.
“I’m kind of tired of what’s going on and what I’m seeing,” he said. He argued that utility companies always get their way in asking for “bailouts, riders, anything extra,” pointing to the nuclear bailout as evidence.
He lives in Willoughby and has a law degree from the Marshall College of Law with a concentration in real estate and government law.
A political independent, Serraino is Counsel, Corporate Secretary, and Chief Compliance & Ethics Officer with a Michigan investor-owned public utility that is not subject to PUCO regulation. In his application for the PUCO, he said that his current job provides him with “extensive energy and utility industry expertise to draw upon, expertise that can only prove valuable to a Commissioner’s decision-making process. ‘’ He described himself as a “conservative Independent’’ with extensive public utility experience delivering sound and effective regulatory and compliance legal advice.
He also called himself a “relationship builder” with a knack for translating complex issues into successful solutions. He noted that he holds no stocks or bonds in any regulated utility that would be overseen by the PUCO.
Other previous workplaces include the Lucas County Auditor’s Office in Toledo, where he also served as general counsel, and the Dean and Fulkerson law firm in Michigan, where he “analyzed and mitigated marketing and antitrust challenges for top-tier auto parts manufacturers and other high-profile clients.”
While a partner at Anspach, Serraino, Meeks & Nunn from 1987 to 2004, he represented CSX Transportation, Whirlpool and other business clients. The PUCO and Ohio Rail Development Commission regulate and inspect rail grade crossings.
He spent five years as an Ohio Supreme Court-appointed member of the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection and was once an assistant professor of social medicine for Ohio University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.