Wednesday News Roundup – KeysNews.com

Michael Reckwerdt, former mayor of Islamorada, will be sentenced on Monday for felony tax fraud.  Well, at least Mr. Reckwerdt had the decency not to rip off his own taxpayers.

There is another very interesting letter from John Prosser on the opinion page, “Questions Without Answers“.  Unfortunately, I can’t link directly to the letter so you have scroll down to it.  Hopefully one of the other papers will run it and I can link directly to it.  Anyhow, it’s about the citizens’ struggles with obtaining accurate, timely water records from the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA).

I have a certain amount of experience with this myself.  It’s been a mixed bag.  Throughout the design of the Key Largo project, I would describe the FKAA as helpful and forthcoming when it came to providing data.  I would say the data provided to the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District (District) proved to be accurate.  The Key Largo system is sized correctly and functioning well.  That would not have happened with defective data.  The design period for Key Largo was roughly from 2004 – 2010.

From 2010 – 2012, the District transitioned from a construction project to an operating utility.  The FKAA does the District’s wastewater billing.  They provide this service for Marathon, Islamorada and Key West as well.  It’s actually a very common-sense arrangement.  I seems to work very well.  I have no complaints on this aspect of things.  During this transition process, the District had to keep track of which areas had service available and bill accordingly.  It was a tough job.  I was constantly asking FKAA to provide meter location files.  They were in the early stages of putting all that together.  FKAA staff (GIS and customer service) definitely went out of their way to be helpful.  They came up with creative solutions and we figured it all out.  Keep in mind, they were going through this same process with Marathon and probably with some of their own projects as well.  They had a lot going on, but they came through like champs.  Can’t say enough.

Toward the end of my tenure as General Manager, I requested water use data related to irrigation meters.  This would have been in early 2014.  The state had provided the District with $17 million from the Mayfield Grant.  The Mayfield Grant was originally intended to finance and refinance the Florida Keys wastewater projects.  Unfortunately, for the District and its ratepayers, the state disallowed refinancing.  The reasons for this abrupt about-face remain a mystery.  Anyhow, I came up with the idea of building a reuse project.  Not only is reuse great for the environment, it generates ongoing revenue that could be used to provide financial relief for District ratepayers.  It also dovetails with state environmental priorities and fits perfectly into the state’s new ideas on the proper use of Mayfield money.  It seemed to have a lot of community support among Key Largo citizens, who’ve always been environmentally-minded.  Win-win-win.

So I contacted the FKAA requesting water use data from irrigation meters in the Key Largo and Ocean Reef area so I could take a preliminary look at the feasibility.  Suddenly the shit hit the political fan.  But that is a post for another time.  (There might be some dots to connect there.  More research needed.)  Needless to say, I never did get my data.    The District ratepayers never will get their reuse system – at least not paid for with state money.  (Who knows?  Maybe reuse will be the next unfunded state mandate.  Wouldn’t that be a mighty kick in the pants?)  The ratepayers eventually did get a lopsided swap agreement with a reluctant and unreliable negotiating partner.  That sketchy agreement may or may not provide some measure of financial relief.  I certainly wouldn’t bank on it.

In summary, I’ve found that the FKAA’s track record in providing data has been very good historically.  But in recent years there’s been a drastic change for the worse.

In other news, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) apparently approved the hire of a Public Information Officer.  Silly.  I shared my thoughts on this in another post.

The only issue the commission debated Friday was whether to fund the $65,000-a-year public information officer position. Commissioner Heather Carruthers proposed the position.

The person could better relay information to the public via Facebook, Twitter and other social media, while helping the county revamp its web page and work to get out the message about climate change, Carruthers said.

“It can be structured in a much more understandable way,” Carruthers said of revamping the web page.

Commissioner Sylvia Murphy argued against it, saying it is not necessary. The commission voted 3-2 on the position with Murphy and Commissioner George Neugent voting against it.

So according to Carruthers this is really about getting the word out about climate change.  Here is my politician to taxpayer translation.  I hope you find it helpful.

 Ignore wastewater, everyone, we must scurry on to the next emergency.  Get out your wallets!!!  Wastewater is just frivolity in the overall scheme of things – $700 million worth of frivolity.  Pay no attention to where all that tax money went.

For the record, I’m in agreement with the vast majority of scientists on climate change.  It’s real.  The evidence supports a significant man-made component.  And the consequences are potentially devastating, especially for a low-lying area like the Keys.  But I don’t want to debate that here.  Unfortunately, climate change also provides unlimited opportunity for unscrupulous politicians to continue squandering our tax money.  The possibilities are endless and the scare tactics can be wielded very effectively.  I think the county’s sprint away from wastewater is a telltale sign.

No professional turd polisher…uh…I mean public information officer can help the county establish itself as a trustworthy, responsible, credible authority.  The county actually has to do that themselves.  Here are two ideas off the top of my head:

  1.  A thorough audit of the Cudjoe Regional project is a logical first step.  The project shows at least one glaring sign of contract fraud.  There’s been a huge increase in the contract price without much to show for it.  The project cost has increased by $43 million and the scope of the project has expanded to serve an additional 500 EDU’s.  That’s a measly number of EDU’s for $43 million.  This should be setting off alarm bells with the county.  Strangely, it has not.  In fact, it is the county that has pushed for a lot of the additional spending.  Ideally, a third-party would step in to perform the audit.  Perhaps this is something that could be done by the Florida Auditor General.  This is an idea I plan to explore in more depth.
  2. How about some basic fairness for all the taxpayers?  Why do Key Largo taxpayers contribute $26 million more than their counterparts in the other unincorporated areas?  Why did they receive $100 million less from the infrastructure sales tax?  Why did the BOCC allow this situation to develop?  Why haven’t they addressed it?  Most importantly, why do they continue to lie about it and cover it up?  Unless the county actually decides to do the right thing, a professional turd polisher…oops, pardon me…public information officer can’t help.  The bogus documents and statements will just continue to be picked apart and exposed for what they are.  That will only continue to undermine the county’s credibility.  They need to just start telling the truth.  Are they even capable of doing that?

Last but not least, here’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time!!!  This was actually posted six days ago and somehow I missed it.  Walt Drabinski is the guy who first raised the alarm about the Cudjoe project.  He’s got a solid background in the utility industry.  He’s persistent and asks the right questions.  He took a lot flack but kept hanging in there.  Not many people have the guts to do that.  Most important, he’s got a finely tuned bullshit detector.  If the county had taken his concerns seriously from the start, the Keys would be much better off today.  Google him.  If the Governor’s appointment office wants to effect positive change at the FKAA, Mr. Drabinski would be a great choice.  We’ll see what happens.

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