KeysNews On Nepotism Charges

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This headline deserves some good side-eye.

Here’s the actual head line:  Former FKAA board member vindicated.

Some might say “vindicated”.  Some might say “got away with”.  The Barroso situation certainly looks fishy.  Being unable to prove that something illegal took place is a far cry from vindication.  The Florida Ethics Commission is somewhat toothless and they know it.  May as well be up front about that.  But they continue their attempts to tighten things up.  Here’s a link to an article about some of their doings.  They’ve also got a lobbyist website.  I haven’t looked at it in a while.  Looks like they’ve done some upgrades.  Integrity Florida has some good information about ethics issues as well.

The other good news is that there are now tighter rules on special districts.  The Scott administration took an interest in special districts.  I’ll confess the extra questioning and scrutiny created anxiety at times.  There were times I got a distinctly anti-special district vibe.  But in the end, the citizens got some common-sense changes that will improve accountability and transparency to some extent.  Here’s a link to some general information on special districts.  And here’s a link to a presentation about special districts.  Among the changes, as of October 1, 2015, special districts are required to post certain information on their web sites.

Now back to Barroso.  According to, an Assistant Customer Service Manager makes about $37,000 per year.  That’s the national average.  I don’t know what differentiates a $91,000/year Assistant Customer Service Manager from a $37,000/year Assistant Customer Service Manager, but I would like to find out.  Just for “sanity check” purposes, I made $125,000 per year as the General Manager (GM) of the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District (District).  The City Managers of Marathon and Islamorada make in the neighborhood of $140,000.

I can tell you that as GM (and before) I was bombarded with requests to hire this one or hire that one.  Give this one a raise, give that one a raise.  I came from a private-sector background in an industry where this just wasn’t done – too much emphasis on profit.  Hiring unqualified boobs just is not helpful when you’re actually trying to make money.  Bottom line, this was not something I was used to at all.  It was especially tough when I was just a wee baby manager.  It got easier over time because I took a firm stand early on.  We’ve had one or two politician-backed unqualified employees (PBUE) squeak through the doors of the District though.  It’s hard to avoid.  It’s like trying to keep spiders out of your house.

The hiring of a PBUE creates a whole tidal wave of issues.  PBUE’s usually cause more harm than good, wasting resources, and pulling down morale all the while.  Typically, it takes two or three employees to do the job the PBUE was hired to do.  One to actually do the job.  One or two to clean up the PBUE’s messes.  PBUE’s also wreak havoc on morale.  Imagine being the employee who is actually doing the PBUE’s job without being paid the PBUE’s salary.  It is also typical for PBUE’s to play up their connection to whatever politician foisted them upon us in the first place, often copping an attitude when asked to…like…do their job or at least pretend to.  At the District, PBUE’s were extremely unwelcome and had a limited shelf life.

For the sake of my politician friends, I will say that it’s hard to find good, qualified people.  Especially in the Keys.  So I always appreciated referrals from any source.  Best way to handle it, in my opinion, is to let the qualified applicant know about the opening – assuming its been properly advertised.  And then keep your hands off.  Ideally, the hiring staff won’t even know about the connection.  Sometimes a well-connected applicant really and truly is the best candidate.  I’ve run into that situation as well.  A good hiring policy, if adopted and followed, clarifies where the lines are and allows the organization to demonstrate that the most appropriate choice was made.

Well, that turned into a bit of a ramble.  My overall point is that things are slowly improving ethics-wise.  People are still getting away with things they shouldn’t be getting away with.  There is still too little recourse.  But the state has taken some baby steps in the right direction.  If it keeps up, the good old boys will find themselves in a whole new world.

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