Applicants for Melva Wagner’s Seat

Update:  When I first wrote this post, I never thought Richard Toppino would be appointed to the the FKAA board.  Well he was!  I did not know the full extent of his business relationship with the FKAA when I first wrote this post.  I still don’t, but it is much more extensive than I first realized – almost $20 million in ten years.  

Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) board member, Melva Wagner, resigned shortly after it was found that she no longer lived in her district.  Or even in the Keys for that matter.  The Blue Paper has a good story on why this is so important.

stamp-143799_1280The FKAA has an appointed, not an elected board.  For that reason, there’s a lot of secrecy around the process of who is selected.  Unless you submit a public records request, there is no way to know who applied, what criteria were used in the selection process, how the applicants may be connected to the FKAA, etc.  So that is what I did.

It turns out that at the time of my request, there were eleven applicants.  I was aware of five from media reports.  See here and here.  That speaks to the lack of transparency surrounding this process.  The applicants aren’t made known to the public unless somebody asks.  In fact, many of the public records requests received by the governor’s office have to do with appointments.

So here they are, the eleven applicants.  Of course, I have provided commentary because  I just cannot stop myself.

  1. Christina Weinhofer is a graduate of Key West High School and works in the construction industry.  She doesn’t have any apparent ties to the FKAA that might constitute a conflict.
  2. Walter LaGraves is a retired law enforcement officer.  That background would certainly come in handy if he intends to get the FKAA straightened out.  No apparent conflicts.
  3. Ronald Demes is one of the candidates mentioned in media reports.  He is the Senior Mission Coordinator at the Naval Air Station of Key West (NASKW).  The only possible conflict is that the NASKW is a large customer of FKAA.
  4. Harry Appel owns a bed and breakfast on Big Pine Key.  No apparent conflicts.
  5. Anthony Barrows is an attorney.  He received recommendations from Bob Shillinger and David Van Loon.  Shillinger, of course, is the county attorney.  David Van Loon, it turns out, is part of the attorney blob.  Van Loon practices law with Bobby Highsmith.  Bob Feldman and Kirk Zuelch have also been involved with the firm at one time or another.  To me this is a major conflict.  Appointing this guy would just perpetuate the ongoing problems at FKAA.  This one is a no-go for me.  I hope it’s a no-go for the governor, too.
  6. Walter Drabinski, of course, has been a prominent citizen activist in the Cudjoe Regional matter.  He runs a firm that analyzes all types of utilities – water, wastewater, electric.  Well qualified.  No apparent conflicts.  I believe he would be a watch dog type of board member, like Cara Higgins.  And that’s what the ratepayers need.
  7. Richard Toppino is an officer in Charley Toppino & Sons, a construction company, and Monroe Concrete Products.  Both companies do business with the FKAA.
  8. George Bud Rogers also has a law enforcement background, and has also been involved as an activist in the Cudjoe Regional situation.  No apparent conflicts.
  9. Sandra Walters is a local environmental consultant.  She’s well-educated and experienced in her field, which is related to FKAA’s mission.  Her firm has done work for the FKAA so there is a possible conflict there.
  10. Jerry Lieberman is the Director of a consulting firm.  He’s been in Florida since 2012.  No apparent conflicts.
  11. Elena George is originally from Cuba and has lived in Florida since 1980.  She obtained a Chemical Engineering degree in Cuba.  She is now the Executive Director of Monroe County Homeless Services CoC, Inc.  She’s got a daughter who works at the FKAA.  So there is the possibility of a conflict.

There you have it.  Lots of very impressive candidates, some with potential conflicts and some without.  We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

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