The media has certainly made note of ongoing tension at the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District (District) lately. I haven’t paid much attention until recently. I assumed it was the same garden variety fussing and fighting they’ve always been up to.
At the District there has always been lots of questioning, lots of arguing. Usually civil, sometimes heated. That’s what comes from trying to get down to the facts to make sure that the best decision is made. Reasonable people can disagree, sometimes loudly.
Overall, the District has done a good job of getting the facts out on the table, making decisions based on those facts, and then moving on. These efforts have resulted in a cost-effective project that was completed in a timely manner. It was trying at times but it’s all worth it in the end!
Unfortunately, things seem to have gotten out of hand lately and that’s got me concerned. The District is getting bogged down in argument after after argument without really resolving anything. Here are a few stories that have been in the local newspapers.
Commissioner calls for GM’s termination – July 22, 2015
Rift deepens over departure – August 12, 2105
Key Largo sewer district GM accused of ‘power grab’ – August 14, 2015
Sewer GM avoids official reprimand. Emails, letters reveal widening rift between commissioners – August 14, 2015
Power struggle continues at meeting – Auguest 19, 2015
Lawyers spar over Key Largo wastewater commission’s authority – October 9, 2015
Tobin Walks Out, Free Press – October 28, 2015
That last one, “Tobin Walks Out”, prompted me to write an email to the wastewater commissioners. I posted the email on my blog and the Free Press wrote about it. Tobin’s initial concerns were over a lack of transparency when it comes to staffing decisions, and the possible impact of those decisions on the District’s knowledge base. The perceived lack of transparency only fosters suspicion and generates more questions.
Monroe County is arguably the most dysfunctional government entity in all the Keys. The Cudjoe Regional project is an unquestionable failure – $43 million over budget and the subject of numerous lawsuits. Yet they still manage routine functions, such as hiring, without undue drama. The county administrator (aka. the “iPhone Bandit“) freely shares hiring information with the county commissioners upon request.
Here’s a clip from the October 2015 Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting where the new IT Director [**] was chosen. The commissioners asked for copies of the applicants’ resumes. There was no argument. There was no push back. The entire discussion was business-like and cordial. It took all of five minutes.
There needs to be a free exchange of information between the commissioners and the chief executive. How else will the commissioners make sure that good judgement is being exercised and hiring is done in accordance with applicable policies? Doesn’t the sewer board have the same responsibility as the county commission? How do they carry out that responsibility if staff refuses to provide information?
The latest blow-up was over the code enforcement list. Comm. Majeska asked a question about a property on the list. That sparked an argument, which then spawned a legal memo from the in-house attorney claiming that the board was on a slippery slope toward “obstruction of justice”. Quite a claim! Comm. Tobin requested another legal opinion on the matter from an attorney that the District keeps on retainer. That caused another argument over the resulting $850 legal bill.
What the heck is going on? Why are tensions so high? Most importantly, how does all this drama serve the ratepayers?
** I’ve found that links to videos of Monroe County meetings only work in Internet Explorer. If you’re in another browser you might have to switch over.