Richard Toppino of Charley Toppino & Sons has recently been appointed to the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) board. He will replace Melva Wagner who resigned in September after it became publicly known that she no longer lived in the Keys and was attending meetings by phone.
Mr. Toppino was chosen from among eleven applicants for the position. It was a very interesting choice for two reasons:
- On his application Mr. Toppino names himself as an officer for Charley Toppino & Sons, a local contractor that has done a significant amount of work for the FKAA.
- If I’m connecting the dots correctly, Mr. Toppino’s father, Frank Toppino, serves on the Key West Housing Authority board with Bob Dean, who is currently an FKAA board member. Frank Toppino is also an officer at Charley Toppino & Sons. Mr. Dean’s residency status has recently been called into question. The matter has supposedly been forwarded to the governor’s office for review.
If Charley Toppino & Sons continues to pursue FKAA work, it’s a set up for an inevitable conflict. This is why I am so surprised by the decision. There were ten other applicants who had zero and/or minimal ties to the FKAA. Why choose the applicant with the highest potential for a conflict? It was so unnecessary! Working around the edges again.
My understanding of the law is this:
An FKAA board member is considered a public officer. A public officer may not do business with the agency he or she represents. Existing contracts are not a violation, but future contracts are. For example, the $919,000 contract that Charley Toppino & Sons currently holds with the FKAA is okay, but future contracts will most likely be a prohibited conflict.
That said, here’s a rundown of the work that Charley Toppino & Sons has done for FKAA. The documents I could find online went back as far as 2006, and I only spot checked those. There could be more.
- Big Coppitt water main replacements – $179,763.95.
- Big Coppitt water main replacements change orders – $1,021,225.99
- Big Coppitt wastewater system – $9,737,807.39
- Big Coppitt wastewater system change orders – $155,852.70
- Flagler Avenue water main replacement – $306,861
- Flagler Avenue water main replacement change order – $18,924.37
- Big Pine Repump station – $919,020.15
That’s over $12 million in nine years. According to FKAA’s latest capital improvement plan, there is roughly $20 million worth of work planned for the Lower Keys. Will Charley Toppino & Sons forgo all that work because a company officer is on the FKAA board? Or will there be some shuffling done to make the conflict go away in a narrow legal sense?
As I said before, I’m sure the FKAA will find a way to tap dance around the law, but they’ll never get around the optics. Fortunately, they don’t need to worry so much about optics. With the help of the state, the FKAA has remained an appointed rather than an elected board, despite the clearly expressed will of the voters.
The FKAA provides a Summary of Contractual Commitments on each agenda. That’s where I got the contract and change order amounts for Charley Toppino & Sons. I didn’t look at every single monthly report. The documents can be found on FKAA’s website within the agendas. The agendas are typically a few hundred pages long. So for your convenience I extracted the specific documents. Here are the links: