Kirk Zuelch, the Executive Director of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) was specifically instructed by the board to send a packet of documents to the governor’s appointment office. The governor’s appointment office could then review the documents and make a decision regarding Bob Dean’s eligibility to serve on the FKAA board. Did Mr. Zuelch do as he was asked? Is the governor’s office reviewing the material? Are they even aware of the issue?
Let’s back up a little bit. The evidence strongly suggests that FKAA board member Bob Dean does not actually live within the district he represents as required by FKAA bylaws. In fact, the evidence that he lives outside of Key West is so strong that the state attorney challenged Dean’s eligibility to vote in Key West elections. The Key West Canvassing Board decided in Dean’s favor – an extremely questionable though not unexpected decision.
Right or wrong, the canvassing board apparently has the final say in that particular matter. Dean and his attorney, Michael Halpern argued that Dean’s eligibility to serve on the FKAA board should also be guided by the canvassing board’s decision. Fortunately, the FKAA board decided that the governor’s appointments office would be the more appropriate final authority. After all, that is who chooses the board members in the first place. That is why Mr. Zuelch was directed to forward documents to the governor’s office.
Did Zuelch Send the Documents as Directed?
I can’t be sure either way. I submitted a public records request to the state’s office of open government. It takes a little while for them to churn out a response. As you can imagine they’ve got quite a big job on their hands. I’m sure they’ve got to sift through a massive number of documents.
On December 11, I got a reply saying that the governor’s office did not have the documents. Now this could easily be a misunderstanding. Like I said, the office of open government deals with a massive amount of information. So I submitted a public records request to the FKAA and they immediately sent the documents which I then forwarded to the office of open government. I don’t know if they went to the right person or if they will ever get to the right person. But now I can say for sure that the documents have been sent to the governor’s office.
You might be wondering, why is this so important? It’s important because the FKAA is a secretive organization responsible for millions of dollars of public money. Along with the county, the FKAA has overseen the most expensive wastewater project in the Keys, Cudjoe Regional.
At a current projected cost of $190 million, the Cudjoe Regional project is $43 million over the initial bid price. Not only is Cudjoe Regional a budget buster, it has been dogged by litigation from concerned citizens who simply cannot get straight answers to their questions about the project.
This bloated and financially out-of-control project is such a resource suck that Key Largo citizens have been unable to secure fair funding. Despite being a lower income area, despite completing a comparatively cost-effective project, and despite being taxpayers just like those in Cudjoe Regional – Key Largo citizens pay more for their project than others in the unincorporated area.
Is There a Remedy?
At this point, it doesn’t seem likely the citizens will get any help from the governor’s office. There’s this matter of the (possibly) unsent documents, which suggests that the governor’s office may not be aware of Dean’s residency issues. Of even greater concern, is the appointment of Richard Toppino to Melva Wagner’s vacant seat on the FKAA board.
Mr. Toppino is an officer in two family businesses, Monroe Concrete and Charley Toppino & Sons. Both entities do a significant amount of business with the FKAA. Charley Toppino & Sons has in fact done at least $12 million worth of work for the FKAA in the last nine years.
That figure only includes work contracted directly with FKAA. It excludes subcontract work, which probably amounts to millions more. Out of eleven applicants, Toppino was chosen for Wagner’s vacated seat. Why him? Why choose the guy whose family business does millions of dollars of work for the agency he will be “overseeing”?
It’s impossible to say what the governor’s office actually knows about Mr. Toppino. He was quite straightforward about the possibility of a conflict on his application. He was truthful with the governor’s office and was chosen anyway. But it’s unclear what information the governor’s office has about the nature and scope of the conflict. And how accurate is that information? The FKAA has already tried to downplay the issue in the press.
I would hope that with accurate information, the governor’s office would reconsider the appointment of Mr. Toppino. I would also hope, that with accurate information, they would come to a fact-based decision on Bob Dean’s residency status.
We’ll just have to see.
Here are some links to the whole pile, if you’d like to read through it all for yourself.