At the end of December I submitted a public records request to the Governor’s Office of Open Government. I asked for Richard Toppino’s appointment file. I got it on Friday. There are a few items of interest, but first some general comments about the appointment process itself.
The Appointment Process
As I’ve said before, I have many concerns about the appointment process. Many if not most of the public records requests fielded by the governor’s office have to do with appointments. It would seem that I’m not the only one with questions.
The process is very secretive. Unless somebody knows to submit a public records request, there’s no way for the public to know who the applicants are. The selection process is completely opaque. The public is simply informed that an appointee is chosen and that’s that. The deliberations, if there are any, are carried out in complete silence.
There appear to be few, if any, standards for appointees. There’s apparently very little vetting done. No evidence of a background check. Evidently, nobody looks into possible conflicts of interest. Toppino did NOT lie about his business relationship with the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA). He didn’t have to. Nobody bothered to ask about the extent of it, and he certainly didn’t volunteer any information.
So those are my general thoughts on the appointment process. Now – a discussion of Toppino’s appointment file. I found the letters of recommendation most interesting.
Toppino’s Appointment File
There’s a letter from Sheriff Rick Ramsey, which contains this quote.
As a personal reference, I know Mr. Richard Toppino to possess outstanding character and integrity and an earnest dedication to civic duty.
Well, if Mr. Toppino really does possess these wonderful qualities then presumably he will soon be providing detailed, accurate and verifiable information about his business dealings with the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA). The public shouldn’t have to pull teeth to find out what’s really going on. Again, Mr. Toppino did NOT lie, but he did nothing to correct Mr. Zuelch’s inaccurate statements. He let it ride. I’m hoping to see some evidence of his “outstanding character and integrity” very soon.
There is also a letter from Monroe County commissioner, George Neugent. Commissioner Neugent certainly should be very aware of the extent of Toppino’s involvement in Cudjoe Regional. He should also be very familiar with ethics requirements regarding conflicts of interest. That he would write a letter supporting Toppino should certainly be enough to raise a few eyebrows. That said, I’m not at all surprised that a county commissioner would support something like this.
Most interesting to me is the recommendation letter from Ocean Properties, Ltd. There’s no mention of what the connection is to Toppino. It’s all very vague. It turns out they own many, many hotel properties in the United States and Canada including several in the Keys (Key West and Key Largo). Here’s a list and a map.
There’s some information about them at the Monroe County Clerk of Court website. Ocean Properties, Ltd. has apparently been involved in several lawsuits in the Keys. In one instance the plaintiff attempted to secure an order of protection against the company. That request was denied. It turns out that the company has been accused of being quite litigious elsewhere.
I don’t know yet how Ocean Properties, Ltd. might tie into the wasteful (and possibly corrupt) use of taxpayer money on the sewer projects, particularly Cudjoe Regional. Certainly the contractors and subcontractors, including the Toppino’s, have benefited from all that excessive spending. The $147 million Cudjoe Regional project now costs $196 million. Presumably a good bit of that extra $49 million would have found its way into Toppino’s pockets. The support of Toppino by Ocean Properties, Ltd. makes me wonder what they might hope to gain from the taxpayers.