The Keys have certainly suffered through their share of corrupt government officials. The iPhone Bandit is still the County Administrator even after purchasing gadgets stolen from the county – for cash. Let’s not forget, this is the guy who is paid (very well I might add) to be responsible for taxpayer money. Fortunately for the iPhone Bandit and unfortunately for the taxpayers, the Board of County Commissioners admires his wily ways.
Comm. Heather Carruthers also took advantage of this steal of a deal. She’s running again in November. I guess she thinks the taxpayers still have a little juice left. She’s proposed a new sales tax that will shift the cost of fire and emergency services from large commercial property owners to low and moderate income locals. And, oh by the way, county staff made some very misleading statements in support of Carruthers’s proposal. As it turns out, Carruthers herself stands to benefit. So will some of her campaign donors.
An audit also found that Carruthers is a bit sloppy with her county-issued purchasing card (p-card). She was none too gracious about her carelessness being brought to light either. She reacted more like a spoiled teenager than a responsible public official. She had a list of excuses at the ready and a pissy attitude to match. I’m fully aware that this p-card thing is not exactly the crime of the century, but unfortunately this is not the only incident. As mentioned above, she was involved in the iPhone scandal and is now propping up her proposed sales tax with misleading statements.
Also running is Comm. Danny Kolhage. Kolhage isn’t quite as “in-your-face” with his shenanigans as Carruthers is, but he’s definitely got some baggage. There’s his involvement in the Stand Up For Animals fiasco. And there’s his family association with Greg Veliz – convicted felon and now Assistant City Manager of Key West. He, along with Carruthers, was instrumental in driving up the cost of Cudjoe Regional. Despite his posturing as “financially responsible”, he supported every single cost increase – no questions asked. He’s also fond of making misleading statements that are damaging to the taxpayers.
Comm. Sylvia Murphy will be on the ballot again, too. Murphy’s greatest accomplishment is seeing to it that her constituents pay far more for sewer service than citizens in the other unincorporated areas. Even though their project cost considerably less. The Key Largo project is the same size as the other sewer projects combined. On Murphy’s watch, Key Largo received $125 million less from the infrastructure sales surtax. As a result, her constituents pay $25 million more. How did Murphy respond to this issue? She lied.
Then there’s the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA). Residency issues, nepotism, conflicts of interest, missing documents and blatantly false statements. The FKAA board could fill up a scandal sheet all on their own. Unfortunately, the citizens attempts at seeking relief by eliminating the appointed board have been blocked at the state level twice. The governor’s office has taken no action to address Bob Dean’s residency issue. Even worse, the governor appointed Richard Toppino to replace Melva Wagner. Wagner had residency issues of her own. Toppino is an officer in a family business that has done at least $20 million worth of business with the FKAA in the last ten years.
Can the sorry state of the Cudjoe Regional project be due to negligence alone? Perhaps, but $49 million is an awful lot of negligence. If the cost overruns were due to stupidity alone, wouldn’t someone have caught on sooner and put a stop to it? Now $25 million worth of capital projects have somehow escalated to $63 million. I asked staff for documents to support these numbers. Nothing yet. To be very honest, I doubt these documents even exist. Hmmm….where does all our tax money go? And why is it so difficult to get answers?
A while back I wrote a post about Sen. Don Gaetz’s anti-corruption bill. I mentioned it in this post, too. Well it passed! Not the exact same version, but it passed. It addresses some of the concerns raised in the grand jury report. The revised bill was approved by the governor on March 25 and goes into effect on October 1.
There was another bill that failed. This bill was sponsored by Sen. Gaetz and Sen. Kenneth Ring. It was meant to increase the accountability of special districts. I think that’s a good and necessary thing, but the requirements were excessively detailed and onerous. Even so, I definitely agree that more information should be publicly available on a special district’s website. Given the capabilities of most accounting software it would be easy to do. Here’s a comprehensive list of what I think should be available. (Note that some of this is already required.)
- Links to current and historical budgets.
- Links to current and historical CAFR’s.
- Links to current and historical capital plans.
- Links to annual budget-to-actual comparison reports if not included in the CAFR.
- A list of vendors.
- A list of contractors.
- A list of subcontractors.
- Resumes of elected officials.
- Applications of appointed officials.
- Resume of chief executive.
- Links to current and historical regulatory reports.
None of this is difficult or onerous. The documents listed are either required anyway or are very easy to generate. Many special districts publish much of this information already. A list of vendors, contractors and subcontractors makes it much easier for the public to detect a potential conflict of interest.
Any local government should be required to publish these documents, not just special districts.