Key Largo Wastewater Board – Lots of Interest

I votedIt looks like the two open seats on the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District board are generating a lot of interest.  There are five candidates lined up so far.  That’s great!  It’s nice to see all that enthusiasm.  I think it bodes well for the future of the District, and of Key Largo.

Here’s a link to the story.

Incumbent Steve Gibbs is running again.  According to a previous story in the Free Press, he made some very puzzling remarks.  The puzzling remarks continue in this latest news story.

“There are two different philosophies on the board. Mine is to pick a captain to run the ship, and once you’re at sea, the captain’s word is God. The captain rules,” Gibbs said.

Uhhhh…this is interesting.  Historically, the board hasn’t been a rubber stamp.  If the General Manager of the sewer district is “God”, then why even bother with an elected board?  The board is there to provide oversight, not simply nod along.  Key Largo already has a nod-along in County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy.  And that, of course, has led to disastrous results.

The line between inadequate staff accountability and excessive board interference can be difficult to navigate, but thousands of chief executives do it every day.  It’s part of the job.

Gibbs seems to think his job is about coddling the General Manager and nursing a grievance against a colleague.  It’s not.  It’s about looking after the ratepayers.

Gibbs says a remaining challenge is to defend administrative staff, especially General Manager Paul Christian, from what Gibbs views as unfair scrutiny from one of his colleagues on the dais, Commissioner Andrew Tobin.

The greatest need right now is financial.  Because of the county’s grossly unfair funding policies, Key Largo ratepayers contribute far more to the cost of the their sewer project than any other citizens in the unincorporated area.  At present, the only mechanism for addressing that issue is the swap agreement.  However, the county’s commitment to the agreement is tentative at best.

More troubling, of course, is the county’s long track record of blatant unfairness and dishonesty.  Why would they honor this agreement when they don’t honor basic ethical principles?  The agreement is legally binding, but the county has been looking for ways to circumvent it even before they signed it.  Do you remember the confusion over a specific clause that potentially limits the District’s ability to pursue equity for the ratepayers?

Equity for the ratepayers needs to be the primary focus.  Not shielding staff from accountability.  Not pursuing a vendetta against a colleague.

Sue Heim, a long-time community activist is also running.  Here’s a snippet about her.

Heim is a fixture at Wastewater Treatment District commission meetings and successfully advocated on behalf of senior citizens to waive 50 percent of their monthly base charge if the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority did the same on the customers’ water bills.

Ms. Heim is definitely a fixture.  She’s very concerned with public records and transparency.  And she did advocate for a discount for seniors and disabled veterans, which was eventually approved by the board.

Gary Bauman is running as well, which I am pleased to see.  Mr. Bauman served on the board for two terms.  He had this to say.

Bauman said he wants to serve again to make the district staff more accountable to the board and open to the public. He said he recently attended a district commission meeting and asked the staff to audit its processes and procedures.

“I was denied my request, and that got me thinking,” Bauman said.

I agree that transparency and accountability have become an issue.  I wrote a little about my experience with a public records request gone awry.  My request was courteous and straightforward – complimentary even.  Yet the response I received was extremely evasive, defensive and rude.  That certainly got me wondering.  Why react that way?

District board members and staff should be willing and able to substantiate their claims and explain their methods.  If not, there’s a big problem.  Citizens get enough secretive nonsense from the county and the FKAA.  They don’t need it from the District, too.  As I recall, Mr. Bauman asks smart, relevant questions that get to the heart of the issue.  There’s a clear need for that on the board right now.

Eddie Martinez is another candidate.

Surveyor Eddie Martinez, who ran for the county Mosquito Control Board in 2014, says his civil engineering background qualifies him for the commission.

“I would have the best dialogue with the KLWTD’s engineer without having to ask for 10,000 explanations, therefore not wasting my community’s and everyone else’s time,” Martinez said.

As a board member, Mr. Martinez is accountable to the public.  While he may easily understand some specific engineering issue, his constituents may not.  As an elected official, his role is more about acting as a liaison to the public and providing oversight than it is about making quick decisions with minimal discussion.

As mentioned in earlier articles in the Free Press, Mr. Martinez does a significant amount of work with the District as a surveyor.  It’s certainly not in the same league as Richard Toppino’s ongoing conflicts, but it is something voters ought to be aware of.

Dennis Caltagirone is running as well.  Here’s what he had to say.

“Fiscal policy and management are of major interest in bringing service to our community,” Caltagirone said. “Reduction of the debt level and eventual reduction in customer rates are high priorities for the wastewater district.”

I agree.  There needs to be a solid plan for rate and assessment relief.  And that goal is related to the funding equity issue.  Perhaps if Mr. Caltagirone is elected, the ratepayers will finally have a board member who is willing to push aggressively for a concrete plan to provide financial relief.

Interesting times ahead!

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