Updated to include one very critical piece of information. Jeb Bush made public his emails from his time as governor. The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) put them into a searchable database. There’s lots of stuff about the Keys. Reading through it reminded me of something. Comm. Rice’s wife, Mary Rice, served on the FKAA board at around the time of the grand jury report. It stands to reason that this would have impaired Rice’s ability to act impartially.
Cudjoe Regional, of course, isn’t the only county sewer project to go horribly wrong. Long before Cudjoe Regional, there was Stock Island. Strangely enough, the modestly priced Stock Island project drew the attention of the State Attorney’s Office. And not in a good way. A grand jury report found the county’s handling of the project to be negligent. Comm. Neugent and Comm. Rice were among those calling for a grand jury investigation of the project.
So why aren’t they more concerned about the Cudjoe Regional project? Detested by the customers and $49 million over budget, the Cudjoe Regional project is a failure on every level. If the Stock Island project warranted a grand jury investigation, then certainly the Cudjoe Regional project does as well. Yet Rice and Neugent seem completely unconcerned. In fact, the county seems quite pleased with what they’ve “accomplished”.
Danny Kolhage was the County Clerk at the time of the Stock Island project and its aftermath. Surely, the Stock Island situation would have informed his decision-making as a county commissioner. It probably has, but not in a positive way. The cost of the Cudjoe Regional project really went haywire after Kolhage was elected to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) in 2012. Kolhage has been a huge proponent of unrestrained spending at taxpayer expense – not only on Cudjoe Regional but on many other capital projects.
The disconnect is truly startling. What happened to all the concern for the taxpayers? Or controlling project costs? Or proper oversight? One could certainly be forgiven for wondering if the grand jury report were politically motivated. In fact, at the time there was an intense political struggle over who would handle the wastewater projects.
The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) and their supporters were desperate to control the sewer projects and the millions in taxpayer money that went with them. And why not? Thanks to the BOCC, the Cudjoe Regional project netted an additional $49 million for the FKAA, their contractors and their subcontractors. One of whom now sits on the FKAA board. Talk about the fox guarding the hen-house! For this reason, I suspect certain members of the BOCC were more concerned about hassling a non-FKAA entity than about detecting any improprieties.
So what lessons did the county learn from their experience on Stock Island? Well, they certainly didn’t learn how to build a cost-effective sewer project. As flawed as the Stock Island project may have been, it didn’t require a penny over the county’s original commitment. The county has gone backwards when it comes to proper oversight and financial restraint. And they don’t care.
If the county has learned anything, it’s how to better cover their own behinds. They engage in the same lazy, irresponsible, unethical behavior, with the same disastrous results for the taxpayers. But so far, no grand jury reports; no project audits. Just continuous overspending and unfair treatment of taxpayers when they think they can get away with it.
If the Stock Island project warranted a grand jury investigation, then surely the Cudjoe Regional project does as well. And so does the Big Coppitt project for that matter. The county was very concerned about extra costs being imposed on the citizens of Stock Island, why aren’t they concerned about the excessive costs they’ve imposed on the citizens of Key Largo? Perhaps a grand jury ought to look into that, too.