Hometown Key West – First Candidate Forum – District 5

I votedThe Hometown Key West PAC ran their first question and answer session of the campaign season on July 25.  They already had a “meet the candidates” event, which I wrote about here.  I’m focusing on two races in particular:  District 5 County Commissioner and Clerk of Court.  These are the biggies for me.  The candidates for Clerk of Court did not appear at this forum so it’s just District 5 today.

District 5 has not had a real voice on the county commission for ten years.  And that has hurt the community.  Badly.  Key Largo citizens unjustifiably pay more for their sewer system than their neighbors in the other unincorporated areas, and Sylvia Murphy could not care less.  Because of the swap agreement that situation may finally be partially resolved.  But it’s taken far too long and it’s still far from certain.

Wastewater is a huge issue financially, but it is not the only issue.  The most heartbreaking is the high kill rate at the Upper Keys Animal shelter.  County staff attempted to hide an extremely inconvenient fact in the 2015 State of the County report.  The Upper Keys shelter receives far less funding on a per animal basis than any of the others.  Isn’t it logical to assume that the lower level of funding might have something to do with the high kill rate?  Murphy, in her typical fashion, was dismissive about the issue.  Her only comment has been that she’s “perfectly happy” with the performance of the shelter.

I would just like to see District 5 represented by someone who cares enough about District 5 to effectively balance the needs of their home district with the needs of the wider Keys community.  There is absolutely no reason that Key Largo should pay so much more for wastewater than their neighbors in the other unincorporated areas.  And there is absolutely no reason for the high kill rate at the Upper Keys animal shelter to continue.  It would not hurt the larger Keys community one bit if these issues were finally resolved.  Fairness and compassion only make the entire Keys community stronger.

Theoretically, all the county commissioners are supposed to care about all of the Florida Keys.  But that is simply not the case.  At all.  In reality, if a commissioner does not care about their home district, then none of the other commissioners do either.  Which is why the District 5 race is so important.

So here we go.

Single-member districts:

Murphy was asked about single-member districts and how she feels about the fact that the movement originated in the Upper Keys.  She spewed the usual garbage claims that voters have influence over all five commissioners under the current arrangement, and with single-member districts they would have influence over only one.  It’s look-out-your-front-door obvious that, as it stands now, Keys voters have influence over zero commissioners, including and especially their own.

The commissioners do exactly what they please regardless of the negative impact on their home districts.  Then they pander to voters elsewhere to get reelected.  Neugent did it in 2014.  Murphy’s done it throughout her time as a county commissioner.  She makes no secret of her contempt for the people of her own district.  She is openly dismissive of their concerns knowing that her feisty old lady schtick plays well elsewhere.

Murphy has mastered the art of doing nothing and getting paid for it.  I can’t tell you how many times she’s repeated the phrase, “I’m only one vote” to excuse her lack of effectiveness.  She may be only be one vote on some issues, but that doesn’t mean she gets to just phone it in.  She can put together strong arguments to support her positions, and she can expose weaknesses in opposing arguments.  She can attempt to persuade the other commissioners.  She could listen to her constituents and make sure they get a fair shake.  She could offer suggestions and formulate solutions.  She does none of that.  She’s more interested in going along to get along.  When pushed to answer for her ineffectiveness, she lies.

The moderator allowed Murphy to completely side-step the question about the single-member district effort originating in the Upper Keys.  But I hope the point wasn’t lost on the audience.  Many of Murphy’s constituents are justifiably unhappy with her.  Hopefully enough of them are aware of the situation, and are willing to make a change on August 30.  And if they do, hopefully they won’t be overruled by voters elsewhere.  We’ll have to wait and see.

Personally, I have a real philosophical problem with people being represented by a commissioner they did not elect.  Even if I support that candidate myself.  It’s happened multiple times.  District 2 is currently represented by a commissioner who lost his own district in the Republican primary in 2014.  A similar scenario played out in District 3 as well.

Majeska discussed both sides of the issue.  He stated the obvious fact that commissioners from other districts aren’t going to override the commissioner who actually represents that area.  In my experience, this is absolutely the case.  When it comes to wastewater funding, the other commissioners were delighted that Murphy was such a weak advocate for her own district.  More money for them to squander in a shady and careless fashion.

BOCC’s performance:

Majeska was asked about a decision made by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) that he was unhappy with.  He gave the example of some conservation lands recently purchased by the Land Authority, and wondered why those particular properties – given their location – were chosen for that purpose rather than affordable housing.  He pointed out that there is very little public discussion or debate on any issue.  Each of the commissioners meets privately with staff and the outcomes seem predetermined.  True fact!

Murphy was asked the same question, and boy her answer made me snort-laugh like never before.  She said that the BOCC has made several “bone-headed” decisions, and that she is typically on the losing end of a 4-1 vote in those situations.  Then she went on to say, that the vote eventually winds up being 5-0 and that the BOCC does “pretty good”.

Uhhh….so I guess the other four can eventually persuade her to vote for something “boneheaded” and we’re supposed to think that’s “good”.  Holy hell.  Murphy’s migraine-inducing hamster-logic might just be the end of me.

Most problematic state or federal agency:

Murphy said it was the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) because they insist that Monroe County follow rules.  I’m paraphrasing.  She said she loves the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT).  Hmmmm…that just shows how out-of-touch she is.  After all, DOT is the agency that installed the hated death-trap (a.ka. “pedestrian crossing”) at mile marker 99.

Monroe County Sheriff, Rick Ramsey, thinks it’s a safety hazard and has lambasted the DOT for their lack of response over the issue.  Yet here’s Murphy praising DOT for how delightful they are to work with.  Pretty standard Murphy attitude.  The only thing she cares about is making her own life comfy and pleasant.  Everyone else can go hang or get squished by a speeding vehicle.

Majeska said the DOT was the most difficult to work with.  I know he wrangled with them over their treatment of small businesses along U.S. 1.  And working with them on the wastewater project was difficult at times.  Certainly a reasonable answer all things considered.  Especially if you give a crap about the safety of pedestrians in the Key Largo area, which Murphy clearly does not.

Sin tax:

Murphy says she disagrees with the proposed “sin tax” based on what she knows about it now.  She’d rather see human services paid for with ad valorem taxes.  She’s hedging here.  See her comments above about 4-1 votes.  Murphy’s “strong” public stands are about as durable as tissue paper.

Let’s get back to the roots of this “sin tax” for a minute.  The “sin tax” rose from the ashes of the Emergency Services Surtax (ESS).  The ESS was an additional 1% sales tax that would have paid for fire and emergency services throughout the Keys.  Theoretically, whatever remained after fire and emergency services were paid for would have gone to human services.  There were lots of problems with the ESS.  See here.

The county claims they abandoned the idea when the state refused to allow excess money to be used to pay for human services.  I suspect that human services never really had anything to with it.  The ESS was clearly all about providing a generous tax break to large property owners and sticking everyone else – especially local renters – with the bill.  I believe the human services aspect was a throw-away meant to garner support from people who were concerned about the regressive nature of the tax.  The state’s very predictable and reasonable opposition made them the “bad” guy and provided Comm. Carruthers, the sponsor of this tax, with a face-saving out.

Murphy was also asked why tax money should be used to fund private charities.  She responded by saying that private charities rely on volunteers and lower paid staff.  They can provide services more cost-effectively than the county ever could.  Hmmm…maybe.  Here’s the thing though.  With human services, as with anything else the county does, there’s no overall plan or comprehensive strategy.

The unelected Human Services Advisory Board (HSAB) doles out taxpayer money based on the applications they receive, and the BOCC typically rubber stamps their recommendations.  So if three hammers and a nail show up during the application process, we’re getting three hammers and a nail.  Nobody sits down to say well, we’ve got too many hammers, not enough nails and no screwdrivers whatsoever.  We really need screwdrivers.

Canal restoration:

Let me start of by saying I do not see why it’s necessary to spend $200 million (or more) cleaning up the canals.  As far as I know, the county has not quantified the impact on the Keys-wide environment.  And there has been no cost-benefit analysis that I’m aware of.  At what point do these projects no longer make financial sense?  How many properties are affected?  What is the cost per property?  If county-wide citizens are being asked to contribute, they need to know how this project will benefit them.

If poor water quality in the canals only affects abutting properties then how has this issue become such a high priority?  There are so many needs out there, why pour so many resources into this particular project?  Why not use those resources toward a project that has Keys-wide impact – like storm water improvements or preparing for sea level rise or purchasing conservation land or providing truly affordable housing?

Majeska said that homeowners who benefit need to have some skin in the game.  Not only does it motivate them to watch costs, it motivates them to do their part to keep the canals clean.  Totally agree.  It’s common sense.  For the most part, the county has used state grant money to fund these projects.  As long as that continues to be the case, and as long as it doesn’t divert resources away from more beneficial projects, I won’t protest too much.

However, the BOCC did recently approve the use of Keys-wide taxpayer money to fund two years of operations on one canal project.  Even worse, they griped about the benefiting property owners being unwilling to contribute.  If that’s the case, it was ridiculous to approve the expenditure.  In fact, it was ridiculous to go forward with the project in the first place without knowing how ongoing maintenance would be paid for.

Murphy says she doesn’t know where she stands on the issue of a special taxing district for canals because the details aren’t yet available, but thinks they are a good idea in concept.  I think she needs to zoom out a little more and explain to us why this project is worthwhile, and why she went along with the above-mentioned expenditure, which came out of county-wide taxpayer pockets.

Mobile home park conversions:

Okay.  Here’s a stunning example of Murphy playing to the crowd on the campaign trail, while at the same time saying nothing of substance.  Her incomprehensible gibberish glosses over the fact that she’s easily persuaded to change her position, and is willing to abandon her obligations to her own constituents when convenient.  If you don’t watch anything else in the video, watch this.  It’s classic.  The barfiest part is that people actually applauded. Yuck.

Murphy was asked about the new developments on the horizon, many of which are replacing what used to be mobile home parks.  This gets to the heart of the affordable housing issue.  Mobile home parks were the primary source of affordable housing in the Keys.  Many of them were flattened during the bubble to make way for condotels and such.  Murphy said it’s terrible, just awful, that so many moderate income units are being proposed when what is defined as “moderate” income housing is unaffordable for most workers.  She said she’s been screaming about this for a year.  Well, if she’s been screaming I haven’t heard it and I pay pretty close attention to BOCC doings.

When pressed to provide specifics about what she’s actually done to address the issue in practical terms, Murphy said she spoke to a staffer.  Woohoo – what an effort!  I hope she didn’t strain herself.  She finished by saying that the recommendations she supposedly requested of staff won’t come easy or fast.  So here again, we’ve got strong words on the campaign trail, but little meaningful action and zero specifics.  It’s all buried in garbled rhetoric.  Typical.

Height limits:

Both candidates were asked if they would consider increasing height limits.

Majeska basically said that nothing should be off the table.  The Keys need to address affordable housing and sea level rise.  Maybe increasing height limits is a partial answer.  Perhaps allowing smaller homes, increasing density and decreasing permitting fees are other possible answers.

Murphy, bringing it back around to herself as always, said she has a small caretakers cottage on her property and she has no problem renting it.  So her position on increasing height limits is….?  Unknown.  The moderator didn’t pursue an answer so the voters have no idea what Murphy’s position is on increasing height limits right now.  She’s opposed it in the past.  I imagine she’s ready to flip-flop on the issue so she prefers to remain silent.

Ragnar relay:

I’m adding a blurb for completeness, but this post is already long enough.  Both candidates expressed concern about the traffic it generates.

Wrap-up:

So there you have it, therealpoop’s take on the Hometown Key West July 25 candidate forum.

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