Key West Hometown PAC – Candidate Q&A

I votedI finally got around to viewing the Key West Hometown PAC’s second candidate forum, which was held on August 8.  I actually sent the PAC some questions I would really like answered.  They declined, saying they only take questions from members.  Fair enough.  I’m not quite sure I want to be a member at this point though.  Here’s a link to that email exchange, in case you’re interested.

Of course, I’m especially concerned about the race for Clerk of Court.  This office is so very important.  The qualifications and character of the office-holder make a big difference.  There are three candidates running for the office.  Amy Heavilin, the incumbent, and Kevin Madok will face off in the Republican primary on August 30.  The winner will run against Democrat Ron Saunders in November’s general election.

It’s always amusing when Kevin Madok introduces himself as Monroe County’s Senior Strategic Planning Director.  It gives me an opportunity to link to the empty Strategic Planning page.  Lots going on over there.  I don’t know how Mr. Madok finds the time to campaign.

Amy Heavilin was asked to respond to the criticism directed her way and if she would have done anything differently.  Heavilin cited the high cost of living in the Keys, especially housing, as a factor in the high turnover.  When she took over in November 2012, several long-time employees retired and others took jobs elsewhere in the county.  The remainder left due to affordability issues.

Madok was asked why he thinks he could do the job better than Heavilin.  He said “leadership” – an intangible quality whose absence is noticeable in poor outcomes.  Perhaps the lack of leadership would also explain the county’s poor performance when it comes to consistently over-budget capital projects and the ongoing high kill rate at Upper Keys animal shelter.  Hmmmm….empty webpage, absence of leadership.  Symbolic.

Madok went on to suggest that the high turnover continues to this day – a claim that is contradicted by the Inspector General’s latest report.  Unfortunately, Madok is way too comfortable distorting the facts.

Madok says that for the eight years he worked in the Clerk’s office, there was zero turnover among the six managers that reported to him.  Here’s the thing though – turnover isn’t always bad.  Very low turnover can be a sign of trouble as well.  The Clerk’s office does not exist to provide bubbas with jobs for life.  It’s a government agency with an important mission.  Employees who cannot or will not do their jobs effectively need to move on – or be moved on.

Heavilin was then asked to explain why the public should have confidence in her ability to run the Clerk’s office in spite of the negative findings from the Inspector General’s office.  Heavilin’s response was damn near perfect.  She said people need to actually read the reports, and understand what those reports actually say.  Don’t be misled by the spin.  Amen to that.  I actually have read the reports and you should, too.  Here’s a link to the reports themselves.  My discussion can be found here and here.

The fact is that the Clerk’s office under Heavilin’s predecessor, Danny Kolhage, was far from perfect.  Deficiencies were found then, too.  Kolhage’s subsequent actions as a county commissioner certainly demonstrate a shocking carelessness with the people’s money.  That, and a negligent lack of fairness.  It would come as no surprise to me if Heavilin had walked into quite a mess when she took over.

She went on to explain that the books for 2005-2012 had to be reopened because wastewater assessments had not been recorded properly.  In any case, there is a note in the 2013 CAFR saying exactly that.  Here’s a link to the 2013 CAFR and here’s a snip of the note.

CAFR 2013_Note 23CAFR 2013_Note 23_part 2

Madok later chalked these reporting issues up to a difference of opinion over how assessments and advances should be recorded.  It’s hard to say what really went on here.  Perhaps the county made an honest mistake.  Maybe it really is a simple difference of opinion.  Given the county’s track record, I can’t ignore the possibility that it might be evidence of flim-flam.  Who knows?  I’m going with Heavilin’s version of events.  She is the more credible party here – by far.

Madok was asked how he’d fill his knowledge gaps if elected Clerk.  He said he would rely on institutional knowledge, and then he found his way back to the turnover issue, which by all accounts (except Madok’s) has already been resolved.  Madok claimed that much of the turnover was a result of Heavilin needlessly changing policies and procedures.  Heavilin responded by saying that there have been changes in Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) rules that necessitated those changes.

Heavilin was asked what she’s doing to retain employees.  She described a mentoring program and said that out of the 96 positions budgeted for the Clerk’s office, only four are vacant.  Later, she said the turnover rate in the past year has been about 10%.

There’s more to the discussion, but it’s largely a rehash of what’s already been said.   Essentially, Madok continues flogging the already-resolved turnover issue.  Heavilin described all the improvements she has made and will continue to make if re-elected.  I think these responses really highlight the difference between the two candidates.

Madok is running an extremely negative campaign.  His goal is to return the Clerk’s Office to the imaginary “glory days” that existed under Kolhage’s “leadership”.  Heavilin is looking to the future.  She discussed the improvements she’s made over the last four years, and those that she plans to make in the next four years if re-elected.

The video is definitely worth watching.  The lesson as always is to see for yourself, look behind the spin.

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