Another Hometown Key West Candidate Forum

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Decisions, decsions.

I finally got around to watching the Hometown Key West candidate forum from September 26.  (Sorry.  I’m a slow poke.)  Of course, I’m focused on the clerk’s race.  I think that’s a very important one.  On her watch, Amy Heavilin, corrected improperly recorded transactions having to do with the wastewater projects.  She also conducted an audit that found several county officials had misused their purchasing cards.  Unfortunately, Heavilin lost the primary on August 30, and is now facing a county-initiated investigation.  I’m sure the county was none too pleased with Heavilin’s fact-finding.  The voters choice in the general election is Republican Kevin Madok or Democrat Ron Saunders.

For me, Madok is an extremely problematic candidate.

So that leaves us with Ron Saunders, who is, fortunately, a very strong candidate.

  • An attorney in good standing with the Florida Bar since 1979.  No fudging about credentials.
  • Extensive experience representing the Keys in Tallahassee.  Intends to use that experience to restore funding to the Clerk’s office.

Now to the forum.

Ron Saunders was asked about his qualifications for the job.  Kevin Madok has been a CPA in Florida for almost a whole year!  Wow.  How can Saunders possibly top that?

Well, he’s a Gator and so am I.  Go Gators.  He studied economics, finance and accounting.  On top of that, he’s been an attorney since 1979.  In his many years representing the Florida Keys in Tallahassee, he served as the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee.  And worked in the Clerk’s office for three years before deciding to run.

Madok was asked about the first thing he would change at the Clerk’s office if elected.  He said he would do away with the outsourcing of certain tasks.  I find this confusing.  When Heavilin attempted to terminate a contract with one such firm, County Attorney Bob Shillinger melted down.  So why does Madok think this is a good idea?

Madok went on to say that he’s the only one in the world, besides the outside firm that Heavilin dare not terminate, who can close the books and navigate through the audit.  We’re supposed to believe that unless he (and he alone!) is elected, the taxpayers will have to pay this outside firm hundreds of thousands of dollars forever and ever.

Hmmm…believe it or not I was an accountant myself once upon a time.  I worked for a developer.  (No.  Not Donald Trump!)  We had to close multiple sets of books.  It could get very complex.  Even so, there are actually quite a few people out there who have the capability to perform this task.  It’s not as rare a skill as Madok would have us believe.

As Ron Saunders said, the Clerk manages the office – provides direction and leadership.  The Clerk doesn’t close the books.  He or she sees that it gets done correctly by hiring qualified people to do it, or by bringing in an outside firm as Heavilin did.

Madok loves referring to the good old days when he worked at the Clerk’s office under Danny Kolhage.  But Madok was forced to admit that Kolhage was never a CPA.  As a county commissioner, Kolhage has enthusiastically led the way into reckless spending and sky-rocketing debt.  It’s clear from his poor performance, that he has little understanding of basic financial concepts.  Yet Madok has nothing but praise for his long-time boss.  The fact is Saunders does have a financial background.  And a successful legal and political background to boot.  Unlike Madok, he is not beholden to anyone on the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), which means that he is better positioned to provide the independent oversight that is absolutely necessary to protect the interests of the Keys community.

Saunders was also asked what he would do first if elected.  He said there were two things.  He would seek additional funding from the state for the Clerk’s office.  And he would finish contracts which he had initiated while working at the Clerk’s office.

Bill Becker asked Madok something I’ve been dying to know and added another  great question on top of that.  Not only did he ask Madok what he’s been doing for the last four years as the “Strategic Planning Director”, he also asked how Madok found time to campaign for the last year and a half.  Madok responded that he has spent the past four years drafting a strategic plan.  No, it’s not done.  It’s still in draft form.  But here’s the really “important” part.  Employee evaluations are now tied to this “strategic plan” (which is still in draft form).  Mmmmkay.  Madok says he manages to work his “busy”full-time job and campaign at the same time by “always working” and “burning the candle at both ends”.

Apparently the county commissioners required a performance-based pay plan and so they added the $104,000 “Strategic Planning Director” position.  Ron Saunders pointed out the obvious.  There is nothing at the “Strategic Planning Department” website.  After four years, Madok has nothing to share with the public.  There’s supposedly a draft “strategic plan” but there’s no link to it.  Madok took pot shots at Saunders because the Clerk’s office had not implemented online access to court documents.  Yet Madok has been unable, in four years, to add content to a single web page.

Madok went on to proudly describe his role in the county’s train-wreck of a capital projects program, which is certainly nothing to brag about.  He claimed that his plan will “save” the taxpayers $30 million.  The BOCC has overspent the Cudjoe Regional budget by $49 million.  Another set of projects originally budgeted at $25 million now cost $63 million.  That’s $87 million total.

On top of that, the county is continuing to pursue the very questionable canal restoration project which could cost taxpayers up to $700 million.  And that’s only what’s been reported in the press.  Against that back drop, Madok’s $30 million in “savings” isn’t very impressive, is it?  Keeping capital spending on track would have been far more valuable to the taxpayers.  Too bad nobody asked for details about that.

Madok also criticized Saunders plan to secure additional funding for the Clerk’s office.  Saying…

The last thing we can have is 67 Clerk’s going ad hoc to Tallahassee lobbying members for their own interests.

My immediate follow-up question is why not?  How is that any different from Monroe County going to Tallahassee to lobby for its own interests?  Why shouldn’t they go through the Florida Association of Counties?  The county spends close to two-hundred thousand dollars a year on various lobbying firms and in-house staff.  Much of it wasted on efforts to short-change their own taxpayers.  More funding for the Clerk’s office is beneficial for all Keys taxpayers, unlike foolishly squandering state and local money on wasteful projects that benefit only a few.  Saunders is on the right track here.  Madok is way off base.  The moderators did him no favors by letting him rant on and on like that.

Saunders ran rings around Madok as far as overall knowledge of the Clerks office.  Not only does he understand the finance side, but he spent the past three years supervising the court recording side.  Saunders understands all aspects of the Clerk’s office.  And that is very valuable.  He pointed out that there are 96 employees in the Clerk’s office and over 60 work on the court recording side.

Madok responded by saying that numbers of employees don’t matter.  Results matter.  Well, right now Madok supervises zero people and has achieved no observable positive results.  Soooo….point taken.  Results do matter and Madok doesn’t have much to show.  Madok claimed that while he was at the Clerk’s office, bills were paid on time.  False.  Under Madok’s watch, the Clerk’s office was dinged for late juror payments three years in a row.

When Madok was asked about his money-saving plans, he dodged the question by talking about a crashed server instead.  It was a smart move on his part, because he needs to avoid any serious questions about his involvement in the county’s out-of-control spending sprees.  In closing, Madok said that the best predictor of future performance is past performance.  True.  Very true.

Madok has accomplished very little in his four years as “Strategic Planning Director”.  He stood by quietly as spending on capital projects spun out of control.  He’s no watchdog.  Too afraid to bark.  While he was still at the Clerk’s office, he failed to make sure that juror payments were made on time.  And let’s not forget the lies.  The lie about being a CPA.  The lies he told about the ESS in order to deceive people into acting against their own best interests.  If Madok is elected, I’m sure the taxpayers will be subjected to more of the same.

Saunders’s closing was very strong.  He reiterated his commitment to increase state funding for the Clerk’s office.  He listed his very impressive accomplishments in the Keys and in Tallahassee.  This is someone who understands the big picture and is willing to put his skills to work for the benefit of the citizens.

Honestly, this decision is a no-brainer.  The citizens of the Keys need the oversight that only an independent Clerk, such as Saunders, can provide.

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