The Isaac Archer bubba-mess got me thinking a lot about the state attorneys office (SAO). How do they decide who they target with an investigation? And who they let slide? Why don’t they do more to protect the Keys community from well-connected offenders? In the Archer case, the SAO managed to do the right thing at the tail end, but there’s no question that Archer received lenient treatment up to that point.
The state attorney is an elected position. Theoretically, that means the seat can turn over every four years. But how long has staff been there? Who are they? How do they influence decision-making? Why should we trust them? How much power does an elected SA really have? How easy would it be for staff to sabotage a new SA who was serious about tackling corruption?
This is something I’ve been pondering ever since Chris Weber, “Chief Investigator”, breezily blew off concerns about the Marathon animal control contract. As you might recall, that bidding process stunk to high heaven but Weber didn’t care. He seemed anxious to make it all go away on the county’s behalf.
The SAO has investigated far more innocuous matters. The Stock Island project, the deleted email non-scandal. Yet they’ve ignored some truly worrisome ones. The Cudjoe Regional project, the county’s ongoing efforts to suppress public records. How are these decisions made? Who makes them? Is it the SA or a lower level employee?
From the outside looking in, it looks like the county calls the shots. The Stock Island project was investigated on the say-so of county commissioners George Neugent and David Rice. Yet the Cudjoe Regional project, $50 million over budget and widely challenged by the public, has never been examined. Add to that Richard Toppino’s egregious conflicts of interest, the extent of which were hidden from the public. The Cudjoe Regional project is far more suspicious than the Stock Island project. Why wouldn’t the SAO look into it? Is it because no county official green lighted the investigation?
What about the county’s ongoing efforts to block access to public records? Records are routinely lost or never collected. Even if I were naive enough to chalk these continuous lapses up to inadvertent mistakes, the ongoing carelessness in and of itself is a violation of law. County officials have a duty to be responsible stewards of public records, but they fail time and again. Accidentally on purpose. In my opinion.
As the county attorney, Shady Bob, has a special responsibility to make sure that the county meets its legal obligations. Yet Shady Bob has personally intervened to impede public records requests. County contractors contemptuously ignore their duty to the public and county officials do nothing. It doesn’t make sense that a few deleted emails prompt an investigation just because Shady Bob screams and cries and waves his arms. Yet the systemic mishandling of public records on Shady Bob’s watch is perfectly okay. This is another situation where the SAO appears to be acting on the county’s orders.
I’ve decided that when anything fishy comes to my attention, I’m going to forward it to the SAO. It’s not that I expect them to do anything. I don’t. I know better by now. The idea is to establish a record in real-time. What did the SAO know and when did they know it? What action did they take or fail to take? What independent research, if any, did they do before dismissing the allegations? Which reports do they take seriously and which do they dismiss out of hand? I think this is valuable information the public needs to have.
A post I wrote a couple of years ago about the murky circumstances surrounding the Big Coppitt sewer system bid got a few hits recently. So I thought I would send that along to the SAO. This email “dialogue” ensued. (It’s mostly me “talking”, so not really a dialogue I guess.) Bottom line is that the information was transmitted. The state attorney’s response, though short, indicates that the communication was received. There’s no denying that now. It’s a matter of public record.
In his response, current state attorney, Dennis Ward, alluded to his successful prosecution of the Acevedo’s during his first term to argue that he’s tough on corruption. Don’t get me wrong. The Acevedo matter truly is an achievement to be proud of. The Acevedo family bilked the taxpayers out of about $400,000. Big money. But how does that compare to the $50 million overrun on the Cudjoe Regional sewer project? (Equivalent to 125 Acevedo scandals.) Or the FKSPCA’s suspiciously lucrative contract to run the Marathon animal shelter? (Equivalent to one Acevedo scandal every 3 years or so). As bad as the Acevedo scandal was, it’s nothing compared to the more sophisticated thefts that are occurring as we speak.
It’s possible that the SAO is quietly working on some of this. Unfortunately, Weber’s reaction to the Marathon animal control contract was alarming. It definitely seemed like he was checking in with Shady Bob rather than checking into the evidence. It gave me a very bad feeling.
If I’m wrong about Weber or the Big Coppitt bid or the Marathon animal shelter, well, I’m wrong. If I’m right, the citizens of the Keys have an opportunity to put a dent in the bubba system that coughed up Isaac Archer, Randy Acevedo, Monique Acevedo, the iPhone Bandit, all five ethically challenged county commissioners, Jim Hendrick and many others. But the SAO has to step up and I am not at all confident that they will.
It appears that the SAO is perfectly willing to investigate and prosecute cases of in-your-face theft. How can they do otherwise? Unfortunately, corrupt public officials usually aren’t that dumb. The SAO is not as willing to investigate more sophisticated crimes – bid rigging, bribes, kick backs. If they were, the shady Marathon animal shelter contract would be an ideal place to start. It looks like there might be a scandal brewing over Fisherman’s Hospital, too.