Watching the Watchers


I started this blog because of the huge wastewater funding disparity affecting Key Largo.  I keep going because I find more and more problems with Keys government as I go along.  Blatant conflicts of interest.  Reckless spending.  Lack of transparency.  Petty, sensationalized attacks.  Ethical lapses.  Too often Keys media plays a role in distorting and covering up the very real problems with local government.  They pit substantiated fact against baseless spin as though the two are equally credible.  They fail to fact check and allow false statements to go unchallenged.  Intentionally or not, Keys media allows dysfunctional county government free rein.

I’ll be combing through the archives looking for media fails to add to this page.  As new ones come up I’ll add them.  If I find an example of good coverage, I might just mention that, too.

The changing media landscape.

The Blue Paper’s future is uncertain.  That’s the bad news.  But there are also a whole lot of other changes.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad but it sure is interesting.

Five of five sitting county commissioners have apparently admitted to ethics violations.

That’s quite a track record!  But you wouldn’t know about it from reading the Citizen or the Keynoter/Reporter.  I’m curious as to why the main sources of news in the Keys wouldn’t report something this important, so I asked them about it.  By now, I know better than to expect a response but if I hear anything I’ll let you know.  They did eventually report this very important story, but not without a whole lot of spin.

The Citizen wrote a whiny editorial about bad local government, while at the same time functioning as a tool of bad local government.

I wrote them an email about it because it annoyed me so much.  They won’t respond, of course, but it’s good to let them know somebody’s paying attention.

Keynoter/Reporter worried about danger faced by journalists.

They’ve got nothing to worry about.  Their strategy of not looking too closely will keep them safe.

Key West Citizen soft sells “lock-out” scandal

More to come.  See here for a nice trip down memory lane.  Some similar elements, familiar names.  Is history repeating itself?

I notice, too, that the Keynoter/Reporter is completely MIA on this story.

Animal control coverage – improvement and error

There are times when Keys media seems to be intentionally misleading the public.  The Madok situation certainly appears to be one of those instances.  And there are times when they simply make honest mistakes, like we all do.  Here’s an example of what looks to me like an honest mistake.  It’s impossible to say for sure, especially considering the general funny business surrounding the county’s animal shelter operations, but I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt.

Brian Bowden’s article about declining kill rates at Monroe County animal shelters sounds great on the surface.  But his claims depend on an apples to oranges comparison.  In reality, the number of animals euthanized declined only slightly at the Lower Keys shelter.  The other two saw an increase.

On the positive side, Bowden’s article represented a major step forward in coverage of the issue.  The first round of articles on the subject completely left out a possible contributing factor to the extremely high kill rate at the Upper Keys shelter – a lack of funding as compared to the other shelters.  Bowden is the first reporter to allude to that situation.

The Citizen/Free Press has covered the euthanasia rates for the past two years.  If they stick with it, and I hope they do, we should see another article in March 2017.  We’ll see how it goes this time around.

Remember the vow?

When Richard Toppino was appointed to the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) board, it raised some eyebrows.  You see, Mr. Toppino’s family businesses, Charley Toppino & Sons and Monroe Concrete, do a substantial amount of work for the FKAA.  You wouldn’t know that from reading the paper though.  The Citizen dutifully repeated what they were told by Kirk Zuelch, which was that the Toppino companies had done a grand total of $957,726 in the past five years plus some subcontract work on Cudjoe Regional.  So $1 million give or take.  No big deal, right?

Well, it turns out that those subcontracts were a big deal.  A very big deal.  Way too big a deal to be lumped into “subcontract work” and forgotten.  Those subcontracts amount to $12.4 million.  Toppino certainly would have known the amount at the time the article was written.  And if Zuelch didn’t, he certainly should have.  The FKAA worked hard to keep this quiet.  It took months to drag it out of them.  That experience gives me an appreciation of how difficult a reporter’s job can be.  However, this was a huge a deal.  The Citizen should have kept on it.

So how does the Citizen explain this huge $11.5 million bust?  They don’t.  They let it ride.  Never dug deeper.  Never followed up.  Never came through with the real story.  If you get all your news from the Citizen, you’d still be operating under the illusion that Toppino hardly does any business at all with the entity he’s supposed to oversee.

The Citizen did redeem themselves a wee bit though.  They wrote about a wrinkle caused by Toppino’s recurring conflict of interest.  They were the only paper to report on it.  That’s enough to keep Tim O’Hara, who wrote both pieces, out of my basket of deplorables for the time being.

The Madok debacle isn’t the first time the press has misled the public about a county official’s qualifications.

Remember the “sewer expert” that the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) hired to oversee their sewer projects?  That would have been Roman “the iPhone Bandit” Gastesi.  Here’s a link to Gastesi’s resume, if you can find any evidence of that sewer expertise, let me know.  I don’t see anything specifically related to sewers when I look at the resume.

That was back in 2008-2009.  So how did all those sewer projects turn out?  You can make up your own mind, but the Cudjoe Regional project is widely regarded as a failure.  And the Big Coppitt project isn’t doing so hot either.  Gastesi couldn’t even keep the numbers straight when it came to wastewater funding.

Hmmm…some expert.

First up – Clerk of Court candidate, Kevin Madok, misleads the public about his qualifications.  The press lets him get away with it.

Update 2:  Still no response to my emails.  Lots of hits on the blog though.  Hmmm…hits are nice, but I’d rather the Citizen just tell the truth about Madok’s qualifications.

Update:  The Citizen continued with the deceptive coverage of Madok’s win.  I wrote about it here.  The offending news item was written by Scott Unger.  There are an alarming number of media figures involved in this so far.  Four reporters who wrote misleading articles (Unger, Twine, Bowden, and Filosa) and two management level people who refused to respond to concerns about it (Campbell, Clarin).  

I sent another email today, and copied Editor, Kay Harris.  We’ll see what happens.  To be honest, I’m not expecting a response.  If their claims about Madok’s CPA license were correct, they could simply respond by substantiating their position.  They haven’t done that.  Besides what can they say now?  The election is over.  The damage is done.  The last thing they want is to be held accountable by the public they deceived.  The lesson learned here is that the Citizen and its subsidiaries are not credible news outlets.  A lot of people already knew that.  Even so, it’s good to document these episodes.

Kevin Madok has made misleading claims about his status as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) over the years, and the local press lets him get away with it.

This issue first surfaced when Madok ran for the office in 2012.  Reporter Gwen Filosa wrote about it for the Citizen, but failed to mention one very critical bit of information.  Claiming that you are a CPA when you are not is illegal in Florida.  Filosa didn’t call him on that.  She allowed him to play it off by saying using the “CPA” designation after his name was an “indication of professional achievement”.  Hmmm…it’s actually a first degree misdemeanor.

Fast forward, four years later.  Madok is once again running for Clerk.  This time he successfully waged a very negative campaign against incumbent Amy Heavilin in the Republican primary, and will face Democrat Ron Saunders in the general election.  According to the Free Press, Madok claims to have been a CPA for 30 years.  I don’t know yet whether Madok actually said this or whether it’s some sort of misunderstanding.  Either way, it’s simply untrue according to licensing entities in California and Florida.

The article containing the error will disappear this coming Wednesday, but I have preserved it here for all to enjoy now and forever.  I contacted Brian Bowden and Charlotte Twine who wrote the article.  I gave it a day or two and when they didn’t respond, I contacted Managing Editor, Dan Campbell.  When I didn’t get a response from Campbell, I contacted Publisher, Paul Clarin.  Will the Free Press come clean?  It doesn’t look like they have any desire to do so.  We shall see.  The new issue comes out tomorrow.

Oh by the way, Amy Heavilin has been a CPA in Florida since 2004.  And Ron Saunders has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1979.  The qualifications of Madok’s opponents check out.  His do not.  If you’re a Monroe County voter who values honesty and truthfulness in your public officials that’s a good thing to know.