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If you have not yet read Key West the Newspaper’s –www.thebluepaper.com – Friday and Saturday articles on the death of Charles Eimers last Thanksgiving Day under several Key West police officers, the links below should get you to there and to the reader comments below the articles. The Friday article is the first link.
On the City Manager Bob Vitas/Assistant City Manager David Fernandez golden parachute rumpus, at Harpoon Harry’s yesterday morning, a fellow asked if I thought the City Commission was going to fire Vitas? I said it was a certainty. Dang, my daddy taught me never to save never.
Bob Vitas, left, David Hernandez, right
A fair summary of that fracas was reported in yesterday’s Citizen (www.keysnews.com). I added the photos and interjected my own thoughts in italics:
Saturday, June 21, 2014 Add to FacebookAdd to Twitter
City could fire Vitas at June 30 meeting
Jim Scholl agrees to return to city manager’s job, mayor says
BY GWEN FILOSA Citizen Staff
Mayor Craig Cates said Friday that Jim Scholl, the former city manager before Bob Vitas, has agreed to return to the job around July 1 if the city commission fires Vitas June 30.
Cates, left, Scholl, right
After serving several years as the local navy base commander, Scholl retired from the Navy and applied for and was hired to be the new city manager. Then, it was learned Scholl was prohibited by the Navy from participating in any Navy-Key West matters, in which he had been involved when he was base commander. Up to then, Key West had one assistant city manager, John Jones, who himself retired. Then, two assistant city managers were hired, because one assistant city manager could not do the work Jones had done and also the Navy-Key West work Scholl could not do. At that time, Fernandez was the city utility department director. He was one of the two assistant city managers hired to replace Jones. The other new assistant city manager hired was Mark Finegan, who himself recently retired to the great distress of many people in the city government and the general public. My understanding is, Finegan looked after the city’s finances, and Fernandez looked after the city’s construction projects. Recently, Jay Gewin, who was in charge of the city utility department, making $61,000 a year, resigned on the heels of the city commission awarding the city’s waste contract to Waste Management, instead of to Advanced Disposal. A move by the city commission, which infuriated City Commissioner Teri Johnston and many people in Key West, because they believed Advanced’s was the lowest bid, and the contract had been put out solely on the bases of the lowest bid. During last Tuesday night’s city commission meeting, Gewin was given a service award by Mayor Cates, and received two standing ovations from the audience and the mayor and city commissioners.
Commissioners set a special meeting for 9 a.m. June 30 to vote on a proposal to issue a vote of no confidence for Vitas, who has drawn heavy criticism for signing off on a $114,000 contract job without running it by the legal department first.
If commissioners hand down a vote of no confidence for Vitas, Cates said he will immediately recommend they fire him.
“I’m prepared for that kind of vote,” Cates said Friday. “How could we have a vote of no confidence and then send him right back to do the work of the city?”
Cates said his choice to run the city if Vitas is fired is Scholl, but the commission would make the final decision.
City Attorney Shawn Smith would immediately step in as interim city manager until the commission finds a replacement, the mayor said.
Cates said he hasn’t made a final decision on how to vote at the special meeting, but he wants the public to know that Key West won’t falter if Vitas is dismissed.
“The city will still be in good hands,” Cates said. “We will get through this, and Key West will move forward.”
Vitas, who arrived in July 2012 from having run the village of Lake Zurich, Ill., signed a three-year deal with a two-year renewal option. He earns $180,000.
Vitas has declined comment on the June 30 meeting and City Commissioner Tony Yaniz’s call for him to resign. He was out sick Friday, the mayor said. Earlier in the week, Vitas said he had a bad chest cold and possibly bronchitis.
At Tuesday night’s commission meeting, Vitas said he had done nothing wrong.
Vitas said he was doing his job, as charged by the city charter, and made the best decision for replacing outgoing Utilities Manager Jay Gewin with Assistant City Manager David Fernandez, a 28-year employee who agreed to retire and take the contract job.
But commissioners balked at the result: a five-year contract with Fernandez that gives him the job title of utilities director and a salary of $114,000, plus pay for doing any assistant city manager-type work.
The Fernandez contract remains technically intact but four of the seven commissioners have said they want to vote on the validity of that deal as well on June 30.
Gewin ran the utilities department as a “manager” for $61,000 a year. Fernandez was utilities “director” from 1995 to 2008 when he was promoted to assistant city manager.
Fernandez announced June 11 he would retire to take the new job on July 3, Gewin’s last day.
By retiring, Fernandez would receive his assistant city manager pension and benefits, which were substantial, and also be paid what he had made when he was city utility director, which was almost twice what Gewin was being paid. Fernandez had been paid more than Gewin was making, because Fernandez oversaw utility department construction work, which Gewin, I was told, was not qualified to do.
Only Commissioner Teri Johnston defended Vitas, saying the other commissioners have done nothing but “micromanage” him since he arrived in July 2012.
I agree with Teri, however, I do not agree the double dip was okay. Fernandez simply should have been transferred back to his old job, at his assistant manager pay.
Tuesday’s contentious debate over the Fernandez contract included City Attorney Smith telling commissioners he may not stay on after his contract expires in December. An emotional Smith said he finds his job rewarding, but that lately it has been painful to watch the city “spiral downward.”
Smith also told Vitas he made “a bald-faced false statement” when telling commissioners that city policies about contracts were inconsistent and vague.
A 2007 city resolution requires the city attorney to review all contracts. Another law says that the city manager cannot spend more than $20,000 without commission approval.
It may be the city charter trumps the city resolution and the city ordinance.
As I see it, the real heat here was Fernandez was two-fold.
First, Vitas had stopped working with City Attorney Shawn Smith, who is the very last city employee the mayor and city commissioners want to lose.
Second, double dip. As stated above, Fernandez should have been transferred back to his old utilities director job at his current assistant city manager pay.
The fellow at Harpoon Harry’s yesterday morning said, retiring city employees should have to wait a year to go back to work for the city. I said, I didn’t like city employees retiring and then going back to work for the city at any time. I do not like double-dipping; it happens in the county government and in the school district, too.
Beneath the obvious, I report again recently hearing from an inside trader the other day that there is a move on, spearheaded outwardly by City Commissioner Tony Yaniz, to get rid of Vitas, so former City Commissioner Danny Kohlage, Jr., now living in Ocala, can be hired as city manager. Kohlage is a Conch (born and raised in Key West). The inside trader said, the Conchs are trying to regain full control of the city government.
Jim Scholl is not a Conch, and his being rehired temporarily might disrupt Conch movement for a while. Or rehiring Scholl might be a cover for the movement getting Danny Kohlage hired as the new city manager. Mayor Cates is a Conch. As is Tony’s mayor candidate Margaret Romero, who is livid about what Vitas did.
In all events, I will be surprised if Bob Vitas keeps his job. And, I will be surprised if he is not well-paid for leaving. Meaning, I do not expect him to roll over and play dead. He moved his parents down here. He invested a lot in Key West and its city government.
On Waste Management getting that bid, someone else asked me yesterday what I felt about that? I said, the problem, as I saw it, was putting the bid out to the lowest bidder. Price was the only criteria. That was crazy, given the importance of the work to be done. The bidding companies needed to be evaluated as well. Otherwise, a jackleg company could have put in the lowest bid, and then what would the City Commission have done? In fact, a citizen speaker told the mayor and city commissioners that he was versed in corporate financial matters, and he had scrutinized Advanced’s financial records going back a ways, and Advanced had lost money for several years running, and had incurred a large bond debt, and Advanced might not be around for the length of the contract, and for those reasons alone Advanced should not get the bid.
I said, it looked to me that the mayor and most of the city commissioners realized they had made a big mistake putting the contract out to the lowest bidder, and they undid that when they awarded Waste Management the bid. I said, the problem I had there were a lot of moving parts. Advanced bid on some of the moving parts, Waste Management bid on other of the moving parts. It was not a single bid for the same thing. It was not apples and apples, but was apples and oranges. It should have been put out for bid without moving parts, and there should have been one bid for the whole thing.
I suppose the bid was designed by city staff, perhaps by Jay Gewin with oversight from the city manager’s office. But I also suppose the design was run by and passed on by the mayor and city commissioners. I would be surprised if it did go down that way. The buck for important city decisions always stops with the mayor and city commissioners. Just like the buck for important county decisions always stops with the county commissioners. More on that below my sign-off.
Political advertisement paid for and approved by Sloan Bashinsky, for Mayor of Key West, aka “southernmost the nut house”
Editorial in today’s Citizen, my interjected thoughts in italics:
Sunday, June 22, 2014
Our essential needs should come first
The old adage, “money burning a hole in one’s pocket” is hard at work at the Monroe County Commission and at County Administrator Roman Gastesi’s office.
The adage describes someone so eager to spend money as soon as it is received that it usually leads to wasteful spending.
This latest version of burning money — taxpayers money — began back in 2012. You may remember that was the year the county commissioners urged voters to extend the one-penny sales tax to 2033 to bolster the infrastructure fund for pending wastewater projects, and repairing deteriorating county roads and bridges.
Under threats by the commission of increasing ad valorem (property) taxes, 68 percent of voters said “yes” to the sales tax extension. Little did the voters know that their approval would unleash a deluge of spending — a lot of which is unconnected to “pending wastewater projects and repairing deteriorated existing county roads and bridges.”
And, little did the voters know the scam Cudjoe Regional Sewer System would become. More on that further along.
To date, the county commission has agreed to spend $15 million of the infrastructure sales tax fund to restore the Old Seven Mile Bridge, $5 million to purchase Rowell’s Marina, and $5 million for canal restoration projects.
All in all, the county has earmarked $38 million for various capital projects from the sales tax infrastructure fund that is not related to their initial plea for funds for wastewater projects, roads and bridges.
This is not the first time we have highlighted this laundry list of county “wants” that magically appeared after the commission’s threat to raise property taxes if taxpayers didn’t fill up the sales tax money cookie jar.
The countywide canal clean up is of particular interest.
The county is currently designing six canal clean-up projects totaling $2.9 million. Four of the projects are on Big Pine Key, one is on Geiger Key and another is in Key Largo.
A drop in the bucket.
The ambitious county plan’s goal is to restore water quality in canals. Some of the canals will be fitted with weed barriers and have weeds and organic material removed from them. Other canals will be dredged as, according to county officials, they were dug too deep and there is not enough oxygen at the bottom.
Dredged? Don’t you mean filled in to become more shallow, so tidal exchange can refresh them? Or filled in altogether?
Restoring these specific canals is, in essence, a pilot program. According to estimates, cleaning up all 502 canals in the Florida Keys would cost the county at least $300 million.
Does this 502 number include polluted canals in Keys cities: Key West, Marathon, Layton, Islamorada?
In addition to tapping the infrastructure sales tax fund for this project, the county is looking for other funding sources. For example, the county has received a $300,000 grant from the federal Department of Environmental Protection.
Drop in the bucket.
While enhancing water quality is an admirable goal, the approach certainly needs clarification. Has a cost-benefit analysis and scientific study been conducted that confirms the cause, potential remedy and likely outcome?
Canals became polluted by digging them so deep tidal exchanges could not refresh them, and by making canals so long and curving and dead-ended that tidal exchanges could not refresh them. That was caused by over-development, which was caused by greed, which was caused by county and city commissions making development their god. It may be the only real fix for most of the polluted canals is simply to fill them in.
Arguably, property owners on canals will benefit in a greater proportion than other taxpayers, especially as it relates to property values.
And arguably these property owners may have, at some level, contributed to the water deterioration in their canals.
Will these canal property owners be assessed a canal restoration assessment fee — akin to the current wastewater tie-in assessment fee — since canal property values will directly benefit from cleaner canals?
Regardless of whether or not canal-front property owners are accessed a canal restoration fee, the polluted canals need to be fixed; and if they cannot be fixed, they need to be filled in. Getting rid of water pollution trumps everything.
Once completed, what are the annual costs for maintaining any canal weed barriers or any permanent equipment? What will be the source of those funds?
No annual cost, if polluted canals are filled in.
From our vantage point, there appears to be more questions than answers surrounding the financing of this canal restoration plan.
Monroe County residents should demand the commission prioritize spending by stopping their pursuit of nonessential wants until essential capital needs are met.
That needs list includes wastewater projects, repair of county roads and bridges and earmarking funds to purchase land on which government has prohibited development.
— The Citizen
I’m okay with using the infrastructure sales tax to repair roads and even restore Old Seven Mile Bridge. It is was a modern world wonder when it was built. It is a living treasure, the Florida Keys’ “Statute of Liberty”, which enabled the lower Keys to be linked to the mainland. The cost of restoring it is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of fixing the polluted canals.
What I am not okay with is the scam the Monroe County Commission, Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and the Florida Department of Environmental protection are running on the county taxpayers in Cudjoe Regional Sewer District. I have been reporting that scam for some time, mostly at www.goodmorningfloridakeys.com.
Here’s the most recent scam report (actually, it looks like an organized crime report) from Banks Prevatt, President of Dump the Pumps, Inc. (www.dumpthepumps.com). Clicking on this link – gravity – should get you to the attachment in Banks’ email.
Date: Fri, 20 Jun 2014 22:05:15 -0400
Subject: Dump the Pumps, Inc.
To help you understand how foul this whole grinder pump issue smells, open the attached PR campaign produced by FKAA dated September 2012. We have a similar one dated October 2012.
Look on page 5.
–gravity in more densely populated areas.
–LPS (grinders) in less densely populated areas.
You were being sold a gravity central sewer system.
Look on page 6.
–LPS (grinders) are planned for about 600 properties.
While this was being sold to you by FKAA in 2012, we can show they had already requested bid proposals for a sewer system that included 2800 grinders.
We are not talking little white fibs here, folks. We are talking major lies.
What I do not understand is, why does FKAA take the fall and lie? They are a go-between for the county and the people. They are the middleman, why do they need to lie? Is there profit to be had in their lies?
These are shameless public officials being paid each week with your tax dollars to deceive you. Sadly, some of your elected officials buy into and/or direct the deceit.
Grinders are only part of the fight. The deceit perpetuated on the citizens of the Lower Keys (Sugarloaf through Big Pine) is justification for the fight.
Dump the Pumps, Inc.
Have you shown this and related stuff to State Attorney Catherine Vogel?
Banks wrote back:
No, we just put it together.
I replied to Banks:
I think you need to put it all together in as streamlined form as you can manage and take it to Vogel. I have felt for some time that somebody was getting paid off. I am not convinced it’s not somebodies. I’m not convinced those somebodies all work for FKAA. Some might work for Monroe County. Hell, some might even work for DEP.
Cudjoe Regional Sewer District lies solely within County Commissioner George Neugent’s commission district.
Neugent has steadfastly defended the county, FKAA and DEP. He has ridiculed Banks and other lower Keys residents who wrote expressing their grave concerns about grinder pumps being environmentally unsound and long-term far more expensive than gravity sewer systems.
I ran against George in 2006 and in 2010. I have socialized a little with him, and with him and his wife, Susie.
George now seeks his fifth term. In 2006, he said he would not run again, if he was elected that year. His campaign slogan that year, as shown on his roadside campaign posters, was “PROMISES MADE, PROMISES KEPT.”
I have heard many of George’s lower Keys constituents say since last fall, that he needs to go. He lives in Marathon, but probably 90 percent of his constituents are below Seven Mile Bridge. His county commission office is on Big Pine Key.
George’s Republican primary opponent is Danny Coll, a naturalized American who came to the States with his Cuban parents when he was a boy. Active in civic organizations, Danny is a recently retired successful businessman.
As a political newcomer, Danny gave George a fairly close race in the 2010 Republican primary. Danny is not happy with grinder pumps, nor with how the County Commission, FKAA and DEP have behaved re grinder pumps. Nobody in the Florida Keys should be happy about that.