Dec 292017
 

by Margaret Blank…….

The Florida Keys Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (FKSPCA) was recently awarded a $425,000 contract to run the Marathon animal shelter under very suspicious circumstances.  I wrote a few posts about it.  Here’s my initial reaction.  Here’s a post that runs through the many questions generated by the situation.  And here’s one that prompted a response from the FKSPCA.

FKSPCA President, Jane Dawkins clearly resents the questions that the shady Request for Proposal (RFP) process quite naturally generates.  Rather than attempting to clarify the situation, Jane wrote a snooty letter that actually makes her organization seem extremely defensive.

As a government contractor, the FKSPCA has an obligation to the public.  Not only is the FKSPCA subject to public records law, they are subject to the revised public corruption statute as well.  Here’s an article that discusses why those revisions were necessary and here is a follow-up.  Going forward, the justice system will be better able to successfully prosecute public corruption crimes, including those committed by government contractors.

Despite this legal framework, Jane isn’t too keen on honoring her obligations to the public.  She is more interested in imposing imaginary obligations on the taxpayers instead, and taking potshots at those who dare ask questions.  Jane is confused.  She’s got things exactly backwards.

Let’s take a closer look at what Jane had to say.

Had Margaret Blank bothered to contact the Florida Keys SPCA (FKSPCA) before writing her inaccurate article that was a mixed bag of topics about our tax returns, conflating the cost of our new shelter at our Key West campus with our recently increased contract for animal control in Marathon, and the identities of professionals we have retained to design and build the Key West shelter, we would have been pleased to have given her the information she claims to be shrouded in mystery.

I’d love to know exactly what’s so inaccurate about my “article”.  There was an RFP.  FKSPCA was the only bidder, and they are the outfit already running the shelter.  The price came in $175,000 more than what the county was already paying.  Limited advertising, one bidder, same operator, 70% price increase.  Which of these facts is Jane disputing?

I’d also like to address Jane’s demand that I contact the FKSPCA with my questions.  I have no obligation to contact the FKSPCA.  I contacted the county.  The county is the party responsible for the RFP.  The county is also the party responsible for fielding public records requests.

I was pondering my next step when Jane’s obnoxious letter hit the paper.  Jane has no right to dictate what I write or how I go about my research.  Absolutely none.  Jane’s letter reveals quite a bit about Jane and her organization – their character, their truthfulness, their attitude toward the public and their understanding of their legal obligations.  But it does very little to reveal what’s behind the uncontested 70% price increase.

Here is a partial explanation from Jane.

Her main concern appears to be the “humungous windfall” she alleges the FKSPCA  recently received from the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). A short history lesson: In November 2015, the previous contractor for the Marathon jurisdiction, SHARK, approached the FKSPCA to ask if we would be willing to assume the contract due to their difficulty running the shelter with the County contract funds. After discussions with Monroe county staff, the FKSPCA agreed to assume the contract at the current rate with the understanding that because of a lack of historical data on operating costs, that once we had determined the actual cost of running the shelter for a year, we could come back to the County for appropriate funding.

As we had feared, the real cost of running the shelter was $405,000, far in excess of the $254,532 the County provided.

Hmmm…interesting.  But I think it’s Jane who needs a history lesson, and a math lesson too.

Here is a link to an audit of SHARK completed in April of 2016.  Note this response from SHARK.

Let’s see.  According to Jane, the county paid FKSCPA roughly $250,000 when they took over the shelter.  If SHARK was about $30,000 short each year that would mean operating expenses were about $280,000 in 2015.  Right?

SHARK’s contract includes the following provision:

…the Contractor shall, at its expense, provide the County with an annual audit prepared by an independent Certified Public Accountant; said audit shall conform to generally accepted auditing standards and shall be submitted to the County within one hundred twenty (120) days following the close of the Contractor’s fiscal year.

SHARK was required by contract to provide audited financial statements each year.  So is the FKSPCA.  How is it possible that some form of historical operating cost data would not be available?  And how is it possible for President Jane to be ignorant of this provision?  You don’t suppose Jane is trying to bullshit us, do you?

No, she wouldn’t…

Would she?

Jane’s ignorance (or deception?) continues.

Our bid of $425,000 included an increase in our base employee wage from $10 per hour to $14.50 per hour. (As an aside, the FKSPCA proudly offers its staff paid vacation time, medical insurance and other benefits.) Ms Blank finds this increase ”very suspicious” and I hope this explanation helps her understand the reality.

Well, I understand the reality of math.  And I also understand the reality that Jane’s reading comprehension is very poor.  Here’s the paragraph from my post that she’s referring to.

There’s a tax money hemorrhage somewhere and I’d really like to find it.  The huge 70% price increase is very suspicious on its own, especially when you consider the limited advertising and the fact that only one seemingly inflated bid was received.

My suspicions have to do with the 70% price increase and the questionable circumstances surrounding the RFP, not with employee raises specifically.  Jane knows that because I made it abundantly clear.  Multiple times.  That’s the main issue.  But Jane is desperately trying to dodge it.  Why?

If we look at the cost information submitted to the county by FKSPCA, the amount of increased employee compensation is $42,000.    But we’re talking about a $175,000 overall price hike.  Increased employee compensation doesn’t even begin to cover it.  Where is the rest of that $133,000 going?  Why does it cost so much more to run the shelter than it did under SHARK?  And why does Jane get so annoyed when the question is asked?

Again, it would be nice if Jane could enlighten me and all the other taxpayers who are stuck with the tab for all this.  She could easily short-circuit all the puzzlement with straightforward information.  But she felt it was more productive to fire off her condescending letter instead.  Why?  How does that serve the interests of the taxpayers?

Ms Blank’s assertion, “Taxpayer funds are being commingled with the funds of a private charity for the purposes of the new building.” is wrong, plain and simple. The increase in the Marathon contract has nothing to do with the construction of the new shelter in Key West.

Taxpayer funds are being commingled with the funds of a private charity for the purposes of the new building.  Monroe County taxpayers are contributing $1.5 million to the new Key West animal shelter.  This is true.  It doesn’t necessarily mean anything nefarious is going on, but it does raise concerns.  Especially given the county’s track record, including their “partnership” with the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA).  Specifically, I’m concerned about bidding irregularities, excessive cost and a lack of transparency.

Unless Jane is able to offer a valid explanation for the 70% price increase, one that actually holds up to scrutiny, then it’s reasonable to speculate as to where all this taxpayer money is going.  If Jane doesn’t like the wondering and supposing, she could have filled in the blanks with factual, verifiable information.  She failed to do so.  That’s on her right now, nobody else.

Jane goes on to offer an excuse as to why she can’t simply provide the information required to make her case.

For the sake of brevity, I won’t address her bullet-point questions specifically here but would ask her to please contact our executive director, Tammy Fox, for the simple answers to them. Ms Blank will then have the information for an accurate follow-up article, including the construction of our new shelter in Key West.

Oh, Jane’s not answering questions for the sake of brevity, eh?  How many words does it take to explain why costs jumped so much when FKSPCA took over from SHARK?  Some of SHARK’s costs were already high compared to the other shelter operators.  Most notable were the comparatively excessive accounting fees.

A long letter wasn’t required.  In fact, I would argue that complete, straightforward answers require much less ink than the dodges and half-truths offered by Jane.  FKSPCA staff could have posted the information on their website and Jane could have directed readers to it.  Simple.

Jane’s condescending word salad supports the perception that she did not provide complete answers because they do not exist.  Or because they would confirm my suspicions about the RFP.  Even worse, she’s demonstrated that her organization reacts with hostility to questioning from taxpayers.  Was that her goal?  To discourage questions?

I’m willing to play Jane’s game to a certain extent.  I went ahead and submitted a document request through the “Jane-approved” channel.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll get some real answers.  I’m not holding my breath though.  Jane’s performance so far does not inspire confidence.

Here’s my request.

Please provide FKSPCA’s 2016 tax return.  For the years 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, please provide documents which allow the taxpayers to understand which expenses they are responsible for and which expenses the charity is responsible for.  Those documents should also allow the taxpayers to understand how expenses are allocated between the two shelters after the FKSPCA took over the Marathon shelter.

I’ll wait patiently…for a little while.  There’s one thing Jane should know about me.  I do not give up easily.  I will keep coming back until I get answers that make sense.  If she thinks I’ll be deterred by her nasty-gram, she is sorely mistaken.

There’s another thing Jane ought to know about me.  I worked at the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment (KLWTD) for ten years.  When you build a $150 million sewer system with public money, you get bombarded with questions.  And rightfully so.  I am very familiar with transparency requirements and obligations.  Whether Jane likes it or not, the FKSPCA has the same obligations.  Jane’s imperious, demanding attitude is way out of line.

Jane seems to think that her organization can take taxpayer money while sidestepping the obligations that come with it.  Jane is wrong.  When her organization accepted public money, they accepted public scrutiny as well.  Jane better get used to it.  The questions have only begun.

~~~~~~~~

This post was first published by Margaret Blank on 12/28/17 at her website: therealpoop.org.

[UPDATE 12/29/17 Friday am:  Margaret Blank reports she received an email response to her request for documents from FKSPCA this morning.  Stay tuned….]

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Margaret Blank
Margaret Blank is the former General Manager of the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District. Read more about Margaret, her experience, her research, her opinions on sewering the Keys and more in her blog: therealpoop.
 December 29, 2017  Posted by at 12:40 am Issue #249, Margaret Blank  Add comments

  9 Responses to “FKSPCA – Jane Fails the Taxpayers”

  1. I’m on this too. Of particular interest to me is why these two expenses jumped 80% over SHARK’s costs in a single year:

    Shark 2015: Employment costs Medical expenses
    $163,000 $27,000

    SPCA 2016 $286,718 $49,828

    I have a phone call in which I will follow up with some specific PRR’s.

  2. As evidenced by the FKSPCA’s egregious conduct during the County’s SUFA witch hunt and that FKSPCA appeared to have colluded with the County to bury SUFA, it is not surprising that Jane would be upset by someone questioning their lack of transparency and their appearance of exploiting the Marathon situation. How dare you? No one ever questioned why it took so much more money to run the Key West facility for many years, especially considering that the territory they covered was extremely small compared to what the other lower-paid, county-supported shelters had to cover. It was obvious they had the County in their pockets and anyone questioning anything was ignored. Linda Gottwald upset that apple cart by asking for a very reasonable increase, and her legacy continues to be a barb in FKSPCA’s side – as it should be when it comes to a BOCC which seems not to care about wasting money.

  3. As noted, I did get a partial response to my request for information. But its incomplete and not entirely what I asked for. It doesn’t explain the $175,000 cost increase.

    How sad that they make a racket out of animal control. Meanwhile in the Upper Keys, HACC is killing over half the animals that come through their doors. The county’s top priority should be fixing that situation, not throwing 70% more money at FKSPCA to do the same job they’re already doing.

    None of this makes sense from a good government standpoint.

    • Unfortunately, I haven’t known of “good government” in the Keys since they squandered sewer money years ago and backed down on the Frank & Kathy Lee Gifford lower enclosure removal after Ocean Reef dinners. Of course, those are just examples of the blatant favoritism, indescretions, criminal activities, and betrayal of taxpayers, examples of which have been well documented. Maybe one day, the residents of the Keys will really give a damn.

  4. When the BOCC bought into the SPCA’s plan for a new shelter, they made a marriage for life. No bid from a competitor will ever be accepted because the SPCA would pull the shelter, along with the millions of tax dollars the BOCC foolishly poured into it. Now they are stuck with a partner who can get whatever they want because a divorce would be too costly.

  5. If you look at the audit reports, the SPCA is following in the footsteps of the County with too many administrators and too much payroll. Since when do animal shelter directors make more than $100 grand a year?

    Is the SPCA doing a good job with animals? Probably.

    Are they ripping off taxpayers? Probably.

    Does the BOCC give a damn? Apparently not.

    Thank you, Margaret, for your work on this!

  6. Note that she talked about “employee” salaries. WHAT about HER Salary? How much is that? What expenses of hers is the shelter paying? Does it supply her with a vehicle for personal use? Is the shelter paying her mortgage/rent or something?

    There is plenty of history of non-profit directors lining their own pockets or paying their bills out of organization funds because they think it is their “business” rather than a community or tax supported non-profit. I would love to see audited statements.

  7. Thanks!

    I agree that FKSPCA actually does a pretty good job. At least in comparison to HACC. Not exactly stiff competition.

    For 2016 their payroll were $840k for an unknown number of employees. They don’t report the number of employees on their tax returns like they’re supposed to. It’s a secret I guess. Another public records request is in order.