by Ralph De Palma…….
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) was the “Gold Standard” for mosquito control operations throughout the world through our successful defeat of the first outbreak of Dengue Fever in 2010. We had agencies visit from Brazil, the Caymans, Australia, Italy, and inquiries from almost every state in the union. They studied our procedures and techniques, reviewed our data and GIS mapping capabilities. We signed the first ever agreement with US Fish and Wildlife in 2004 to larvicide off-shore wilderness islands because of the level of confidence that the Federal government had with FKMCD capabilities.
FKMCD had built up $8m in reserves for contingencies like the 7 named storms that hit the Keys in 2004/2005 and the new facility they knew since 2008 they would need in the Lower Keys. 2010 began a wave of very conservative Commissioners elected and all promised “New” leadership in 2010, 2012, and 2014. They immediately began cutting budgets and spending the reserves to pay for operations resulting in a little over $2m in reserves left in 2016. Roll Back budgets or direct cuts were made in 5 out of the next 6 budgets. All deficits paid for by using precious reserves. The new Lower Keys facility is still needed but now there are no reserves. This “New” leadership has led to the current fiscal mess – that required a 22% tax increase to build a garage and rent some trailers for Lower Keys Operations. This reversal of fortune was accomplished with a slim 3/2 voting majority almost every year. The anti-incumbent era can result in electing the wrong “New” candidates.
The entire budget mess that the FKMCD faced this year is the direct result of the years of budget cutting without any concern of the consequences – by definition terrible leadership and gross miss-management. The dominant 3/2 voting block of Phil Goodman (R appointed to Board by Gov. Scott 2011), Jack Bridges (R 2010) – now Tom McDonald (R 2014), and Jill Cranney-Gage (R 2012) all voted in lock step for all these disastrous budgets. In the anti-incumbent political climate of change, “New” can still be very disastrous.
Long time Commissioners Bill Shaw (R) and Steve Smith (D) were in the minority voting against the use of the $8m reserves. With only one more vote on the Board, we could have built the new Lower Keys Operations facility with 0% tax increase and still had reserves. These two Commissioners had been on the Board long enough to know not to blow through the reserves. They were there when FKMCD had no reserves and had difficulty operating. They voted for budgets from 1990s until 2010 that turned FKMCD into the Gold Standard operation. These two Commissioners are not the problem; their experience matters.
The 2016 FKMCD budget that required a 22% tax increase was the direct result of the budget policy from 2011 until today. It has been terrible leadership by a slim 3/2 majority of the five member Board of Commissioners. Voters are responsible for the “New” 3/2 majority that has steered FKMCD onto the fiscal rocks (except for the appointment by Governor Rick Scott of Chairman Phil Goodman to replace the long time Commissioner Dick Rudell after his death in January 2011, Commissioner Rudell, while very conservative, had always voted to protect the FKMCD reserves).
Another “New” idea man, Governor Rick Scott’s first budget in 2011, cut the State spending on mosquito control by 80% (he wanted to zero it out but was blocked). How’s that worked out Miami?
The most significant factor has been the control exerted by Scott appointee Chairman Phil Goodman (R) whose wife Debby also chairs the Monroe County Republican party and is funding some (R) campaigns and not others. Jill Cranney-Gage and Brandon Pinder have received $5000 for their campaigns from Monroe County Republicans, Republican Janet Woods has received $0. The prior candidates support the Goodman agenda, Janet Woods does not. This has influenced all new (R) Commissioners and has led to an ideological agenda rather than a fiscally responsible agenda. Local County elections should not have this huge finger on the scale by the Republican Party.
Commissioner Joan Lord-Papy (D) retired and was replaced by new Commissioner Jill Cranney-Gage (R) in 2012. Jill Cranney-Gage promised to help bring “New” leadership to the Board. Young and enthusiastic we all hoped Jill would be a positive active force on the Board. I voted for Jill and have been very disappointed. Her first two years on the Board were uneventful except for rubber stamping the Goodman agenda of budget cutting and burning through reserves. She has stated on several occasions that “FKMCD is not a bank” and doesn’t need all these reserves. Jill has flip-flopped on many important issues. She blindly supported the GMO test in her own Key Haven neighborhood until her constituents demanded a vote (and if re-elected will probably blindly support it again). I state blindly because the Board does not have any idea how much the GMO program will cost. She supported the new Lower Keys building until the July 2016 Budget hearing where Commissioner Bill Shaw asked her on the record if she changed her vote to help get re-elected. That is terrible leadership.
Chairman Goodman has been the biggest disaster, and Commissioner McDonald just another low energy rubber stamp. Today’s anti-incumbent mantra can lead to unforeseen consequences. “New” can be very disastrous. We need to get rid of the incumbents that are not doing their job. Replace them with candidates that work for us not some ideology. We especially need to keep incumbents that make responsible decisions and keep Monroe County citizens safe.
Unfortunately one of the good ones, Commissioner Bill Shaw, is retiring. He needs to be replaced by an independent voice on the Board that will support policies that work for the voters of Monroe County not blind ideology. Janet Woods (R) has promised to continue this important work.
Commissioner Steve Smith is running for re-election against a candidate that promises “New” ideas. Remember how disastrous the other “New” idea people have been recently. There is a good chance that Chairman Goodman would be as strongly influential on Mr. Pinder as he was on Commissioner Cranney-Gage. Retiring Commissioner Bill Shaw (R) has endorsed Commissioner Steve Smith (D) for re-election. Former Florida Keys Mosquito Control Director Ed Fussell, who ran mosquito control for the US Navy for 30 years, headed the State of Florida mosquito control program, past President of the Florida Mosquito Control Association and past President of the nationwide American Mosquito Control Association has endorsed Steve Smith for Commissioner District 3, FKMCD as the best Commissioner on the FKMCD Board. Commissioner Smith is an incumbent that needs to be re-elected his experience and leadership matters.
Commissioner Jill Cranney-Gage is an incumbent that has been a huge disappointment providing nothing “New” and almost no leadership by flip flopping on important very issues. She has never attended any mosquito control forums or functions and has never participated in annual mosquito control training courses to attempt to learn her job. The same is true for Chairman Goodman and Commissioner McDonald. Commissioner Jill Cranney-Gage is an incumbent that doesn’t deserve our support and needs to be replaced by Kathryn Watkins District 1 candidate, who promises to vote for responsible budgets and learn about mosquito control, and provide real leadership along with Commissioner Smith and the Commissioner from District 4 Janet Wood will be a 3/2 majority that will restore FKMCD to the Gold Standard.
Ralph De Palma worked for FKMCD managing Information Technology. He retired in 2014.