May 202016
 

letter

Dear Editor,

In a recent letter to the editor, Monroe County Mayor, Heather Carruthers, discussed her opposition to single-member districts. The letter glosses over very real and very significant problems with the current system.

Carruthers claims that the at-large system allows voters to influence county commissioners from other districts.

With SMD elections, you vote for one Commissioner every four years. In our current at-large elections, you get to vote for all five Commissioners every four years, and for at least 40% of the Commission every two years.

Just because you have a vote, does not mean you have any influence.

Suppose your SMD-elected Commissioner disagrees with you on a particular issue. Will other Commissioners (whom you didn’t elect) feel obligated to answer your calls? Constituents from all five districts find my door open, at least partly because they all helped elect me.

It doesn’t work this way in the real world. One vivid real-life example is the severe wastewater funding disparity affecting Key Largo. When I approached Carruthers she simply regurgitated staff’s talking points, which had already been debunked several times. Her door may have been open, but her mind was closed.

Carruthers went on to say:

The County’s success with improvements from Card Sound Road in Key Largo to Higgs Beach in Key West and on state-level issues like the Mayfield Grant and the Florida Keys Stewardship Act are a result of at-large voting and the BOCC’s ability to work across district (and party) lines.

This mythical “success” with capital projects is completely at odds with reality. The Cudjoe Regional project is $49 million over budget. Poor handling of the public’s concerns has resulted in numerous lawsuits. This is only one of many over-budget capital projects. If this is “success”, I shudder to think what failure looks like.

Securing state and federal funding is a team effort. However, the county has, at times, tried to divert funding away from other entities in a desperate attempt to shore up their own financially out-of-control projects. The horrific state of the county’s capital projects is a compelling argument for single-member districts.

Most importantly, Carruthers completely ignored the major flaw with the current at-large system. There are areas in the Keys that are or have been represented by a commissioner they did not elect. District 2 is currently facing this situation. Single-member districts remedy this very serious problem.

Margaret Blank
Former General Manager Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District
Current Key Largo taxpayer
Contoocook, NH

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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.
 May 20, 2016  Posted by at 1:04 am Issue #167, Letter to the Editor  Add comments

  13 Responses to “Response to County Mayor Carruthers”

  1. Thanks to screwy district lines, we currently have two commissioners residing at and most concerned with Key West issues, and two residing in and most concerned with Marathon issues. Murphy cares only about Key Largo & Ocean Reef, but will support Marathon or Key West interests in exchange for Key Largo support. The rest of the Keys has minimal representation. Neugent boasted in writing that he didn’t need the support of his lower Keys constituents because he had the Marathon and Key Largo vote. He reminds me of South Park’s Cartman saying “Screw you guys!” to the other 4th graders. His Big Pine office would be always empty if he did not have an assistant there to keep the lights on. Carruthers and Kohlhage have been far more supportive of the lower Keys than Neugent. Thanks to both of them and a little to Marathon’s Rice, but it is Neugent’s blatant and vocal disrespect of his constituents that has garnered support for single-member districts. Single-member districts still will not solve the lower Keys’ lack of representation until the district line does not include Marathon, but right now, most of the Keys have no significant influence due to a comparative lack of voting population. “No taxation without representation” was the battle cry that begat the United States from a collection of colonies, but that is still the situation. What is needed is a sense of unity in the Keys instead of separatist visions..

  2. Magaret Blank, I just now looked at the Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Office website, again.

    District 2 was carried by the incumbent commissioner, George Neugent. He only lost one District 2 precinct, barely, on Big Pine Key, to the challenger, Eleanor McAdams, for whom I voted.

    The only District in the Florida Keys Eleanor carried was District 1, in Key West.

    http://enr.electionsfl.org/MON/1194/Precincts/4538/?view=graphical

    I don’t see why people keep saying George Neugent lost his own voting district in 2014.

    Having said that, this 3-time county commission candidate (2006 and 2010 against George Neugent, and 2008 against Heather Carruthers) sez, he agrees with County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy, as reported in the Key West Citizen:

    “County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said changing to single member districts would be equivalent to voters giving up four-fifths of their vote. ‘That commissioner will answer to you and the other four will probably ignore you entirely because they are not depending on your vote,’ Murphy said. ‘It makes the county very splintered and it leaves no one caring about what is good for the county. It’s probably the worst idea that I’ve heard in a long time.’”

    In this past Tuesday’s Coconut Telegraph are two in depth comments from me against going to single district voting in the county:

    https://www.bigpinekey.com/page/2/

    Halloween, you said it well. During the Cudjoe Regional Sewer District grinder pump war, I was first-hand participating in email chains in which George Neugent also was participating, and he was just as you have painted him. Yet, still, he carried District 2, in which Cudjoe Regional lies.

    Regardless of the grinder pump war, It’s a 30 minute drive, one-way, through no to sparse human habitation, from George’s home behind the Marathon airport (bay side) to the District 2 county commissioner office on Big Pine Key. So I say District 2 should begin below Seven Mile Bridge, which would insure the District 2 commissioner lives and is awash in the lower keys people and their issues and lore, instead of remotely (safely?) esconsced in his home behind the Marathon airport.

    • Hi Sloan,

      I was referring to the results of the primary not the general election. It sure looks to me like Danny Coll actually won District 2. Here is a link to those results:

      http://enr.electionsfl.org/MON/1116/Precincts/2571/?view=graphical

      You are correct that George won District 2 in the general election. But if Danny Coll had won the primary, George wouldn’t have made it to the general election. If District 2 picked their own commissioner in 2014, it would have been either Danny Coll or Eleanor McAdams.

      Bottom line there are a lot of folks who are justifiably unhappy with the BOCC. Single-member districts are one very good solution on the table. Nothing Comm. Carruthers said in her letter addresses the underlying issues with the current system.

      I don’t see why the current district boundaries shouldn’t be re-evaluated either. That’s a possible solution, too. There are three commissioners up for re-election. Now’s the time to bring it up. Not sure what the governing law says about that. It’s done around the time of the census I believe.

      There’s no single magic bullet.

      I say do whatever it takes. But the status quo is not working. Monroe County is in a very dysfunctional place. And it’s sad. There’s no reason that the capital projects should be so far over budget. There’s no reason folks in Cudjoe Regional should have been treated like they have. Same goes for folks in Key Largo.

  3. Yes, Danny Coll won the District 2 primary, which was a closed Republican primary, since there was a filed Democrat candidate. I wish you had explained it that way in your reply to Heather Carruthers. George beat Danny in the 2010 Republican primary, also, after I filed in that race as an Independent, which also closed the Republican primary. I think the problem is not at large voting, but partisan primaries, which I have long proposed be abolished.

    I think going to single district voting for county commissioners is insane, to be blunt.

    You Key Largo folks have been complaining for years about Key West for many reasons, and I have been saying, stop complaining and incorporate Key Largo, and be your own boss like Islamorada and Marathon did, and have the kind of fun those two cities started having after they incorporated. Start a movement to have non-partisan primaries in all local county races. This is someone who’s been in the trenches a good while, not some armchair pundit. This is someone who ran twice against George Neugent, and once against Heather Carruthers, always as an independent.

    If the people pushing for single district voting had voted for me in 2006, or in 2010, would I have been elected? Would this discussion even be happening?

    For sure, I would have raised bloody hell about grinder pumps in Cudjoe Regional. I would have told the people living in Cudjoe Regional not to sign grinder pump easements over to Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority. I would have told them to make FKAA sue them, and then be ready to strike back with a massive class action takings lawsuit against FKAA and the county, and and injunction in FEDERAL COURT, alleging all sorts of human and environmental corruptions against FKAA, Monroe County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the grinder pump supplier company.

    But what the heck. It turned out grinder pumps were not all that hot an issue in 2014. George Neugent won all but one precinct in District 2 against the Democrat candidate. Go figure. I figured Neugent surely would lose District 2 in the general election.

    I tried to get someone in the lower keys to run against Neugent, you know of this person, who would have made Neugent sweat. Two persons, actually, either of whom would have made Neugent sweat. Thanks, but no thanks, I heard back.

    Get rid of partisan county elections. Impose term limits. Ban campaign advertising. Leave at large voting alone.

    • Yes, should have clarified which election I was referring to.

      You and I 100% agree that Key Largo should incorporate.

      Key Largo should have incorporated way back in 1999. Incorporation lost 2-1. You would think after all that’s happened since, incorporation would be a no-brainer now. But people are still reluctant. Oh well. It’s not for me to decide.

      Marathon and Islamorada have gone through their growing pains. And it hasn’t always been pretty, but they were better off after incorporating. More local control, direct revenue streams for their communities. I did an analysis once of how much investment there was in those communities before incorporation versus after. Incorporation made a huge positive difference.

      Most of the people I know in Key Largo aren’t “complaining about Key West”, they are complaining about a lack of representation. Their county commissioner turns a deaf ear. She sold out her own district on the wastewater funding issue. What’s next? Single-member districts directly address that problem.

      By the way, I started off luke warm on single-member districts. I thought incorporation was the only solution for Key Largo. But it’s occurred to me that single-member districts and incorporation each address different problems.

      Single-member districts resolve the lack of representation and allow each district to choose their own representative without being overruled.

      Incorporation allows for significant revenue streams to flow directly to the community, and it allows for more local control. Based on the performance of the fire district and the sewer district, I would have to say that KL tends to be far more financially conservative than the county. If KL were incorporated I’m sure that’s how the city would be run. As it stands now, KL citizens pay their taxes and watch as the county burns through it elsewhere.

      By the way, my husband asked me to quote him: “At-large voting is a bunch of crap.” So there you go – words of wisdom from the peanut gallery. Lol.

  4. Well, then, if you want district voting, then amend the petition drive to change the county charter so that each county commissioner cannot vote on anything that has nothing to do with his/her district. In that way, you will get Key Largo, and every other voting district, de facto incorporated :-). Otherwise, if your county commissioner votes on something going on in Key West, then the people of Key West have every right to vote for or against your county commissioner (as an example).

    • The US House and Senate vote on issues that only affect one state or district. Should they only be allowed to vote for things that affect their electors?

      Commissioners vote on how to govern the county and spend county resources.

      Again, At-Large voting disenfranchises minority opinion. Without single districts, minority opinion (and not just racial opinion) is voiceless.

  5. I find it fascinating that proponents of At-Large voting continually say that the current system allows people to have influence in all 5 districts, when in fact, the minority has little influence in ANY district.

    Single district voting doesn’t reduce your influence, it increases it 400%!

    At-Large voting was one of the main tactics used in Jim Crow times to marginalize minority votes. It allows 51% of the voters to effectively control 100% of the government. It was (is) used to reduce minority influence when literacy tests, poll taxes, gerrymandering, voter suppression and other tactics are not enough to ensure majority control and minority voicelessness.

    At-Large voting is, by definition and practice, discriminatory. Always. Every time.

    See: http://www.SMARTDistricts.org

    John Miller
    Key West

    • John, I don’t see this has anything to do with Jim Crow laws. By now you have heard a few, or more, times that this ain’t the mainland. I have heard the reason you are behind going to single district voting is because you have a bone to pick wither your district county commissioner. Margie Bargie has admitted she has a bone to pick with her district county commissioner.

      Here’s my own problem with going to single district voting for county commissioners. I have seen county commissioners go out of control, but if there had been single district voting, they very well might have not been voted out of office by their own constituents because of their longstanding, deep political alliances in their home district. Yet they voted on countywide issues at county commission meetings.

      If I see a county commissioner in another district doing stuff I don’t like, especially if it is hurting the district in which I live, I don’t want to have to move into that commissioner’s district to vote against him/her. And if I like what commissioner is doing, I don’t want to have to move into that commissioner’s district to vote for him/her.

      As many people in Key West as seem upset about the recent city commission approval of giving $12.5 million end run (Peary Court) to a private for profit developer, they might want to vote against all 5 county commissioners as their terms come up for reelection, and I would not blame them. At large voting allows them to do that.

      You want to fix the problem, go to term limits. Eliminate partisan primaries. Eliminate filing fees for county commission candidates. Ban campaign advertising. Remove Marathon from District 2, and put it into District 4, where it belongs. District 2 is a rural district. It needs a “redneck” county commissioner representing “redneck” constituents.

      • I have no “bone to pick” with my Commissioner—but thanks for trying to cheapen my argument with specious and anonymous rumors. Can we talk facts, not ad hominem? I’m not aware of or interested in history or agendas, my interest is solely in working toward a fairer process, despite what you may have “heard.” In fact, I think my Commissioner is pretty good and currently plan to cast my little vote for her.

        In Monroe County and everywhere else, At-Large voting has everything to do with Jim Crow and disenfranchisement of minority opinion. It dilutes minority votes, pure and simple—that’s why the House is more representative than the Senate, and why local elections should be the most representative of all in our representative democracy.

        It is ridiculous to propose that you can “vote against” another County Commissioner when you have 5 times the number of electors voting. You can only vote “for” someone, and voters should have the maximum leverage to do so.

        That would be in a single district system.

      • My problem with Sylvia Murphy goes way beyond having a “bone to pick”. She has cost her constituents $26 million. Your willingness to trivialize the issues faced by your neighbors in other districts is a great argument for single-member districts.

  6. Then, Margie, move back to Key Largo and run against Sylvia this year and prove your case before the voters, that she should not be reelected and that the voters also should vote in single district voting. I did not know until recently that you no longer live in the Florida Keys.

    Maybe I missed it somewhere above, the details of how Sylvia, all by her lonesome, cost her constituents $26 million?

    • Lol. No need to move back to KL and run for office. Murphy has a very capable challenger in Robby Majeska.

      There are two sides to the wastewater coin. Everyone is aware of the Cudjoe Regional issues. KLWTD serves about half the customers in the unincorporated area. The Monroe County/FKAA “partnership” serves the other half. The county provided $100 million less to the Key Largo area. As a result those customers pay $26 million more. Murphy has done nothing to address this huge imbalance. Nothing. She refuses to even take a clear position on the issue. If that isn’t weak and ineffective I don’t know what is.

      Trying and failing is one thing, but Murphy doesn’t even try. She doesn’t care. She never has and she never will. She doesn’t have to care. She can screw over her own district and get elected by sweet talking voters elsewhere who expect nothing from her. That’s how the system works today. And Murphy isn’t the only commissioner who benefits from the status quo.

      Do you know how awkward it is to go to other commissioners who don’t represent your area, and don’t care what happens in your district? They’re not going to challenge Murphy on something that doesn’t affect their own district. At best, they’ll nod politely or maybe make some vague promises in an election year. Typically, they’ll just tell you to get lost. That’s how the current system actually works in practice.

      The other commissioners don’t care if KL is treated fairly or not. To them KL is just a cash generator that helps fund their misadventures elsewhere. How do you suppose the BOCC can afford to pay $8 million for a $3 million park? Or $196 million for a $147 million sewer project? The Cudjoe Regional project escalated by $49 million. Assessments did not increase at all. Somebody has to pay for the BOCC’s fiscal irresponsibility.

      I wrote a letter about Murphy’s mush-mouth response to being questioned about the wastewater funding issue. Here’s a link: http://thebluepaper.com/double-talk-needs-to-stop/

      By the way, Murphy was zero help to Cudjoe Regional citizens on their issues. Quite the opposite. In fact, she and Neugent characterized the citizens groups as stubborn and unreasonable. Not cool. The BOCC mishandled the whole situation. Now Cudjoe Regional has to live with it and everyone else (particularly KL) has to pay for it. Sad.

      This scenario will play out over and over again under the current system.