Apr 072017
 

by Rick Boettger…….

The County will vote April 12th to give the SPCA an extra $150,000 a year “effective immediately” to operate the Marathon animal shelter. This further compounds, until the end of time, the already-$1,000,000 taxpayer loss I have described previously due to the County’s illegal demolition of Stand Up For Animals (SUFA) in 2010 and its replacement by a group of Commissioner George Neugent’s friends, SHARK, who ran it into the ground.

Shortly after the County extended SHARK’s’ contract for the Middle Keys shelter in mid-2015 with a nice raise, SHARK itself realized they were simply not competent to run anything. They missed audits, let insurances lapse, got fined for late filings with state and federal agencies, got quarantined, failed to make payroll, etc. They cried “Uncle!” and asked to be absorbed by a competent nonprofit.

The Florida Keys SPCA bravely stepped into the breach, assuming the Middle Keys contract starting Nov. 1st, 2015. The FKSPCA board president said their board and finance committee carefully considered the proposal and decided that the FKSPCA was fully capable, both organizationally and financially, of assuming these new responsibilities. “With our new building fund [for the new College Road shelter] in its final stages, this is an exciting time for the FKSPCA,” she said. “I firmly believe that we will be a better and stronger organization as a result of this expanded footprint.”

Well, 16 months later they say they need $150,000 more than their contractual agreement for $247,000/year, a massive 61% increase.

Time for a trip down memory lane. ‘Way back in the Good Old Days, SUFA ran TWO Middle Keys Shelters, the one in Marathon and also one in Big Pine Key. They were paid $265,000/year for their two shelters and were shut down when they asked for a $15,000/year raise, only a 5.6% increase after years at their old rate.

So let’s look at the scorecard, how the County has treated their beloved white elephant they created in 2010, compared to how they treated SUFA and its director, Linda Gottwald:

  • As above, $247,000 for one shelter instead of $280,000 for two. Actually, if you factor in the difference in hours open per week, the County paid 2.1% MORE for one shelter than for two.
  • The County advanced SHARK $60,000 in start-up funds. They made Linda spend her own savings.
  • The County waived a number of SHARK’s insurance and licensing requirements for months. Linda asked for a one-day waiver. County Public works director Dent Pierce denied her request. He moved all the Marathon animals in vans to Key West at Linda’s expense. The next day, when insurance was in place, Linda had to pay to move them back.
  • The illegal audit that shut down SUFA (over-ruled at the District Court level) found only a few utility misbillings. These were magnified by Danny Kolhage’s County-directed witch-hunt into a public disgrace that haunts Linda to this day, due to a gullible media. But Roman Gastesi, looking at SHARK’S multitude of sins, above, said, “Is the bookkeeping messed up a little bit? I think we can safely say yes. But operationally it appears we’re doing fine. I’d rather have bad paperwork than bad operations from this kind of facility.” But in a sworn deposition, he had admitted there were absolutely no problems with SUFA’s operations, much less being shut down by a quarantine as SHARK was.

I could go on and on but enough. The kicker is that they need the money because of longer animal stays and the cost of litigation against animal abusers. Okay, here’s how to save a big chunk of change:

First, hire Linda Gottwald as a consultant to show them how to reduce animal stay expenses. Her brilliant insight was to send large and furry big dogs that, in one case, had languished in our shelters for six years, up to her cold-weather shelter in Michigan. She had thousands of dollars in donations from philanthropists who recognized the compassionate brilliance of this approach—the six-year prisoner found a loving home in two weeks up North. The County looked at this as somehow sending “our money” to Michigan, and forbade it for SHARK. Ironically, a SHARK director had Linda help her send her own suffering big dog up to Linda’s Michigan shelter, where it was rapidly adopted. The County squanders fees on consultants promiscuously. I’ll say Linda would do this for a measly $20,000. Remember, this is a one-time charge, not $150,000/year forever.

The second expense is for ligation. Oddly, the County, with its bloated stable of well-paid attorneys, makes the animal people hire lawyers to prosecute animal abusers. Linda was surprised when Bob Shillinger first explained this to her, that she bought it all, she was the independent contractor, she did it all her way. Then, after she successfully convicted a bad fellow of abusing his pit bulls, the County was supposed to collect and pocket the fine. A year later, she found Bob had not bothered to collect it from him! After all, it’s just our tax money. And so much for holding the abusers accountable, Bob.

My recommendation: re-assign some of the attorneys that squander hundreds of hours unsuccessfully suing good citizens like Linda and her Board of Directors, or the grievously wronged people having grinder pumps illegally forced upon them, to doing some work actually helping We The People. As it is, our taxpayer funded County Attorneys take their main job to be NOT working for We The People who pay their salaries, but rather to defend our staff and unethical (this will soon be demonstrated officially) commissioners. Please! Instead, spend a few lawyer hours to prosecute the animal abusers.

A follow-up on the already-proven unethical commissioner: it appears George Neugent will not run for re-election. I wrote recently about his being named honorary Mayor a month after he received Public Censure and Reprimand from the Florida Commission on Ethics, a rarely severe sanction. The last two Florida officials who received it at George’s level, a Superintendent of Schools and county Commissioner, were respectively fired and quit after Public Censure and Reprimand. Of course, here in ultra-corrupt Monroe, his fellow Commissioners and lapdog media give George a round of applause for being such a bullet-proof scoundrel! I can only hope his conscience, and being outed for zero charitable donations, helped him decide not to take his show on the road one more time.

Sic semper evello mortem tyrranus.

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Rick Boettger

Rick Boettger had a Top Secret security clearance in the Army and studied nuclear chemistry at MIT and law at Yale before getting a PhD in business at Berkeley. He earned tenure as a business professor at TCU in Fort Worth before going to Moscow as a Fulbright Professor, writing a book on the economy, hosting a semi-national talk radio show, and retiring to Key West in 1996 at the age of 48. Since then he has worked part-time as a tax and financial advisor, and has been doing investigative journalism since he began at the Blue Paper in 2007​. He is very happily married to his superb copy-editor Cynthia Edwards, the former long-time PIO for the Key West Police Department.


 April 7, 2017  Posted by at 12:56 am * Featured Story *, Issue #213, Rick Boettger  Add comments

  12 Responses to “SUFA Aftermath Gets Even Worse”

  1. Rick, you worked your tail off on this and parallel Neugent universes, and for that, of course, no good deed goes unpunished.

    I never got deep into the SUFA controversy, but I did have one perhaps 20 minute telephone conversation with Linda Gottwald, who called me when it was getting thick. I think I recall Linda said someone had told her she should contact me, because I covered local issues on my websites and told it like it was, or something like that.

    I told Linda I was not well informed, but I had heard she had transported animals from Big Pine shelter to Michigan in a county vehicle which had been provided to SUFA for its local operations. I said, if that vehicle was used to transport animals to Michigan, where Linda was relocating, then I had a problem with that, as I did not think that was what the vehicle was supposed to be used for, at least, not without the county’s permission.

    I also told Linda I had a problem with her pitching a raise for SUFA at a county commission meeting I attended in the Marathon Government Center, without telling the commissioners she was moving to Michigan and someone else would be running the local SUFA shelters.

    That phone conversation was strained, Linda did not come away from it happy she had talked with me. I reported it at my websites. I don’t recall now that I got much deeper involved, but from time to time when SUFA came back up, I retold what you read above.

    And, that all I had heard about Linda and how she took car of homeless animals, was good. I told Linda that when she called me that day. I don’t recall there ever was any question of her devotion to the animals in her care. That’s why she transported the dogs, as I recall, to Michigan. They had not been placed with new owners, they were at risk, perhaps to being euthanized, so Linda save them. Noble.

    But without the county’s okay to use that vehicle to move the dogs to Michigan. Imagine a wreck involving that vehicle, say in Tennessee, and people were killed. The county gets sued for sure, since it’s their vehicle.

    It was said at Hometown!’s recent call to candidates that George Neugent has let out that he will not run again. I don’t know what the cause fully is. Certainly, you wore him out. Perhaps he’s tired of politics.

    I knew during the 2010 county commission race that George’s membership at Sombrero Country Club was being comped. I figured that was a felony of some kind, but I could not prove what I knew, because I did not have anyone inside Sombrero who would rat George out. So, I let that pass.

    Where I feel George did the worse job, besides perhaps nearly never meeting a development he did not like, was his love affair with grinder pumps in the Cudjoe Regional Sewer District, and his haughty treatment of people in his voting district who flat were against grinder pumps.

    I imagine time will prove to anyone who is not brain dead that grinder pumps should have only been used in Cudjoe Regional where they were the only way to provide sewerage collection and treatment. Maybe by then I will be in the happy place on the other side of this life, hopefully that’s where I end up, and it won’t matter what I think about grinder pumps.

    Meanwhile, it chaps my ass that the new homeless animal shelter in Key West (Stock Island) will cost about $5 million, which will come from animal lover donations and free city land, while the city wails it cannot afford a new homeless people shelter at $1.2 million just down the road from the new homeless animal shelter.

  2. Thank you, Rick Boettger and the Blue Paper for your tenacity in following this fiasco and for courageously rushing in where other media dare not tread. Bene factum!

  3. Another excellent display of investigative reporting!

    Marathon SPCA has some good people working there. There are a number of things I would change, though.

    I think Rick is absolutely correct that the County should be prosecuting animal abusers instead of the SPCA taking on that expense. The County is darned quick to initiate legal action against some petty Code violation called in anonymously by a grouchy neighbor, but refuses to go after real criminals? Perhaps it is “professional courtesy?”

    Rick makes a good observation of how the County legal staff is directed to defend unconstitutional, statutorily illegal, unethical activities of the FKAA-County partnership against a small percentage of the electorate. These are the peaceful citizens who were/are being forced to “grant” an extorted property easement and power circuit to allow extension of the County sewer collection system onto their private property for the convenience of the Partnership. County defense against litigation by citizens has cost hundreds of thousands in tax dollars and continues today. Combined with other elements such as the
    1. Restriction of Trade (sole source specifications, then owner-direct purchasing that circumvented statutory public purchasing requirements) and
    2. Restriction of Interstate Commerce (by requiring the grinder pump stations be purchased only from the one local distributor), and
    3. Extortion (first by verbal threats of home condemnation if a property easement is not “granted), and
    4. Use of the U.S. Postal Service to distribute extortion letters, and
    5. Whistle blower retaliation, and
    6. Fraud (forged Army Corps Environmental Assessment used to obtain Florida Finding of No Significant Impact from DEP, plus a fraudulent “Decision Tree” that eliminated vacuum sewers as a possibility while purporting to consider them based on economics), and
    7. Witness tampering (telephoned threat),
    the Cudjoe Regional management has established a valid federal RICO case against themselves. The US Attorney in Miami did not even acknowledge receipt let alone respond to a certified letter of complaint, so one wonders how deep the corruption goes. The FBI claimed, “It’s a civil matter unless you can show us a smoking gun like a cashed pay-off check.” In other words, “This job pays the same whether we play cards or investigate, so guess what?”

    My Latin is non-existent, so I attempted to get a translation of the last line. Not even Wikipedia was clear on it, in spite of Latin scholars weighing in, but after reading the entire discussion (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3ASic_semper_tyrannis), I take it to mean a non-violent but adamant “Out with tyranny!” Amen to that, but what does it take besides a dagger (or spear in Virginia)? A good start would be election of Commissioners only by their district and an elected FKAA Board, also with voting limited to their district. It goes without saying that the constituent should live in their district, but we see FKAA’s Chairman Robert Dean living in one district but representing another, FKAA’s Melva Wagner living in a mainland county but representing another FKAA district, and the County’s “King George” Neugent living in Marathon but “representing” the Lower Keys. This does not describe a democracy.

  4. Any truth to the rumor, Rick, that George Neugent will run for dogcatcher?

  5. Wrong on two counts, Sloan.
    1) The trucks were leased and insured by SUFA and accordingly, the County was signed off of any liability.
    2) The SPCA’s new animal shelter -which is badly needed- received a huge chunk of change of from the County. This was a smart move on the SPCA as it assures that no one will ever bid against them for upcoming contracts as the building is a carrot that can be pulled away from the County. This is why they also received Carte Blanche during their audit, as proven by county emails.

  6. I kinda doubt the county attorney would agree, just because SUFA had a lease on the vehicle and insured it, that erased a cause of action a person not part of that agreement might have against the county involving one of its vehicles being operated outside the scope of intent of the lease. ie. out of state. I doubt it ever occurred to the County that SUFA would operate a lease county vehicle out of state, and certainly not all the way to Michigan and back. Linda Gottwald and I went around about that.

    A parallel example.

    One of the male monitors at KOTS sexually assaults a female client. SHAL’s contract with the City of Key West, to run KOTS for the city, does not shield the city from liability for what was done wrong at the city’s homeless shelter, if the plaintiff was not a party to the contract between the city and SHAL. Both SHAL and the city get sued by the plaintiff lawyer, aka personal injury lawyer.

    It if the County was so generous with SPCA, for housing and caring for its homeless animals, that lends to the City of Key West’s argument that the County should chip in and pay half the cost of running and construction the new shelter for homeless people? I’d love to hear County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy’s thoughts on that :-).

  7. Neugent has long been a disgrace to the office he holds. His mistreatment of SUFA’s Linda Gottwald was beyond reprehensible.
    Grinder Pump George’s legacy will also include his reckless ramrodding of the horrid Cudjoe Regional sewer system, which has already become the poster child for cost overruns and environmental woes.

  8. What has never been mentioned anywhere is SHARK was barely in business when it pulled dogs from Miami and brought them down to the Keys for adoption. Made a big deal out of it on Facebook. I never saw nor heard anything from the county about SHARK’s use of county funds to feed and shelter those dogs, yet they made a huge point of accusing Linda of using county funds for Michigan dogs. And when FKSPCA took over from SHARK, it was obvious that they would be seeking increases in the near future as they were already overpaid for what they actually did in their small territory. What I never understood is how FKSPCA could justify their money request when Linda was given such a hard time while running two shelters for less.

  9. I wuz having dinner in Harpoon Harry’s last night, in Key Weirdo, and into the restaurant came 2 mid-20s, maybe, loud, juiced up men, one of whom went off on a rant against cats. I listened a while, watched other people listen, wondered why come he was still allowed to remain among the living.

    Finally, I shouted at him. Hey, fellow, my cat would have you for a snack! You would look like hamburger! His name is “Ambush”.

    He’s gonna come haunt you in your dreams. You gonna meet the Nightmare on Elm Street cat, for sure!

    I wasn’t joking about any of it, except Ambush mostly lives with one of the men who rents an apartment behind the restaurant. Reach down and pet Ambush, and shortly you will find out how he got his name.

    Perhaps what the county commission needs is for ASPCA to clone Ambush and set a 100 of his progeny loose in George Neugent’s home (when his nice wife isn’t home).

  10. Thanks, Rick, for continuing to pursue this.

    When you zoom out and look at the whole animal control mess, you can’t help but realize how corrupt and dysfunctional Monroe County government really is. I would encourage people to also consider what is happening in the Upper Keys. Here’s a quick rundown.

    Huge population of free-roaming cats.
    Highest need and lowest funding of any animal shelter in the Keys.
    A kill rate three times higher than the other shelters in the Keys.
    A shelter operator with nothing but excuses.
    A county commissioner who has said she is “perfectly happy” with the situation.

    The animal control mess is a Keys-wide problem that requires a Keys-wide solution. Nothing will ever change as long as people remain in their silos. If you’re not willing to take up for your neighbor, don’t expect them to take up for you. (Same with sewer by the way.)

    What the bozo’s in county government fail to realize is that many states up north are able to import adoptable animals and find them homes. When Linda found those dogs new homes in Michigan, she only did what many, many shelters do every day as a matter of routine. Only in Monroe County would it be considered some sort of crime.

    I think bringing Linda on as a consultant would be a brilliant move but it will never happen with the current crop of scumbags in charge. They are 100% responsible for creating and perpetuating the situation with animal control. And their egos will never allow them to admit, much less correct, mistakes. Not to mention the need to cover up any possible criminal conduct. Long story short, the county benefits from the horrible status quo. They’re not going to change it.

    I totally agree that the County’s legal department is most definitely part of the problem on every front. I can tell you for a fact that if some county official doesn’t want to part with a public record, Shillinger will step in personally to try and stymie the request. He did it when I started asking questions about the Emergency Services Surtax.

    Interesting that Neugent says he’s not running again. If he doesn’t, who will empty-headed Sylvia Murphy glom on to? I’m guessing she’ll get Carruthers to do her thinking for her.