BOCC Persuades Me to Run for Neugent’s Seat / My Platform: “Ethical Expertise”
by Rick Boettger…….
We are taking a break from detailing the individual Monroe County Commissioners’ Ethics violations to report on Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners’ meeting at the Harvey Government Center in Key West. It was a doozy. We will continue with Commissioners Kolhage (“It’s All Danny’s Fault if We Lose”) and Murphy (“His Weirdness”) in the next two weeks.
For Tuesday’s meeting, I wanted to follow up on Commissioner Heather Carruthers’ assertion about it being common for the BOCC to squander hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars without blinking an eye. She convinced her fellow commissioners to spend another $100k extending the ever-losing SUFA lawsuit some years ago with the following sharp reasoning: “And honestly, I mean, you know, a hundred thousand dollars does sound like a lot of money to a lot of people, but we make decisions all the time about things that I think might be even less justifiable spending that kind of money.”
So I went over the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting and, sure enough, I found an item that would squander well over $100,000 of our tax money. (Do these pop up every month, or did I just get lucky?) It involves the purchase of privately owned parcels of undeveloped property by the county, to reduce pressure for more development and reduce the county’s exposure to “takings” lawsuits. We already lost a biggie, millions of dollars, for depriving a landowner of the right to develop his property. With our running out of ROGO’s (“Rate Of Growth Ordinance”) which give landowners the right to build a house on their property, the idea is buy them ourselves.
Eight properties were on the agenda for the BOCC to approve the purchase and the prices. Two on Big Pine Key were properly priced at $25,000 each, and were on sensitive land touching water. But six were on inland lots on Duck Key and seemed on first blush to be overpriced, at around $80,000 each. So I did a quick spreadsheet analysis, which you can look at HERE. It compares the cost per square foot of the six proposed purchases with four comparable properties I found that had sold on the open market in the last 19 months. Open market: $6.49 per square foot. The amount of our tax dollars being proffered: $9.57 per square foot.
This adds up to an immense difference. We are offering a total of $558,000 (plus transactions costs) for land that should cost at the open market rate only $378,516. This is a difference even above Heather’s benchmark $100,000, a whopping $179,484 out the window in windfall profits for some lucky landowners.
I handed a copy of my spreadsheet to Commissioner Danny Kolhage, noting to the other commissioners that I thought he was the only one who could understand it, as it involved percentages and fractions, hard stuff that would only make them feel bad ( I didn’t voice that last part, but they got the vibe). Danny, to his credit, perused and quickly understood it. He vouched for its being worth my discussing it with the county staff responsible for the high numbers.
The Land Authority is conveniently housed just down the hall from the meeting chambers, and I met with two fine gentlemen in charge of it, their Executive Director and Senior Land Acquisition Specialist. Their justification boiled down to saying the chosen properties demanded a premium because, though not on the water, had water views between houses across the street that were on the water.
In point of fact, this was not true.
I went back to my office and used Google Maps ground level view to see these views for myself. For example, to see the view from one of the target lots inland on Bimini drive, you look at the photo of the house on the water, e.g., 134 Bimini Drive. That photo is taken while standing on our proposed acquisition.
Result: of the six properties, only one had any glimpse of the water, a sliver through the stilted carport. All the rest were either face-on to a house, or completely occluded by our normal lush foliage. Water views were no advantage.
In fact, my four comparables were MORE desirable than the proposed purchases. Two of my four were corner lots. One had the good fortune to have a real water view: the house across the street on the water was on he center of a three-lot parcel, enjoying large empty space on either side of it, My comparable was directly across from one of the empty lots.
Most damning, one of my lots was right next door to one of our proposed purchases. Same size, same non-view. Open market price in April of 2016: $80,000, the highest per square foot of all my comparables. But our offer today was even higher: $95,000. A difference of $15,000, or 18.75%.
Does anyone think Duck Key land prices are shooting up after hurricane Irma?
I reported this further information back to the land staff. They had no counterargument.
But, drum roll: with the staff and the BOCC getting this free analysis from me, which took about two hours in all, they blithely went ahead and approved the purchases at the inflated prices! Not even a deferral to rethink the high appraisals that do not withstand even rudimentary scrutiny.
I also spoke up about the new contract with the SPCA for running the Marathon animal shelter. Not only does it increase the rate from the $251k/year agreed to as recently as May 17, 2017 to a new rate of $425k/year, it contains contradictory language about spending money out of county. I asked if they had learned anything at all from the SUFA debacle, where they were outraged that SUFA was sending big dogs that had been in cages down here for as long as five years up to a cold-weather climate where they were all adopted in weeks. They ignored this advice as well, and voted quickly to approve the flawed contract as is.
So why am I going to run for the County Commission for District 2? Basically, to have a conversation with our commissioners, the Keys corporate media, and the voters who do not read the Blue Paper. Not only do the commissioners not reply at all to my criticism of the financial reporting and the outrageous statements they made in closed sessions on the SUFA lawsuit, but the corporate media has not written a word about the immense amount of their misreporting, the $15 million and 700+ other errors, or the closed session declarations.
I have a lot to say. I tried speaking at the BOCC, but not only is the time limited to 3 minutes, but the County Attorney, Bob Shillinger, said any critical comments had to be circumscribed by relating specifically to a current issue, such as the spending-money-out-of-state language. I did so, but wonder at any prior restraint of free speech rules the County has conjured, and will be following up on that with Shillinger next week.
At this meeting, the first since the Florida Commission on Ethics levied its $20,000 in fines for a total of 16 separate violations against four of the commissioners (they gave George his three last year), they did not say a word about it. They have never voiced a word of apology to us citizens for their misconduct. They explain themselves by dismissively saying “I’m not perfect” or attributing malign motives to me, kind of like blaming the traffic cop who nails you for drunk driving. The process of their monthly meetings is an embarrassing display of self-congratulatory pomp. They fell all over themselves for 15 minutes at the beginning praising George for his wondrous term as Mayor, and themselves for being such a great group since replacing the notoriously pro-development Gang of Three in 2006. Their accomplishments since then include not only the million-dollar SUFA debacle, but the Hickory House disaster, the iPhone and laptop scandals, the grinder pump mess, the Oceanside Marina “vacation rental lockout” scandal, a lack of providing worker housing, etc., etc. And, as far as I can tell, nothing they said indicated any of them had gone into the 1800 pages of material supporting what they were voting on, such as the land purchases and the new animal contract, as I had.
Way back in 2006, I wanted to run against Sonny McCoy, one of the “Gang of Three”. By then he was so unpopular, anyone could have beaten him, and they did. But Cynthia begged me not to do it: “You’ll be gone up the County all the time!” Having been married for 20 years to a Coastie and enduring the months-long deployments alone, she wanted us to enjoy our golden years within sight of each other.
That’s how I got into journalism. It has been a great 12 years, but the BOCC has shown me I have to up my game. By running, I will have access to election venues that allow free speech and access to a county-wide audience for a number of months, even if I lose. The corporate media might even cover me, though I would not be surprised if they censor my criticisms of the sitting Board.
How can I run for District 2, George’s seat? I consulted with the Supervisor of Elections’ office, and it turns out you do not have to live in a district to run for office. If I won, I would have to establish legal residency there to be sworn in. That would be easy, renting a home, changing my driver’s license and voting registration. Join a church, eat at the local restaurants. I might have to quitclaim my interest in my Key West home to Cynthia, but that’s no big deal. All easily accomplished in a week, in time for the first meeting.
What are my chances? Larry Murray got only 8% of the vote, as the most critical watchdog over the School Board. We just elected Trump, and Alabama might elect Roy Moore, showing what the voters think of ethics in general. Nonetheless I respect the will of the people. It is not my responsibility to force myself upon them, but I see now that people like me, who can analyze reams of complex material and handle it ethically, should get off our lazy asses and throw ourselves out there. Let the people decide.
It is not exactly a law, but common practice to leave a media position when running for office. Therefore I will not formally declare until I am done with this series. In time for a very merry Christmas.
22 thoughts on “BOCC Persuades Me to Run for Neugent’s Seat / My Platform: “Ethical Expertise””
Excellent work Mr Boetteger. Expect a lot of support when you set up your campaign. The checks will come and we’ll rid ourselves of at least one arrogant dummy.
Yes! Please run for office. After 43 years in the Keys I’m sick of the back room deals. It’s time for someone to make a difference. The quid pro quo is nauseating.
Rick, you are ethical, intelligent, educated and honest…exactly what our forefathers had in mind when they wanted a government and country run for any by the people.
The Blue paper’s loss will be the long-suffering tax payer’s gain…
Go get ’em, Tiger!
If anyone EVER had a doubt that the BOCC was favoring FKSPCA all these years, that new proposed contract granting $425,000/year for running the Marathon shelter should dispel that. AND they’re still not running a shelter on Big Pine Key!! All Linda asked for was $280,000/year for the two shelters, and the BOCC went after her with guns blazing, to hell with ethics. Yes, Rick, you should run. It will be refreshing to have an educated person on the BOCC!
You’ve got my vote…I appreciate your careful and well thought out analysis of issues. If the rest of the taxpayers continue to support these self-serving leeches, then they deserve what they get.
Welcome to the dais, Mr. Commissioner! You and your valuable work is a sight for sore eyes.
This is the best news I’ve heard post Irma. We need you representing the people of District 2 now more than ever.
Go get em! We’ll help you rally the votes. Facts are facts. That’s what we want. That’s how you’ll win. Good luck to you!
Rick, I’d like to see you run against Neugent, but you not living in District 2 and running for that seat kinda reminds me of Bob Dean not living in Key West but he votes there. If you won the District 2 seat and did not move, with Cynthia, to live in District 2, that would remind me a lot more of Bob Dean. By move to District 2, I mean you buy a home or rent a home of some kind in District 2, where you live full time, and you do not live in your Key West home at all while you are the District 2 county commissioner. I think it’s bizarre that Neugent is the District 2 county commissioner, when he lives in Marathon and his commissioner office is on Big Pine Key.
For other blue paper readers, I ran against George Neugent in 2006 and 2010, when I lived in a trailer I owned on an acre of wooded land on Little Torch Key. I ran as an independent. Neugent, a Republican, beat me 3-1 in 2006 and 4-1 in 2010. That told me how much the voters of the entire Florida Keys cared about the keys being paved over by developers, the loss of affordable housing, the sewage pollution of the watertable and the littoral waters, the 500 or so polluted canals, the installation of about 2,300 E-1 grinder pumps in Cudjoe Regional Sewer District, which lies entirely in District 2. There is a great deal more to being a county commissioner than being able to fill out financial forms correctly and running SUFA into the ground.
And spank me for spacing out the wee just about total lack of Hurricane Irma debris clean up in George Neugent’s voting district on Big Pine Key and below. I don’t blame all of that on Neugent, but I don’t see or hear him hollering, nay, yelling, nay, screaming about it. I wonder if he, or any of the other 4 county commissioners have actually toured neighborhoods on Big Pine and islands below there?
A former Key West resident, who moved to Homestead where he could afford the cost of housing, emailed me yesterday:
“I actually drove down there from Homestead, a couple of time since the storm. I went back into the ‘neighborhoods’ to look. Just to look.
“For any of the THOUSANDS of Keys homeowners hit, the financial weight of the damage – excepting maybe for multimillionaires – could very well crush them. I mean their whole lives. And it’s going to continue, the expense burden on individual homeowners, for years. Never mind that the entire place… the visually denuded and destroyed trees, the rotting waste in the canals… has to be a daily source of ‘sensory’ depression for all Keys people, young and old. I couldn’t look at it with objectivity. I had to make two trips.
“23 years in the Keys … you wind up knowing a lot of [really decent] people.
This storm has left a big, nasty, continuing residue for many individual Keys people.”
Just this week I said to Naja, Arnaud, and another friend we were talking with, that for too long a few of us have served on committees and boards, attended too many city and county meetings, researched issues and possible solutions, did the math (some could not understand) we spoke out and tried to educate the public who usually “got it!”, we wrote letters and sent emails – but nothing ever changed. I told my 3 friends, we undertook trying to change the system in the wrong way. All we really need to do is find a few HONEST and INTELLIGENT citizens to run for office! A majority is all we need – that’s 3 for the County Commission, and only 4 for the Key West dais. And we already have a couple good ones (only my opinion). Is it really too much to ask for elected officials who will represent what is best for the citizens? It is the only way to change the government – from the inside out, not as we have been trying to do for too long from the outside. Some elected officials will listen to you, others ignore as you speak your 3 minutes. Maybe with your run for County Commissioner it will be the beginning of the end. The end of business as usual that we all are so sick of. Thank you Rick, I look forward to your campaign. Now – whose next to step up?
I will be a Key West mayor candidate in 2018, Christine.
I look forward to asking the other candidates at candidate forums:
“Where were you when I attended endless city commission meetings and workshops going back from now to 2002, trying to get the city government to actually do things better and differently? How many times did you speak during citizen comments? Any times?”
Yeah! You running for District 2 is the best Thanksgiving present ever. I can’t vote, but I can certainly deconstruct corporate media spin.
Appreciate you looking into the purchase of conservation land. That’s probably a whole other scandalous rat hole.
“I see now that people like me, who can analyze reams of complex material and handle it ethically, should get off our lazy asses and throw ourselves out there.”
Truth x one billion. Ferreting out the reality of county government is a huge job. Huge. The more people on it the better.
Oh, by the way, $100k is a lot to Carruthers, too. She owed about $130k in taxes. The federal government put a lien on her home because she didn’t pay. If $100k is no big deal to her than why couldn’t she pay her tax bill?
Makes you wonder….. Just who are the homeowners who received this “windfall”? Are they in any way connected to BOCC members? Heck, what about the neighbors who will now have an open space for life next to them? Gotta believe this ups their property values. Makes you want to follow the money trail.
More research: it turns out the appraiser used by the County owns three unimproved lots in the same zip code. No houses, just empty lots . . .
After reading your detailed analysis and how they just decided to ignore it I’m sure there are dirty dealings at the end of the trail. Promises were made and buddies counting on the dough. The BOCC handling of this does not even come close to passing any form of “snif’ test. Something smells worse than the usual fish wrap. Keep after them.
Our biggest problem down here is our size and the available “gene pool” for elected office. Thanks to extensive tourist tax revenues there is more money floating around than a typical county of this size. Compound this with the fact that many residents are absentee…. well that leaves us with a small group of “true locals” who just step up and magically own the show….. despite their total lack of qualifications and their ineptitude… If I had to fill out the ethics reporting forms I would have treated it with the detail of a tax return (in other words I would work my ass off to make sure it was correct). I may not want all that to be public record but if I ran for office i would expect it. This is a sad state off affairs….. how many affordable housing units could have been built with the squandered money? I could keep ranting but my blood pressure needs to ramp down. I will vote against any existing commissioner I can in the next election.
To both you and the Blue Paper keep up the good work!
“how many affordable housing units could have been built with the squandered money?”
That’s the saddest part of all this. $50 million over budget on the Cudjoe Regional project. $50 million! Good grief. Our tax money could have gone so much farther.
The budget overruns and reckless spending are routine.
This is why Marathon and Islamorada incorporated. And this is why Key Largo has two special districts. When there’s no local control, there’s no control at all. The dishonest, corrupt BOCC just runs amok and county staff is right in there with them. They know no better and can do no better.
Bill, I’ve seen you at many county commission meetings, mostly watching and listening to the proceedings, which often resemble circus acts. I figure, therefore, that you have been at a heap more county commission meetings. My recollection is, you live on one of the Sugarloaf Keys, Lower Sugarloaf, I think. I recall it was leading up to the 2014 District 2 county commission race that I kept asking you to run for that seat, as George Neugent had said during the 2010 county commission race that, if he was elected, he would not run again. But he did run again, and I imagine he will run in 2018. Best case scenario, someone who has lived in the lower keys for a good while knows what that part of the keys is like and needs. It’s pretty rural overall. I still wish you would run, but I know it will be a heap of work if you get elected. A full time job, and then some, to do it right. In all events, I hope you stay involved and sounding off.
Yay Rick! Please run. Bring some competency back to the Board form of government. Usually elections are popularity contests, not rewards for technical merit, so I wish you well and will support you.
Us voters have to play the role of Hurricane Irma and blow out the deadwood……
re the Duck Key properties – what relationships anywhere between any owners & anybody at county? there’s something somewhere. you bring facts and they do what they’re going to anyway. hmmmm.