They lost. And he was off by over $2 million plus 333 other errors.

by Rick Boettger…….

Commissioner Danny Kolhage’s share of the $15+ million in reporting errors made by the most recently cited four county commissioners rung up with $20,000 in fines by the Florida Commission on Ethics was “only” $2,254,648, putting him a distant third to Heather Carruthers’ $7.4 million and David Rice’s $4.5 million.  But Kolhage was easily in 1st Place in errors of form, omitting 24 addresses and 309 entries on his investment portfolio. He was tied for 2nd with Carruthers with $5,000 in fines.

The ironic hypocrisy of this offense is that in his former job as County Clerk it was his illegal audit of SUFA that led to the County’s humiliating loss of not only Linda Gottwald’s lawsuit, but of the best animal control service we’ve ever had in the Keys, plus over a million dollars and counting to the taxpayers of Monroe County. He found basically that around $1,000 worth of utility bills were misbilled over 7 years. He made more errors on every page of his financial disclosure forms.

And it was indeed “Danny’s fault” the County lost so much against Linda Gottwald, as George Neugent said in closed session discussing the SUFA lawsuit.  First, he audited an independent contractor as though it were a County department—wrong. Second, their freezing her accounts to put her out of business was illegal, as affirmed by the 3rd Court of Appeals. Third, his releasing his preliminary audit, before SUFA could counter it, was literally a misdemeanor criminal offense. Former State Attorney Catherine Vogel confirmed this in her office to me, but it was two months too late to prosecute him for it. Third, after he himself released the audit, he sent Linda Gottwald a letter citing the very law he had just broken, warning her that SHE could not discuss his preliminary audit even to defend herself!

The commissioners had painful discussions in the closed sessions with the county attorneys in early 2011, while worrying about losing the first lawsuit in the 3rd Court of Appeals, which they indeed did lose. In Neugent’s words, it was “game over” and “dead in the water” against SUFA’s other countersuit if they first lost in the 3rd.  They were worried about being “embarrassed,” and were trying to see how they could repair their public image, when County Administrator Roman Gastesi tried to feel good about something, anything, saying “This is Danny Kolhage’s audit, right? I mean, this guy’s the king, isn’t he? I mean, everybody believes what Danny Kolhage says.” That did indeed cheer Neugent up a bit, replying, as above, “It’s all Danny’s fault if we lose.” This was behind Kolhage’s back, before he was on the commission and in the room.

It baffles me that Kolhage could have been so disastrously wrong on the SUFA case.  To the end, in 2014, he was insisting that LINDA had “violated a contract.  . . . . I believe we have a good case.” This despite his admitting, after losing in the 3rd Court of Appeals: “Allow, you know, we have some responsibility on the injunction part.  That’s clear. …I mean, we got a court ruling on that.” Also, they were three years into the bumbling incompetence of Neugent’s friends’ animal shelter, SHARK, who were the lucky winners after, in County Attorney Bob Shillinger’s words [describing Gotwald’s defense], “ . . .. this was all a setup to give the contract to someone else.” As Kolhage said, “We have a problem . .  in that we have one [contractor] now [SHARK] that is not complying with the audits.”

Kolhage had run a pretty tight ship for over two decades as County Clerk, and seemed particularly apt in retrospect after his assistant Amy Heavilin [by some accounts] lost complete control of her responsibilities as soon as she took office. (The new Clerk who defeated her, Kevin Madok, seems to be making the job look easy again.) There was a substantial problem with his inventory control of tens of thousands of dollars worth of County laptops, as detailed in Matt Gardi’s incisive investigation reported HERE. And Danny was no help in the corrupt iPhone scandal or Pritam Singh’s 175-room hotel built with only 5 of the transient ROGO’s required by law.

But it was to Danny Kolhage I went a couple of years ago, to congratulate him for being the lonely “No” vote on various money-wasting proposals that came before the Commission back when he was still reading the supporting documentation (almost 2,000 pages each month). I asked him what I could do as an unpaid volunteer analyst of county financial issues. He thought about it and said that every summer the county budget was discussed in long public sessions that almost no one in the public attended. He said there might be some particularly thorny issues that could use another pair of eyes.

So I came back a month before the next round of budget discussions to see what he might suggest I analyze.  Understand, I have always offered to help our government, hoping to be able to inform correct decisions as opposed to exposing incompetent and even corrupt ones after the fact. I stopped by twice.

From Danny to me: Nothing. Well, I tried.

Now I think he’s just going through the motions on the Commission, like the rest of them. A couple of years ago, he would be the only one asking smart questions showing he had read the material they were voting on.  At this month’s meeting, however, they all basically rubber-stamped everything put before them, or watched appreciatively a nice PowerPoint on the hurricane. And not only did they not do any research themselves, but when I told them about the fuzzy language in the new, exorbitantly expensive contract for SHARK’s replacement, they ignored it.  And the overpriced properties we are buying on Duck Key, with our paying $180,000 over the market rate of $380,000, they did not even postpone their vote to check it out. Even when someone else did the research for them, they could not have cared less. (Follow-up nugget: It turns out the appraiser they employed has, oddly, never owned a home herself in Monroe, but has acquired three vacant lots of her own in the same zip code as the ones she appraised so highly on Duck Key.)

Danny’s explanation of why he so badly screwed up his simple, sworn financial disclosure forms: “I have been filing these forms the same way for more than 30 years and there was a change in the requirements in 2012 and I was unaware.” This is sad. What changed in 2012 was nothing in the reporting documents. What he should have been aware of was the large-print title of the document he was filling out and signing before a Notary: formerly, he filed FORM 1, as a Clerk, with the Supervisor of Elections.  As a Commissioner, he switched to a FORM 6, filed with the Commission on Ethics.

How could anyone signing a sworn statement be “unaware” of the difference between FORM 1 and FORM 6, and not bother to read two pages of instructions?

My guess it’s because he believed the hype: “This guy’s the king.” Let me echo our President: “Sad. So sad.”

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