ETHICS VIOLATIONS / “It’s all Danny’s fault if we lose.”

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.”

Facebook Comments

16 thoughts on “ETHICS VIOLATIONS / “It’s all Danny’s fault if we lose.”

  1. Thanks again. Rick. Your piercing serial comparisons of the way the county commissioners filled out their own required disclosures with the way they treated SUFA and Linda Gottwald is simply devastating. Looks like karma to me.

  2. Here’s our former Clerk of the court for how many years monitoring the gangsters of three urinating away our tax monies and now he can’t get one single form correct. Over the years, How many “mistakes and omissions” were made to the detriment of us The Taxpayers of Monroe County just boost up the obsolete and unnecessary TDC???

  3. For eight years, I had a ringside seat at the Marathon Animal Shelter watching county employees take advantage of a broken system of inventory. There was a thriving black market right next door at the Monroe County garage selling “expired” tires in exactly the way Matt Gardi describes in his video. The response of the BOCC is stunning in its complicity.

    God speed your campaign, Rick. It’s time.

  4. Kolhage wasn’t “wrong”. He was complicit. Still is.

    Amy Heavilin discovered and corrected some creative accounting on the wastewater projects. She also performed an audit of county purchasing cards and found that they had been misused by some of the usual suspects (the iPhone Bandit, Carruthers, Neugent). So the BOCC and their overeager lapdog, Bob Shillinger, made a huge scandal out of a few deleted emails. (Pretty similar to making a big deal out of a few utility bills, don’t ya’ think?)

    Madok lied about his CPA license – another good catch by the observant Matt Gardi. When Madok lost to Heavilin in 2012, Kolhage concocted some silly do-nothing job for him at a cost of $104,000 per year to the taxpayers. The job never existed before Madok needed it, and it no longer exists now that he’s done with it.

    In that capacity, Madok lied to the citizens of the Keys about the financial impact of Carruthers’s proposed Emergency Services Surtax. He’s in the clerk’s office to do the bidding of the BOCC not to look out for the taxpayers.

    Kolhage has somehow managed to cultivate this reputation as ethical and competent but nothing could be further from the truth. He’s as bad as the rest. Maybe worse.

  5. Just how do you think they got what they have ? Likely have even more than you found. They are corrupt, lie, and likely bribed yet got into office because the people trusted them. You have the same type in office in KW

  6. Wow and to think he was our boss. Great reporting . Now we need an in-depth report on Heavilin ( June 2015 Bocc agenda) asking for 400k… getting it and never submitted accountability on how it was spent.

  7. Rick, most of my dreams last night were about the county commission. A while back, under one of your early articles on the inability (unwillingness) of the 5 county commissioners to fill out their reporting forms correctly, I commented that what you were digging into was far bigger than financial reporting and SUFA.

    A really hot issue in George Neugent’s voting district, for which you have announced yourself a candidate in 2018, even though you do not live in that district and never have lived there as far as I know, is why George and the other 4 county commissioners were so determined to use E-1 sewage grinder pumps in Cudjoe Regional Sewer District, instead of gravity sewage collection, wherever practical? Gravity sewage collection is what Key West has.

    I have been convinced for a while, my dreams are in agreement, plenty of people who live in the part of Neugent’s voting district, Big Pine Key down to Big Coppitt Key, are in agreement, that somebody, or somebodies, made a lot of money off those E-1 grinder pumps, who were not supposed to make any money. In those people’s minds, whatever went down behind the Cudjoe Regional Sewer District scenes dwarfs the SUFA and the false financial reports scandals combined.

    As does the utter breakdown in cleaning up Hurricane Irma debris, streetsides and in canals, in the lower keys parts of Neugent’s voting district, Big Pine Key down to Big Coppitt Key.

    As does the massive loss of affordable housing in that part of Neugent’s voting district, which preceded Irma via redevelopment, and then was exponentially worsened by Irma.

    These are red hot issues for the less financially well off people in Neugent’s voting district. These are red hot issues that should irk any person living in the Florida Keys.

    Yet, for example, when I called County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy about 5 weeks after Irma and asked her if she knew how the E-1 grinder pumps in the lower keys were doing?, she said that was none of her business, she lives on Key Largo.

    A fellow who lives on Little Torch Key, about a block from where I used to live on that key, is an all-round handyman. Construction. Wiring. Plumbing. Motor vehicles. He told me that the reason the Aqueduct Authority shut off the drinking water after Irma was because the power was out in the lower keys and the grinder pumps therefore were not working and that was the only way to prevent people hooked up to the 2,300 or so grinder pumps in Cudjoe Regional from using their toilets.

    These kinds of things are known to people who live on the ground in in the lower keys. Especially the people who live there full time. It’s to them and their troubles and concerns that I hope you next apply your acute analytical and investigative skills, Rick.

  8. From my construction education I must agree if the grinder pumps were non operational because of no electric can tell you that turning the water off was a very smart move. What would have resulted would been backed up sewage lines that would take months to clear.Do you think telling people do not use toilets would have got full support ?

    The fact that t.hey ever were allowed surprises me because legally it was a violation. But in reality was the cheapest way to fix a bad situation. There were other choices to get the electric needed but far more costly.

    Should he run if not qualified because he does not live there is CORRUPTION
    Let him cause them a huge pain in the , HELL YES. But to break that law starts off with corruption.

  9. Let me repeat what I reported last week regarding residence.

    The law is clear. One does not have to live in a district to RUN for office. My RUNNING for District 2 while living in Key West is entirely legal. What is legal is not “corrupt.”

    The act of running is in itself a useful, very difficult and committed act, which I would undertake to inform a wider electorate about changes that need to be made in our County governance. Sloan accomplished a great deal of civic education despite not being elected.

    Should I in the unlikely event overcome the massed forces of the current establishment and the antipathy of the corporate press, I would be so gratified by what clearly would be an electorate that saw through that opposition that I would gladly take up the job.

    To do so, to be sworn in, I would THEN have to establish legal residency in the district. This would not be a hardship. In the 1990’s I lived on a canal with a boat in Key Haven. I loved it. It would be fun to rent a similar spot on Big Coppitt with the salary that is paid.

    The law establishes the residency requirements and what constitutes residency. I am very capable of following the law.

    1. Sorry but this sounds stupid. A man that does not live in the district can run for office but must move if he wins. Not saying your not a good choice just saying it sounds stupid. And if you do run and get elected I see problems with how you as the only un corrupt member either start excepting bribes or having no ability to stop what you know is corrupt. Yes , when a contract is approved at a far higher price than other bidders you can dam sure bet some bribes were paid. This could easily be cash under the table and never show on paper. Please don’t think I am saying you would not do a great job. You likely just might rock the boat to the point that you might need a body guard and life insurance. You already know how you will be accepted by the others

  10. Well said above Rick. I see nothing wrong with running , easily beating Neugent , and moving into District 2. You seem overqualified compared to some on that Board. You’ll have my vote , and votes from all up and down the Keys as you continue, I hope, to expose his idiocy.

  11. Jiminkeywest, sometimes, frankly, you come across as a loose cannon. But then, I’m often accused of that.

    I never said, or thought, that Rick running for George Neugent’s seat next year was corruption because Rick does not currently live in that District. I did say, however, that Rick going at it that way does not sit well with me, because it does remind me of Ed Dean living in Key Haven and voting in Key West. I said I felt, if Rick did win, he would need to not only rent or buy a home in Neugent’s voting district, and he and his wife would live in that home full time, or that would look even more like Dean.

    In his comment above, Rick seems to say that’s what he and his wife will do, if he beats Neugent.

    Rick has cast himself as the ethics candidate against Neugent. That requires, I think, that Rick puts himself above any and all ethical suspicion.

    I also suggested to Rick that there is far more needing attention that ethics. The less financially fortunate people in Neugent’s district having been having a really rough go financially, and much more so after Irma.

    The Irma cleanup in Neugent’s district from Big Pine Key downward is dismal.

    You missed the point of grinder pumps. On purpose?

    It was a really bad idea to make E-1 grinder pumps the centerpiece of Neugent’s voting district below Seven Mile Bridge. Neugent and the other 4 county commissioners were told that, and why; including the grinder pumps would not function after a hurricane-induced power outage. Including the grinder pumps would fail immersed in salt water pits below the hardpan, and under saltwater tidal surges; Including, grinder pumps failed anyway, and failed faster in salt water environment, and the property owners would be saddled with replacing grinder pumps as they failed, and failed again, and again.

    The county commission caved to pressure from Walt Drabinski and Todd German and others, and went with gravity, instead of grinder pumps, where Todd and Walt and the others lived in Neugent’s district (Cudjoe and Sugarloaf Keys), proving the commissioners knew grinder pumps were inferior and they did not wish to fight that in court, which was what they were doing, as I recall, thanks to Drabinski.

    Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority Board Chairman Bob Dean, wasn’t it?, told me and a bunch of other citizens at a FKAA board meeting in Key West that the Aqueduct Authority preferred gravity over grinder pump systems, and would install gravity if the county commission would pay for it.

    During citizen comments, this loose but somewhat educated on the topic cannon, thanked Dean for saying that and ask him and the FKAA board to issue a stop work order in Cudjoe Regional Sewer District, until such time as the county commission ponied up the money to put gravity sewer collection in Cudjoe Regional wherever that was practical, like had been done for Drabinski and German’s neighborhoods, and to use grinder pumps only in remote/thinly developed areas.

    Dean and the rest of the Aqueduct Board looked at me like I had just sprouted horns on my head. They did not reply to my request. They did not issue a stop work order.

    The fix was in. In what way, I cannot say. But somebody made money off those grinder pumps who was not supposed to make money. That is the only illogical and logical explanation for why such an inferior sewer system, totally inappropriate in the Florida Keys saltwater hurricane power outage environment , was deployed.

    1. Sloan,,Only thing you worry me about is all of them dreams LOL

      As to corruption it likely happens in every county , city and state. Thanks to the blue paper it gets attention.

  12. If this has been asked previously I apologize. But, why is this perilous story only being covered here? Is it because The Citizen and others are covering up for these unscrupulous people? And if they are, is at the direction of the BOC? Could be more going on here!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.