by Colby Fisher…….
Guest Columnist Colby Fisher dives deep into official records and comes out with a fist full of cronyism. Here’s the real story behind FKAA’s hiring of convicted felon Randy Acevedo…
The official story that Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) told the public and press was they hired Randy Acevedo because he was the person who was “best suited” for their Computer Technician job and that FKAA “didn’t see we could turn him away.” The truth, however, is anything but that. He was hired for a position that was never publicly posted, for which no one else was considered and for which he didn’t even apply. From what I have learned from internal FKAA records and email exchanges with FKAA executives, this is what really happened:
First, a little information about how this article came about. Acevedo, I and others who I am personally familiar with, all applied for the same Technical Support Specialist position at FKAA. In comparing just my own background with Acevedo’s, I graduated from one of the top ten universities in the USA with a degree in Computer Science. I later earned a Masters Degree. Acevedo, on the other hand, received his undergraduate degree from a school that is currently ranked 34th in the South. I most recently operated and maintained a network of state-of-the-art computer servers that control the multi-million dollar fighter jet flight simulator at NAS Key West. Acevedo sold televisions at Sears. I once got a parking ticket. Acevedo is a convicted felon. I could go on, but you get the idea.
[Note: For those of you who don’t know [or remember], Randy Acevedo was convicted of three felony counts of official misconduct in 2009 for covering up his then-wife Monique’s theft of some $400,000 from the School District while Randy was superintendent and his wife was a senior administrator.]
It was simply beyond all reasonable belief that Acevedo was hired at FKAA because he was the best qualified. With some extra time on my hands, I set out to do some research and asked FKAA for the public records of all the people who also applied for the job to which Acevedo was hired, all of Acevedo’s previous job applications, and the associated documents that resulted from those applications. To FKAA’s credit, I received back more than 100 pages of information for applicants to the publicly advertised Technical Support Specialist position, all of Acevedo’s personal applications, Acevedo’s rejection letters, Acevedo’s acceptance letter and Acevedo’s first performance review. You can see everything I received from FKAA, and more, for yourself online at http://tiny.cc/fkaa
To fully understand how Acevedo came to work at FKAA in August 2014, it is necessary to look back at his earlier attempts to gain a job there. In total, Acevedo applied 9 times between 2010 and 2014 for FKAA positions. In fact, the FKAA Human Resources department repeatedly recycled Acevedo’s exact same application form and letters of recommendation.
– The form dated 02/12/2010 was used on that date for the Director of Technical Services position, for the Programmer/Applications Specialist position on 12/30/2011, for the Infrastructure Support Specialist position on 07/2-/2012 and again for the Programmer/Applications Specialist position on 09/14/2012.
– The form dated 02/27/2013 was used on that date for the Customer Service Representative position and again for the Technical Support Specialist position on 07/31/2013.
– The form dated 03/02/2014 was used on that date for the Technical Support Specialist position and again on 07/25/2014 for the GIS – Technical Support Specialist position.
It isn’t unusual to use the same application for multiple positions, but Acevedo was apparently a special case and had an exceptionally close relationship with the FKAA Human Resources department. In his duplicate instances, the only apparent change to each application was the position for which he was applying was crossed or blanked out and handwritten in with a new position title by a FKAA Human Resources department employee.
In the final application from 07/25/2014, Karen Rodriguez, the head of FKAA’s Human Resources Department, submitted Acevedo’s updated application herself, and changed the position requested to “GIS – Technical Support Specialist.” In one of the many rejection letters Acevedo received, Ms. Rodriguez crossed out the salutation, “Dear Mr. Acevedo,” and hand wrote “Randy.” How many other applicants to FKAA jobs received that level of familiar and personalized FKAA senior management level assistance?
Beyond the unprecedented personal service, several of Acevedo’s applications had other oddities. There were three instances where the date that he applied for a position was the exact same date on the letter he received from FKAA stating that someone else had been hired for that position (12/30/2011 – Programmer/Applications Specialist, 09/14/2012 – Programmer/Applications Specialist, 07/31/2013 – Technical Support Specialist). It doesn’t seem plausible that FKAA Human Resources would receive three of Acevedo’s applications on the same date that they mailed rejection letters to everyone who wasn’t selected. Unusual, yes. A coincidence three times over? I doubt it.
Among the many positions Acevedo applied for at FKAA, the most relevant to his ultimate hiring was the Technical Support Specialist position for which he was one of over 100 people who applied between April 2013 and August 2014. Of those applicants, over a dozen were local Keys residents whose education, skills, credentials and experience clearly surpassed Acevedo’s, but none of them were apparently even called in for an interview. I specifically asked the FKAA Human Resources department for a list of names of those who they had met or spoken with, and they responded that there was no list that they could provide.
In the rejection letter that Acevedo received on June 17th, 2014, FKAA wrote “…we have offered this position to another applicant.” I asked FKAA Human Resources for the name of that person. They did not have a name available. I asked whether someone had actually been hired for the position or not? They wouldn’t say. The FKAA Human Resources department can’t remember whether they hired someone for a $54,000 job? How many people are they hiring? Unusual, yes. Coincidence? I doubt it.
This is where the subterfuge behind FKAA’s hiring of Acevedo began to fall apart.
When I began the public records requests at FKAA, I specifically asked to receive documents for everyone who had applied for the job to which Acevedo was hired. My exact words were “I would like to receive Mr. Acevedo’s application, all email correspondence and the personal recommendations for not only the position for which he was hired, but also from the eight previous FKAA positions for which he applied.” He was hired as a Computer Technician.
Instead, FKAA delivered 100 pages of documents from people who applied for the Technical Support Specialist position. This was apparently FKAA’s attempt to hide what was really happening with a combination of “Document dump,” “Baffle them with Bullshit” and “Bury the lead” approaches. FKAA wanted me to believe that they were considering over 100 people for Acevedo’s Computer Technician position when the exact opposite was true.
When a new employee is required at FKAA, the standard procedure is to start with a “Personnel Requisition.” That is a form that describes the need for the employee, the title of the position, the salary of the position and other specifics about the position. After it is completed, it then goes to a senior FKAA executive who authorizes the requisition. A public advertisement announcing the position is placed on the FKAA website and in local publications. Applications are then collected, and interviews are held with the most promising candidates. The people conducting the interviews grade the applicants, and the one with the highest score is hired.
I browse through The Citizen classifieds every morning, and tech job openings grab my attention; however, I had no recollection of ever seeing an ad anywhere for a FKAA Computer Technician opening. Missing that, I asked FKAA Human Resources, the FKAA Board and the FKAA Senior Counsel, Robert Feldman, for a copy of the specific Computer Technician “Personnel Requisition” request and information on when and where it was advertised. I also asked for names of everyone who was considered and interviewed for that specific position. Finally, I also asked for a copy of Acevedo’s application for the Computer Technician position. All came back negative. Feldman’s exact response was “Please understand [sic] there are no further documents in our possession which would answer your questions.” You can read the entire email exchange at http://tiny.cc/fkaa
That was it. Feldman’s denial confirmed my suspicions that there never was a “Personnel Requisition” request created for Acevedo’s Computer Technician opening. Despite Kerry Shelby, FKAA Deputy Executive Director’s, earlier claim that there were other candidates, it is abundantly clear that NO ONE, other than Acevedo, was ever considered for the position.
The topper is that Acevedo, himself, never even applied for the position. FKAA Human Resources couldn’t provide a copy of his application. Nevertheless, on the 5th of August, FKAA’s Rick Kellough, the Manager of Technical Services, recommended that FKAA hire Mr. Acevedo as a Computer Technician, and Mr. Kirk Zuelch, FKAA’s Executive Director, approved the recommendation. That is what it took for Acevedo to finally land his FKAA job.
Apparently FKAA senior management had been doing everything in their power to hire Acevedo as a Technical Support Specialist, but he didn’t possess either the advanced skill set or the specified Microsoft certificate qualifications. The best they could do was hire him with a contrived Computer Technician job.
Today, more than 6 months have passed since Acevedo started work at FKAA. With no surprise, his first performance report states that he has quickly become “One of the gang.” He has already received an $8,888 raise in salary to $54,267.20, and he has been promoted to the Technical Support Specialist position he had initially sought, and until now, no one outside the FKAA inner circle was the wiser.
As a public utility, I felt that these actions by senior FKAA management and the Human Resources department could not be legal so with these indisputable facts and FKAA documentation in hand, I contacted the State Attorney’s Office. I sat down with Mr. Manny Madruga, Chief Assistant State Attorney, and Christopher Weber, Chief Investigator for the State Attorney. To briefly sum up the meeting, Mr. Madruga told me that there was nothing his office could do. Without smoking gun evidence from an FKAA insider to show collusion, he would not be able to either charge someone or prove that a crime had been committed.
Until a disgruntled FKAA employee someday steps forward, FKAA is apparently free to continue hiring underqualified but well-connected people however they want, and there is nothing the public can do but write articles like this and complain to deaf ears.
I suppose this entire FKAA and Acevedo story shouldn’t surprise me. I’ve now lived in Key West for more than 14 years, and every local knows about the Bubba System. I am not so naive that I would think that the Bubba system was a thing of the past, but there have been so many over the top instances lately that someone needs to call them on it: We’ve seen FKAA hire Acevedo. Next, it was just a “coincidence” that a FKAA Board Member’s sister was hired over 175 other applicants and 13 finalists for a $49,000 job that appeared to be created solely for her, and now she has already been twice promoted and earning more than $90,000 a year. Finally, an FKAA employee who crashed a FKAA vehicle under questionable circumstances was a long-term FKAA employee whose father was a senior FKAA executive when he was hired back in 1998…two years before he graduated from High School. This all gives the perception that to land a job at FKAA, skills, education and experience apparently don’t matter as much as a Conch birthright and personal connections. Moreover, these are only the highlights from FKAA that made the recent headlines. Who knows how much more happened behind the scenes and from other local public agencies.
We cannot allow ourselves to become complacent and accept this as another cost of living in the Keys. I don’t have a problem with favoritism and nepotism in privately held companies. In fact, I’m probably the biggest capitalist, free market advocate you will find, but when it comes to government agencies and public utilities like FKAA, then everyone deserves the same opportunity, and the person who has the best qualifications is the one who should get the job.
At this point, it is clear that FKAA senior management is ready to go to extreme measures to hire and protect their select insiders at the cost of others. As such, there is currently no public trust in the process, and it must be resolved immediately. At a minimum, Randy Acevedo, Rick Kellough, the Manager of Technical Services, Kirk Zuelch, FKAA’s Executive Director, Kerry Shelby, FKAA Deputy Executive Director, and Karen Rodriguez, the head of FKAA’s Human Resources Department all need to go. There is little doubt that they purposefully bypassed established FKAA procedures when they hired Acevedo. In the end, it is our dollars that are paying all their salaries, and we must demand full accountability.
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