CONFLICT OF INTEREST: FKAA $3 Million Contract for Toppino


by Margaret Blank…….

Posted this week on The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) board is getting ready to award a $3 million contract to one of their own, Richard Toppino. Toppino is a FKAA board member with a high potential for conflicts of interest. His family business, Charley Toppino & Sons, has done millions of dollars worth of business with the FKAA over the years – a fact that the FKAA has repeatedly tried to hide.

Toppino was appointed to the FKAA board in December 2015. He first abstention occurred in February 2016. (See Item DUO-4.) In May 2016, the FKAA scrapped a project because Toppino failed to submit paperwork related to a conflict in a timely manner. (The FKAA blamed “administrative staff” for that one.) Two months later, here we are again. Will Toppino have his ducks in a row this time? Even if he does, this situation is still a problem. Here’s what the law has to say about frequent, recurring conflicts of interest (F.S. 112.313(7)a.).

nor shall an officer or employee of an agency have or hold any employment or contractual relationship that will create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between his or her private interests and the performance of his or her public duties

Theoretically, a public officer or employee is not supposed to have a frequently recurring conflict. Unfortunately, there’s a hole big enough to drive a truck through. (See F.S. 112.313(12).)

(a) Within a city or county the business is transacted under a rotation system whereby the business transactions are rotated among all qualified suppliers of the goods or services within the city or county.
(b) The business is awarded under a system of sealed, competitive bidding to the lowest or best bidder and:

1. The official or the official’s spouse or child has in no way participated in the determination of the bid specifications or the determination of the lowest or best bidder;
2. The official or the official’s spouse or child has in no way used or attempted to use the official’s influence to persuade the agency or any personnel thereof to enter such a contract other than by the mere submission of the bid; and
3. The official, prior to or at the time of the submission of the bid, has filed a statement with the Commission on Ethics, if the official is a state officer or employee, or with the supervisor of elections of the county in which the agency has its principal office, if the official is an officer or employee of a political subdivision, disclosing the official’s interest, or the interest of the official’s spouse or child, and the nature of the intended business.
We’re told that Toppino’s company is the legitimate winner of a sealed, competitive bid. And we’re supposed to believe that as a board member, he exerted zero influence over the process. I’ve got news for you. His mere presence on the board exerts influence over the process.

The Big Coppitt situation certainly suggests that FKAA distorted the bidding process to benefit Toppino. So this is an ongoing issue, which I’m sure contributes to the excessively high costs of the FKAA’s wastewater projects.

This will be Toppino’s third conflict since December – three in seven months. And that’s assuming I haven’t missed any. I’d say that is frequent and recurring. Certainly FKAA’s attorney’s would argue otherwise. I’m sure Toppino will manage to stay on the right side of the law. At least from a legal hair-splitting perspective. Who can say for sure what goes on behind the scenes? I would imagine that FKAA staffers know exactly what is expected of them by now. Look the other way. It’s only ratepayer money.

It might be informative to chart out FKAA’s bids for the past ten years. Pretty ambitious. Might take a while. It’ll tell us a lot.

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7 thoughts on “CONFLICT OF INTEREST: FKAA $3 Million Contract for Toppino

  1. Hi Margaret, great article. A minor correction-It’s NOT the FKAA’s sewer project period. The CRWS is the Monroe County/BOCC’s period. Ive been hammering on this minor point forever. The BOCC is the Ringmaster in that mess. I’m a college alumni with a Very senior FKAA person and at lunch one day I asked why the FKAA won’t put the grinder pumps in the ROW and was told that the BOCC Won’t pay them to do that. So I’m wondering what’s the Infrastructure Sales Tax for. The voters mandated a Complete and Fully Funded sewer project. So why was FKAA Directed to attempt to extort private property to place BOCC’s grinderpumps on private property (Now those grinderpumps belong to that property owner-for them to run and maintain)
    Now the conflict of interest–In the middle ’90s FDOT was Re-doing US1/SR5 from MM-0 to Eisenhower. Toppinos was Both FDOT’s road work-paving and drainage AND FKAA’s project replacing water infrastructure. Paul Toppino was project manager. My job was to monitor the FKAA’s portion of the project making sure the work was done per contract and specifications. There was problems with the contractors adherence to the specifications as to who,what,where,when, & how work was to be performed. There were times I made the work crew come back to do redo unacceptable work. One day i was called into the “BIG MAN’S” office to be told that the project manager has been calling, complaining that I have been harassing their work crews causing problems and delays. I explained to The Big Man that the work being performed was of poor quality, was out of specifications and Would lead to problems for the FKAA’s work crews in the future. I was then ?advised? That my job was to get along with the contractor and he didn’t want to get anymore complaints from that project manager. Oh well that’s how the water drips.
    So is there conflict of interest in the FKAA?? Figure it out for yourself. Dr Geno

  2. Thank you, Margaret, for taking enough interest to keep the spotlight on FKAA’s shady dealings and general ineptitude.
    With a Toppino on the FKAA Board, the FKAA inspectors and construction manager may as well go on extended leave as be on the Toppino contract. No construction standard will be enforced, no change order denied, no material substitution not allowed, no request for time extension challenged. With that sort of advantage, it is easy to underbid other contractors and still make a bundle of profit.

    1. Thanks for saying so. I feel like its the least I can do.

      It’s really sad. There’s been such an outcry about how the workforce can’t afford to stay in the Keys. Well, it doesn’t help when capital projects cost twice what they should.

      People at the FKAA and the county don’t seem to grasp that concept. Or they just flat out don’t care.

  3. Sad (amazing) that there has not been a peep from any of the commissioners, one of whom is already up to his ears in legal woes with the state Commission on Ethics and whose lame excuse was “I was responsible for some sloppy paperwork.” Business as usual.

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