by Margaret Blank.......
Posted this week on www.bigpinekey.com: 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.