by Ralph De Palma…….
At the recent Florida Keys Mosquito Control District meeting (FKMCD), Commissioner up for re-election, Jill Cranney-Gage, flip flopped and changed her vote on the construction project that has been planned for the past two years, to be more in line with her mentor the Chairman and “Chief Budget Cutter” on the Board, Phil Goodman. The timing of this change appears to coincide with the pending potential 45% millage increase and the effect on her re-election campaign. That was bluntly pointed out by long time and out-going Commissioner Bill Shaw who asked if Commissioner Cranney-Gage was changing her vote to help her get re-elected. I think the voters will be the final arbiter of that question this November.
However, now two years of planning and almost $1m in taxpayer funds already spent on property, architects, and permitting are up in smoke and FKMCD is again homeless with no plans for a Key West facility when everyone in the county except Commissioner up for re-election, Jill Cranny-Gage, seems to be concerned about FKMCD fighting Dengue and Zika in Old Town Key West.
I arrived at the FKMCD Board Meeting to find more security than at a Trump Rally. Three of the Sheriff’s finest were guarding the mosquito board meeting. I worked there 13 years and had never seen any armed guards at meetings. I asked one of the Deputies what was going on and they jokingly said “Yeah, right, we have SWAT up on the roof.”
My former employer FKMCD has dramatically changed over the last four years. The GMO project has changed the entire organization. They are in a defensive posture all the time. They have very few press releases and almost all announcements are GMO project related. All FKMCD efforts seem to revolve around selling the GMO project. It’s almost like FKMCD has become a wholly owned subsidiary of OXITEC/Intexron. They are so invested in GMO success they have become paranoid about any criticism or objection from anyone, including their constituents whom they work for. November can’t get here too soon.
Building a home base for the operations and conducting mosquito control activities no longer seem the highest priority. They seem to always expect the worst possible outcome. That’s fine with killing mosquitoes but it’s no way to conduct an open public forum. Under Director Doyle’s single minded crusade, the entire organization which had been previously held in great admiration around the industry, has been increasingly dragged through the mud.
I didn’t see any outside agitators or aggressive fanatics. There were no menacing people. These were our neighbors and fellow citizens peacefully protesting. Mothers with babies, young people, peaceful environmental organizations, they carried signs and weren’t even very noisy outside. Once the meeting started there was quiet, respectful discussion, and calm. Nothing at the meeting seemed to warrant three armed Deputies.
Then the first order of business was Chairman Phil Goodman, Commissioner Tom McDonald, and Commissioner up for re-election, Jill Cranny-Gage voted to not let Commissioner Steve Smith participate in the meeting by teleconference. That seemed very odd. It was as if they didn’t want to hear any of his comments or allow him to vote on any of “their” items before the Board. As it turns out these three Commissioners seem to vote in a block on almost every contentious item especially budgets and spending. The votes are often very close and these three felt Commissioner Smith’s phone call was not needed.
Speaking of openness and transparency, FKMCD is charging the Keys Environmental Coalition $8k (down from a first estimate of $20k) to comply with their Freedom of Information Act Request to produce Director Doyle’s emails regarding the FDA, GMOs, and Oxitec communications. Local activist Mila De Mir brought her checkbook and offered payment immediately. The District’s attorney is conducting a review making sure that none of these emails divulged classified information, and could not answer a question of when they would produce these emails – probably right after the election and the GMO Referendum. I now understand why they have three Deputies in the room. I smell a rat.
GMO’s were discussed ad nauseam. FKMCD Director Doyle who is resigning at the end of August, sees no issues with releasing GMOs in someone else’s backyard. Good luck Key Haven.
A number of concerned citizens signed up for public comment and gave impassioned reasoning, begged, and even pleaded that they not be subjected to the GMO experiment in Key Haven. Chairman Goodman and Commissioner up for re-election Jill Cranny-Gage openly challenge almost every comment by any environmental group or individual citizen (voter) with moderate concerns that used the open microphone for “public input” and challenged the GMO project. After each three minute comment ended they quickly countered every objection. One speaker interrupted Chairman Goodman during one of his rebuttals (not heckling just correcting a misstatement) and he told her that if she did that again he would ask the Deputies to escort her out of the meeting. Yeah, that’s making it more like a Trump Rally, “get her outta here.”
FKMCD usually purchases existing products and equipment to treat mosquitoes from vendors all over the country. I have always wondered why a small county agency with very limited resources, is conducting basic research on a product and advocating for a particular treatment – GMOs, from a private organization OXITEC/Intrexon (publicly traded XON) that stands to make huge profits if this product is successfully introduced into the US marketplace. The FKMCD public charter as an independent taxing authority may not include this type of activity with a publicly traded corporation. If it does – it shouldn’t.
The Commissioners then changed the subject to more important items, like a pet project of Chairman Goodman – streaming the Board Meetings on line so that the handful of people that access their current website minutes and audio recordings every month (less than 20) could now tune in to this circus live. Commissioner Smith can’t join a meeting by teleconference, no one can see Doyle’s emails, armed guards are required at a Board Meeting, but live streaming is the most important agenda item for Chairman Goodman.
The last public comment came from The Key West Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Virginia Panico, who complained that FKMCD’s Board members were wasting taxpayer money by receiving a housing allowance (it would save about $6k per year, and makes a great sound bite – maybe Virginia can chip in from her $150k annual salary).
One of the last orders of business was an item listed by Commissioner Tom McDonald proposed to keep the out-going Director Doyle on the FKMCD payroll as a paid consultant. I thought he was joking at first. This Director, who’s contract was renewed by a single vote (3/2), has presided over the dismantling of the program that stopped the Dengue outbreak in 2011, his budgets required the spending of most of the $8m in reserves that could have easily built the new facility, he was asleep at the wheel when FKMCD lost a $600k contract with the Navy that it had held for two decades, he has destroyed employee morale, championed the GMO project at the expense of everything else, is leaving the organization with a huge mess and pending lawsuits that will, if nothing else, probably triple their legal budgets, and has generally been a disaster for the organization, but Commissioner McDonald, thinks we should keep him on as a paid consultant.
November can’t get here too soon.
Ralph dePalma retired from the FKMCD in 2014. He ran the IT data collection systems.