Guest Column: Richard Toppino for FKAA Board, “An Interesting Choice”


by Margaret Blank…….

Richard Toppino of Charley Toppino & Sons has recently been appointed to the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) board. He will replace Melva Wagner who resigned in September after it became publicly known that she no longer lived in the Keys and was attending meetings by phone.

Mr. Toppino was chosen from among eleven applicants for the position. It was a very interesting choice for two reasons:

  1. On his application Mr. Toppino names himself as an officer for Charley Toppino & Sons, a local contractor that has done a significant amount of work for the FKAA.
  2. If I’m connecting the dots correctly, Mr. Toppino’s father, Frank Toppino, serves on the Key West Housing Authority board with Bob Dean, who is currently an FKAA board member. Frank Toppino is also an officer at Charley Toppino & Sons. Mr. Dean’s residency status has recently been called into question. The matter has supposedly been forwarded to the governor’s office for review.

If Charley Toppino & Sons continues to pursue FKAA work, it’s a set up for an inevitable conflict. This is why I am so surprised by the decision. There were ten other applicants who had zero and/or minimal ties to the FKAA. Why choose the applicant with the highest potential for a conflict? It was so unnecessary! Working around the edges again.

My understanding of the law is this:

An FKAA board member is considered a public officer. A public officer may not do business with the agency he or she represents. Existing contracts are not a violation, but future contracts are. For example, the $919,000 contract that Charley Toppino & Sons currently holds with the FKAA is okay, but future contracts will most likely be a prohibited conflict.

That said, here’s a rundown of the work that Charley Toppino & Sons has done for FKAA. The documents I could find online went back as far as 2006, and I only spot checked those. There could be more.

  • Big Coppitt water main replacements – $179,763.95.
  • Big Coppitt water main replacements change orders – $1,021,225.99
  • Big Coppitt wastewater system – $9,737,807.39
  • Big Coppitt wastewater system change orders – $155,852.70
  • Flagler Avenue water main replacement – $306,861
  • Flagler Avenue water main replacement change order – $18,924.37
  • Big Pine Repump station – $919,020.15

That’s over $12 million in nine years. According to FKAA’s latest capital improvement plan, there is roughly $20 million worth of work planned for the Lower Keys. Will Charley Toppino & Sons forgo all that work because a company officer is on the FKAA board? Or will there be some shuffling done to make the conflict go away in a narrow legal sense?

As I said before, I’m sure the FKAA will find a way to tap dance around the law, but they’ll never get around the optics. Fortunately, they don’t need to worry so much about optics. With the help of the state, the FKAA has remained an appointed rather than an elected board, despite the clearly expressed will of the voters.

The FKAA’s latest budget can be found here. I extracted the capital improvement budget for your convenience.

The FKAA provides a Summary of Contractual Commitments on each agenda. That’s where I got the contract and change order amounts for Charley Toppino & Sons. I didn’t look at every single monthly report. The documents can be found on FKAA’s website within the agendas. The agendas are typically a few hundred pages long. So for your convenience I extracted the specific documents. Here are the links:

20080123_contractual commitments

20080626_contractual commitments

20091022_contractual commitments

20100923_contractual commitments

20110127_contractual commitments

20151118_Contractual Commitments


More from Margaret Blank at


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11 thoughts on “Guest Column: Richard Toppino for FKAA Board, “An Interesting Choice”

  1. On the positive side, Toppino appears to actually live in District 2. On the “We’ve seen this before side,” he appears to have had a mid-life revelation that he wasn’t really a Democrat and switched to being a “born again” Republican only two years ago. That is the same thing that Robert Dean did when he wanted a seat on the FKAA board and Florida had a Republican Governor.

  2. What amazes me the most is that the local Republican party is embracing the recent converts, Toppino and Dean, as their chosen FKAA appointees. How is it possible that Dean was a Democrat for over 70 years and Toppino was one for over 48 and then they both suddenly changed politics when that was necessary to secure an FKAA appointment?

    1. Well, the FKAA works around normal political channels. Since the board members are not elected the prospective appointees have to ingratiate themselves with the governor. I’m sure both parties have to go along to get along.

      I’m a party switcher, too. I changed to Republican because I liked what Scott seemed to be doing for the water quality projects. I’m back to Independent again. I think that’s where I’ll stay.

    1. Perhaps, the following will be of assistance in helping the Governor’s office find something. I must admit that they ultimately did provide some information.

      ——– Forwarded Message ——–
      Subject: RE: Request a Public Record
      Date: Mon, 28 Sep 2015 13:12:00 +0000
      From: Scott Open Government
      CC: Oates, Ehren , Sams, Savannah

      Mr. Fisher,

      The Governor’s Office of Open Government is in receipt of your request for records as stated in your email below. A search for responsive records will be initiated and someone from this office will be back in touch with you soon. If the search produces a volume of records which indicates that there will be a fee associated with your request, you will be provided with a fee estimate for your review. Thank you for contacting the Executive Office of the Governor.


      Amanda Gorman
      Office of Open Government
      Executive Office of the Governor
      PL-04 The Capitol
      Tallahassee, Florida 32399

      —–Original Message—–
      Sent: Sunday, September 27, 2015 8:56 AM
      To: Scott Open Government
      Subject: Request a Public Record

      FIRST_NAME: Colby

      LAST_NAME: Fisher


      EMAIL_SEARCH: checked

      DATE_RANGE: 08/01/2004 – 02/01/2005

      REQUESTED_DOCUMENTS: I would like to receive all of the documents that lead to the appointment of J. Robert Dean to the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) Board’s District 3 seat on January 5, 2005. In particular, I need the complete application form which Mr. Dean completed and all correspondence between state/local offices and Mr. Dean.


      SEARCH_TERMS: none



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