Monday, November 28, 2011

Realpolitik Key West Style

To hear the complainers tell it the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority is a failing public utility which has failed the public trust. And as if to prove the point they had a sudden change there, reported in the paper Thanksgiving week and now there is a new director running the utility. Viewed from the outside its impossible to know if the complaints about Jim Reynolds have substance. I have thought the utility has done a good job and made sensible inroads into the plan to run sewers at long last through the Keys.

However in considering Reynolds long history at the Aqueduct, rising through the ranks over 17 years it seems odd he resigned abruptly and was replaced even more abruptly. Apparently Reynolds caused a stir with a foolish e-mail advising women visiting the USS Spruance to wear underwear (no, really!) as the stairs on the destroyer are steep. Then suddenly he resigns. Pantygate! Not exactly, as the plot thickens. When Reynolds announced he was resigning he was ousted immediately with a promise of free pay until the natural expiration of his contract in March. At $180,000 per annum the board voted to throw away quite a lot of good money but it got worse. The board immediately voted to hire their counsel on the spot as the new executive director. Never mind a contract, never mind setting a rate of pay, the board said they would get to those details later. It sounds like a poor joke that a public agency would hire a director with no bid process, no discussion of parameters of pay or a benefits package. Then they hired a new counsel in the form of a former employee come back from the wilderness.
None of which is to say whether or not Reynolds was a good employee or a capable leader but the manner in which he was essentially turfed out and replaced leads one to speculate as to why the board of the Aqueduct Authority behaved as they did. I have no idea but I wonder what the sewer project for the Florida Keys might have to do with all this weird behavior. There's a lot of Government money to be made, hundreds of millions if they can shake any of it loose from Washington DC and Tallahassee and the Aqueduct is all that stands between private contractors and all that lovely cash. An attempt to install sewer lines by a private company in Stock Island led to a disastrous experience with wrong sized pipes and back flows and sewage bursting into people's homes. Aqueduct installations have been much criticized by "Anonymous" but they work without fuss and have been installed to specifications. I would not be at all surprised to see the new leadership at the Aqueduct relinquish this fat government plum to the private sector.

Meanwhile the paper reported a board member's relative was hired by the Aqueduct at a salary of $50,000 to be a secretary in a move that sceptics called nepotism which made the Governor's appointee to the board rather upset as he denied any invovlement in her hiring. However once again, the appearance of probity is often as important as the reality. I guess its the Aqueduct's turn to be the public whipping boy. Other public agencies may be sighing with relief as all attention goes to the water (and sewer) utility.

Meanwhile conspiracy theories have been floating around on the subject of development at Truman Waterfront. Two members of the advisory board were sacked unceremoniously as they lacked qualifications deemed critical to the board's composition all of which led the Citizen to author a tart commentary wondering who vets applicants for these boards. The paper also noted that the advisory board is going to be facing pressure when it comes time to vote on which way to develop the 34 acres of waterfront open space. The exclusive marina proposed by the Spottswoods got a boost when it was announced the USS Mohawk floating museum will be shipped off to be sunk as a reef.
The Mohawk and the Ingham were obstacles to the proposed redevelopment into a high end marina because they took up too much seawall space. That problem was solved suddenly. Now two respected community members vanished from the advisory board. Meanwhile there is caustious optimism that Wisteria Island my not be developed just yet even as Sunset Key's sales history comes under federal scrutiny.

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