Gastesi, Frederick, have options
By SEAN KINNEY
Posted – Saturday, August 25, 2012 11:00 AM EDT
In a report made public Thursday, a Monroe County grand jury recommends the County Commission fire County Administrator Roman Gastesi for his involvement in stolen and resold county iPhones and iPads.
But even if the commission follows the advice and votes to let Gastesi go with cause, the administrator has options.
Gastesi’s contract, which runs through May 11, 2016, says he must be informed at least 15 days in advance of the commission’s decision.Since the commission will address the matter Sept. 10 in Marathon, he wouldn’t get that formal notification until at least Sept. 25.
He then could challenge it in a de facto hearing before the commission, which would vote again. If it upholds its vote, Gastesi would have the option to sue to keep his job — and get all his legal fees paid if he wins.
Gastesi’s not the only one the grand jury says should be fired; it also says Deputy Administrator Debbie Frederick should be let go. The only one who can fire her is the administrator.
She would have redress through the county’s Career Service Council, which hears grievances from Keys government workers. It comprises representatives from the Mosquito Control District, Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, Keys Energy Services, Monroe County government and one at-large appointee.
“There will be two steps,” Chief Assistant County Attorney Bob Shillinger said. “One is what do we do with Roman; the other is how do we deal with the other employees” named in the grand jury’s report.
“Our recommendation is going to be bringing in someone from outside [to be interim administrator if Gastesi is fired] … and hear the matter” for Frederick and others.
Gastesi was hired on May 12, 2008. In December, the County Commission gave him a four-year contract extension. He makes $185,040, which includes a $950 monthly car allowance.
Gastesi and Frederick find themselves in the positions they’re in stemming from actions by former county Technical Services Director Lisa Druckemiller, 51. She’s charged with dealing in stolen property and scheme to defraud for stealing the county electronics — 52 of them — then selling them to other county employees, including Gastesi, friends and relatives. She also gave some away.
Druckemiller resigned in late February, right around when the theft allegations came to light. At the time, Frederick was her direct supervisor.
How it all started
In 2010, Monroe County Clerk of the Circuit Court Danny Kolhage audited county cell-phone policies and procedures, finding that the Technical Services inventory process was insufficient and that Druckemiller had too much control over the purchase, assignment and tracking of phones. He suggested separating cell-phone duties.
The grand jury said Gastesi’s “first error in judgment was rejecting the auditor’s recommendation to institute a separation of duties. The failure to adopt this recommendation is what allowed this misappropriation to happen. In itself, a policy misjudgment of this sort would not be ground for dismissal.
“However, Mr. Gastesi eagerly availed himself of at least four cut-rate iPhones and one cut-rate iPad from Lisa Druckemiller, paying only $899 for items that cost county taxpayers $2,328.96. Between the low price, cash payment and lack of receipts, if he had no suspicions, he should have.”
Frederick, according to the report, testified that Druckemiller ran up more than $20,000 in unauthorized charges on Frederick’s credit card; Frederick has called that a personal matter.
“By far [Frederick's] greatest error in judgment,” the report says, “was failing to alert the county administrator — or anyone else for that matter — of the fact Lisa Druckemiller had stolen from her. Knowing that Ms. Druckemiller was willing to steal from her — a friend — Ms. Frederick had a duty to the taxpayers to report the matter to Mr. Gastesi so that Ms. Druckemiller’s handling of public money and public property could be painstakingly monitored.”
The grand jury also recommends censure for county Senior Systems Analyst Hank Kokenzie, Budget and Finance Director Tina Boan and Guardian Ad Litem Executive Director Alexsondra Leto, all of whom purchased electronics from Druckemiller.
The County Commission’s Sept. 10 meeting at the Marathon Government Center starts at 3 p.m.
Who got what, and what it cost the county
Irina Baker, Druckemiller’s daughter-in-law, paid nothing for an iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and iPad II. County cost: $1,527.00.
Tina Boan, budget and finance director, paid $228.99 for an iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. County cost: $698.
Lacy Caraballo, Guardian Ad Litem program, paid $100 for an iPhone 4S. County cost: $399.99.
County Commissioner Heather Carruthers paid $99.99 for an iPhone 4. Cost to county: $299.
Sol Conelly, a neighbor, paid $100 for an iPhone 4. Cost to county: $299.
Isabel Desantis, a relative, paid nothing for an iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. Cost to county $698.99.
Brandon Druckemiller paid nothing for two iPhone 4s and one iPad II. Cost to county: $1,427.
Lisa Druckemiller paid nothing for one iPhone 4, two iPhone 4Ss and two iPad IIs. Cost to county: $2,655.
Ryan Druckemiller paid nothing for two iPhone 4s, one iPhone 4S and one iPad II. Cost to county: $1,826.
Vicki Fleck-Lockwood, another relative, paid $80 for an iPhone 4. Cost to county: $299.
County Administrator Roman Gastesi paid $899 for one iPhone 4, three iPhone 4Ss and one iPad II. Cost to county $2,325.
Thomas Hampton, Guardian Ad Litem program, paid $200 for two iPhone 4s. Cost to county: $598.
Lance Hoverson, a relative, paid $100 for three iPhone 4Ss. Cost to county: $897.
Hank Kokenzie, county senior systems analyst, paid $1,750 for two iPhone 4Ss and three iPad IIs. Cost to county: $3,287.97.
Alexsondra Leto, Guardian Ad Litem program, paid $310 for two iPhone 4s and one iPhone 4S. Cost to county: $997.
Michael Pontarelli, a friend of a Druckemiller neighbor, paid $450 for an iPad II. Cost to county: $848.
Sheryl Rahming, county Tax Collector’s Office, paid $50 for an LG phone. Cost to county: $99.99.
William Reich, Lisa Druckemiller’s brother-in-law, paid nothing for an iPad II. Cost to county: $829.99.
Donna Smyth, another neighbor, paid $450 for an iPad II.Cost to county: $829.99.
Elizabeth Wood, county senior sewer projects administrator, paid $200 for an iPhone 4. Cost the county: $299.
Moving laterally on Nashville J’s question, that would be to Key West – in The Citizen today:
Tide could turn on channel widening study
BY JOHN DeSANTIS Citizen Staff
Key West business interests have launched a substantial campaign to get city officials behind their quest for a $3 million study to determine whether a stretch of ship channel used by cruise ships should be widened to accommodate bigger vessels.
But opponents of the study maintain that authorizing it will open a Pandora’s box of future environmental problems that would make the channel widening a certainty if the study shows it as feasible.
City commissioners will see a presentation supporting the study prepared by the Key West Chamber of Commerce Sept. 18 and are expected to vote Oct. 16 on a resolution in support of the study, which is still being prepared.
A divided City Commission voted down a proposal to send the question to voters in a non-binding referendum last year. But so long as the study can be done at no cost to taxpayers, enough commissioners appear to be overcoming reluctance for the supporters of the report to prevail.
An audience of about 100 got a preview last week of material the chamber will present to commissioners, including a breakdown of how the study — to be performed by the Army Corps of Engineers — would be paid for.Chamber Executive Vice President Virginia Panico said the federal government would pay for half, the state of Florida would pay for 25 percent, and private money would round out the other 25 percent.
Some commissioners may take more convincing than others, however.
The study, supporters said, will include the following components:
• Environmental and socioeconomic impact analysis
• Examination of compliance with federal Fish and Wildlife Act
• Possible mediation requirements
• A cost and funding analysis
Commissioner Tony Yaniz, who voted against the referendum idea, said there would be conditions to his supporting the study, should he agree to do so.
“I want a 50-year environmental impact and 50-year economic impact,” he said of the study’s components. “And not one citizen of the city of Key West will pay one nickel for that study. I want to make absolutely sure the cruise ship companies and the chamber do not engage in a lobbying campaign while the study is going on. I want all that on the table.”
Whether a Corps study would or could include impact statements covering such a long period is an open question.
The problem cited by channel-widening proponents is that the approach ships use to Key West cannot safely accommodate the larger classes of vessels increasingly being used by the cruise ship industry. The narrowest point of the channel, called “Cut B” is 300 feet wide. This requires great big ships to come in on an angle depending on wind and current, which navigators say increases risk.
The study does not obligate any entity to go ahead with channel-widening work, even if a determination is made that it is do-able.
“The newer generation are wider and slightly longer to allow for technical advances and more amenities, and also because the Panama Canal is being expanded,” said Jennifer Hulse, an attorney who gave a presentation for the chamber to the general public Thursday at the Windsor Hotel. “Older ships are being rotated overseas and replaced with the newer generation of ships. A small portion of the channel is too narrow to safely allow wider ships to safely navigate into Key West harbor.”
Hulse cited what she said would be the economic impact to all Key West residents and the business community if the number of ships making calls to the island continues to dwindle. The chamber, she said, supports the study because it will “improve and enhance the information we already have so that we can make an educated decision about our tourism economy.”
The chamber’s support stops at the study level, Hulse said, adding that the organization “has not and will not take a position on widening the channel until the study is completed and evaluated.”
But opponents take a different view. They see the study as a first step into a channel-widening rabbit-hole that would find the city placing economic concerns about its relationship with the cruise industry above concern for its sensitive environment. Key West’s status as a component of the National Marine Sanctuary system would be compromised, they fear.
“The problem we have with starting the study is that once this thing gets started, it takes on a life of its own,” said Mark Songer, president of the environmental advocacy group Last Stand, which has raised the most consistent and vocal opposition to the channel widening concept. “It is likely they can take out only 150,000 cubic yards to widen it, but is that the thing we want to have happen in the National Marine Sanctuary? To preserve the sanctuary as it is, we do not want to start the study, because the law already prohibits new dredging in the sanctuary … . If the study is approved, the people in favor of the dredging have convinced the commission that it’s something that should be done.”
Charter boat captains, some recreational boaters and others who use waterways and other natural features of the Keys, have registered opposition to the study. And although the chamber supports doing the study, not all business owners in Key West are convinced the city should authorize it.
Key West should focus on building up businesses that don’t rely on cruise ships, Songer said. If there are dollars lost because fewer cruise passengers mean fewer disembarkation fees, then other ways should be found to plug up the holes, he said. Songer and other advocates also maintain that accommodating cruise ships by widening the channel would be doing so at the expense of ecotourism businesses.
Dollars and sense?
According to the chamber presentation, 811,000 cruise ship visitors hit the streets of Key West in 2011, a 40 percent drop since 2002.
The Florida Caribbean Cruise Association told the chamber, according to information at the presentation, that cruise passengers spent $102 per person, translating into $88.4 million in revenues to Key West businesses every year.
Yaniz doesn’t trust the math.
“I believe we need to do a study that will prove there is no way in the world we can cater to the cruise ship companies, and that they would bring in $89 million in business,” Yaniz said.
Yearly sales tax resulting from cruise ship passenger and crew spending in Key West, the presentation says, amounted to $110,500, and in Monroe County, to $331,500. The chamber also says that $442,000 in school taxes for the county comes from ships, directly or indirectly. The total impact to Monroe County, those figures say, comes to $1.44 million, according to the presentation. The state’s annual proportion of sales tax revenue, the presentation says, comes to $4.9 million.
“I was surprised myself when I saw the impact to the county,” said Panico.
The disembarkation fees, the money paid to the city for each passenger on each ship that docks in the city, have fallen off by 17 percent since last year, a point noted by Mark Rossi, the city commissioner who has been most closely identified with the ships, during recent budget workshops.
A falloff in cruise ship dockings at the city, Rossi notes, is largely responsible for a budget shortfall of nearly a half-million dollars.
Size of ships
As for the argument that accommodating the bigger ships will only lead to, well, bigger ships, supporters say there is a natural limit to how big ships calling on Key West can be. The biggest ships, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Freedom classes, would never be able to navigate here because the water is not deep enough.
“We couldn’t bring that-size ship here if we wanted to,” said Key West bar pilot Robert Maguire.“We don’t even have the dock facilities to take in the Oasis right now.”
Critics of channel widening have asked why the city has to be involved at all with the study, suggesting that it could be wholly funded with private money.
The city’s transit and port director, Jim Fitton, said the Corps study can only be done if it is requested by a government entity like the city.
And what of the cruise lines themselves kicking in for the cost?
“We have not asked the cruise lines officially because the commission has not given us permission,” Fitton said. “If the commission agrees to approve this, we would by all means go to the cruise lines.”
Panico acknowledges that the chamber, fearing for the city’s economic future, will continue its re-energized push for the study to be done. What even some opponents of the channel widening have said is that, one way or another, it might resolve the question so that it no longer needs to be discussed.
“I am in favor of doing the study if it doesn’t cost the taxpayers any money,” said Mayor Craig Cates.
“It will depend on how the community comes out. I don’t see a down side if it doesn’t cost us anything. And if it comes out in the study that it can’t be done, then it just can’t be done.But we don’t know any of those things right now.”
Jesus also might say, “You cannot worship God and mammon.”
Mother Nature says, ”A picture is worth a thousand words.”
A “small” cruise ship leaves Key West.
Received this yesterday from Father Stephen Braddock, CEO of Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, which reaches out to homeless people, among other area people at risk of falling through the cracks.