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There is a post today at goodmorningbirmingham.com, which you should be able to reach by clicking on this link: Hemingway’s ghost, and other mysteries
There is a post today at goodmorningkeywest.com, which you should be able to reach by clicking on this link: Mother’s Day soundings from the Key West tip end of The Asteroid Belt
My Horrorscope in The Key West Citizen today:
LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct.
23) — There is no reason
to give up on traditional
methods that have proven
successful in the past.
Lady Luck is inclined to
follow her same, familiar
Yesterday morning, I felt moved to wear a T-shirt dedicated to Sandy Downs’ son, Preston, who, at age 15, was electrocuted by power lines in trees in Key West while he was working on a tree trimming job with his stepfather, Nick Downs. On the front of the T-shirt is a fetching photo of Preston driving a skiff. On the back is Preston’s philosophy, “You can’t get to where you want to go, if you only travel on sunny days.”
Preston did poorly at Key West High School. Sandy enrolled him in a marine mechanics course at Florida Keys Community College, where he excelled, getting better grades than most adults in course.
From yesterday’s Keynoter – www.keysnet.com, I supplied photo:
Pribramsky begins work on audit
Posted – Saturday, May 11, 2013 07:01 AM EDT
Construction, plagued by a series of cost overruns, is all but finished at the $40 million rebuild of Horace O’Bryant Middle School. The Monroe County School Superintendent has hired an outside auditor to review financials. Keynoter photo by SEAN KINNEY
Former District 1 Monroe County School Board member Steve Pribramsky, an accountant and auditor by trade, hopes to start a review of the financial and construction records related to the three-year, $40 million rebuild of Horace O’Bryant Middle School in Key West.
Superintendent Mark Porter executed an agreement with Pribramsky on Thursday afternoon that is set to initially cost between $15,000 and $18,000, which falls below Porter’s $25,000 spending threshold.
The contract runs from May 10 to June 30.
The hire, although already done, is up for discussion by the School Board at a Tuesday workshop beginning at 3 p.m. at administrative offices on Trumbo Point.
Porter opted to bring in an outside auditor given months of pressure from board member Ed Davidson and Stuart Kessler, a member of the district’s advisory Audit and Finance Committee, and following the sudden departure of former administrator Michael Kinneer, who has handled HOB financials since 2010.
Pribramsky said he’d sit down with Davidson on Monday to review all of the research and analysis already completed.
“This has been a long and extended construction effort and it is necessary and appropriate at this time to invest some additional resources into the successful closure of this important project,” Porter said.
He said Pribramsky’s firm Pribramsky and Zuelch, with offices in Key West, Marathon and Islamorada, “has the best expertise and immediate availability to meet the needs of Monroe County schools.”
In a nod to Davidson and Kessler, Porter said, “It is their initial work that has helped define and focus the further efforts needed at this time.”
The HOB project has been mired in problems including a complete redesign to comply with city height limits; the discovery of compromised soil foundation that had to be replaced; the exclusion of an essential parking lot; and myriad instances of what Davidson has challenged as questionable accounting.
Kessler and Davidson have complained that documents provided by Coastal Construction are insufficient and don’t meet reporting requirements outlined in the construction contract.
Pribramsky, who only served one four-year term, was a dogged critic of the School District finances at the time and led the charge to overhaul the administration during and following the downfall of then-Superintendent Randy Acevedo and his wife Monique, then the adult education coordinator.
Keynoter editorial, my interjected comments in italics.
Steve Pribramsky the right choice to audit HOB
Posted – Saturday, May 11, 2013 11:01 AM EDT
Superintendent Mark Porter took the advice of School Board member Ed Davidson this week and announced he was hiring a financial auditor to review the troubled Horace O’Bryant Middle School construction process. He made the right choice by tapping Steve Pribramsky.
Pribramsky is a former School Board member who was highly instrumental in bringing down the corrupt Acevedo administration in 2008 and 2009. If not for Pribramsky and current School Board members John Dick and (to a lesser extent) Andy Griffiths, we may not have known the full extent of the graft that went on under Randy Acevedo’s watch.
Andy Griffiths told me that he told State Attorney Dennis Ward about the Acevedos, and that led to all the rest. And, yes, Andy wished it would all go away. But, he did alert Ward.
In the end, we found out that his wife, Monique Acevedo, stole close to a half a million dollars while she was in charge of the School District’s adult education department. She’s in prison – about half-way through an eight-year sentence. Randy Acevedo got off easier. He was only convicted of covering up his wife’s theft and served three-years of probation.
The school district’s finance department head, Kathy Reitzel, blew the whistle on the Acevedos. Kathy testified before the Grand Jury, who indicted both Acevedos. Governor Crist then removed Randy from office and appointed Joe Burke. Kathy’s threatened testimony at trial led to Randy working out a plea deal, which put him on probation. Kathy’s testimony at Monique’s trial got her convicted and put in prison for 8 years. Kathy was Ward’s star witness.
For all of which, Kathy was fired by Joe Burke for not blowing the whistle soon enough in an environment known for retaliation. When Kathy being fired came before the school board, Andy Griffiths voted in favor of the firing. Once apprised of what the Acevedos were dong, Andy had to go to Ward, or end up being part of the crime himself. Same problem Kathy faced. The Griffiths Rule, “Praise in public, criticize in private,” is well known in these parts. I wonder if Andy was influenced to vote to fire Kathy because she had forced him to kill The Griffiths Rule.
If you recall those days, there were forces at work within the School District and on the School Board that wanted the story to go away. Please don’t look any further, some asked. Others, entrenched in the corrupt morass and cronyism of the Key West political establishment, were more demanding. When Randy Acevedo was handcuffed, a group of women resembling the Manson family wailed at police as they took him away to be processed.
All the while, Pribramsky persisted in demanding the truth. If he did this from a comfortable perch in the Middle or Upper Keys, it would be less impressive. But at the time, Pribramsky and his family lived in Key West – right in the middle of Conch country.
Steve wasn’t too big on The Griffiths Rule, either. I bet Andy is salivating over Steve auditing HOB.
Pribramsky only sought and served one term. In the meantime, the most egregious corruption that plagued the School District seems to have gone away with the Acevedos and their friends who occupied high-paid administrative positions.
Steve told me there were “threats”, and my impression was that was why he did not seek a second term and moved his family up the Keys.
But something went wrong in the process since the $40-million Horace O’Bryant project broke ground. Davidson and Audit and Finance Committee member Stuart Kessler identified at least $1.8 million in questionable charges billed by Coastal Construction, the lead contractor on the HOB project. They identified more than 70 change orders that the company did not report to the administration of then-Superintendent Joseph Burke.
Kessler said it was not Coastal Construction’s fault that change orders were not reported. The School District’s finance staff signed off on them without the knowledge of the School Board. The superintendent can approve spending of up to $25,000, but he or she must also disclose the spending to the School Board under state law.
Davidson and Kessler are valuable watchdogs and should be commended for bringing to light what is at least questionable accounting. The district may reap hundreds of thousands of dollars in refunds should the mistakes be confirmed.
Given his record on the School Board, Pribramsky is the right person to get to the bottom of the HOB debacle. It should also prove interesting to see what else he finds as he lifts the cover on this latest construction boondoggle.
I told Larry, Stuart Kessler should be Steve Pribramsky’s go to guy, not unlike Kathy Reitzel was Dennis Ward’s go to gal. I also told Larry, given Stuart already works for the school board gratis as a member of the board’s Audit & Finance Committee, it might be a problem for him to be paid by the school district to help Steve audit the HOB construction and finances. However, it would not be a problem for Stuart to kill The Griffiths Rule, again. It gets killed a lot.
I bet Kathy Reitzel also could help Steve with the audit. Maybe she would drop her EEOC lawsuit against the school district, if she was hired back and paid her back pay and benefits.
Larry sent this for comic relief, I added the pics:
Larry Murray (email@example.com) 4:48 PM
To: Sloan Bashinsky
To paraphrase “Dirty Harry”: “A man has to have his priorities.”
Sean Kinney, in Saturday’s Keynoter, discusses the first bargaining session between the District and UTM which is to lead to a new contract, including a new scheme for evaluating teachers. As my sister would say, “It was a real hoot.”
Superintendent Porter arrived with a tabbed “To Do List” or his priorities as to what needed to be done. The first tab was “treats and refreshments” with 20 minutes of “back-and-forth swapping of responsibilities” as to whom was to bring what and when. In so doing, Porter wistfully recalled bargaining sessions at previous jobs with “exotic fare like pizza and Chinese take out provided.” Apparently, Porter strongly believes that it is best to negotiate on a full stomach.
The discussion concluded with “five highly paid administrators and three union reps” assuring Porter that no one had a peanut allergy or an “aversion to chocolate.” That is certainly reassuring to know. I expect that there will be sufficient economic shock during the negotiations that no one needs anaphylactic shock!
None present seemed to appreciate the irony that the bargaining session would begin with a literal discussion of peanuts and that it would likely end with the non-allergic UTM members receiving figurative peanuts when it comes to the content of the contract. While there has been some improvement in the local economy, e.g. property values, it is highly probable that the next school year will witness a repeat of one or more furlough days. The only “raise” will come from the state, not locally.
PS: Don’t know if anyone who witnesses one of the bargaining sessions will be invited to share in the “treats and refreshments”. Probably ought to “brown bag” it.
Dr. Larry Murray
Fiscal Watchdog and Citizen Advocate
Last time the school district honchos and the teachers union sat down to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, then school district chief financial officer Michael Kinneer told both sides that he didn’t know why they were having the discussion, the school district didn’t have the money to fund the contract they were hammering out. Michael attended no further collective bargaining sessions. After the contract was reached, which Michael had told them the school district had not the money to fund, Larry Murray told Superintendent Burke and the school board that he did not see where the money was coming from to fund the contract. Burke told the the school board the money was there. They ratified the contract. The money wasn’t there, the wailing and gnashing of teeth has been going on ever since.
Charlie Brown, maybe it will go better this time around.
And maybe not. Maybe loaded up with peanuts and chocolate, they will come up with something truly creative.
Meanwhile, this from Steve Pribramsky yesterday:
Steven Pribramsky (firstname.lastname@example.org)4:44 PM
To: ‘sloan bashinsky (email@example.com)’
I read your blog today and saw that Larry was going to make a public records request for the engagement letter I have with the School District. I am happy to e-mail each of you a copy of it. Could you please give me Larry’s e-mail address ( I thought I had it but I can’t seem to find it) and I will scan the signed copy and e-mail it to you guys tomorrow when I go to the office after Mother’s Day brunch. Thanks for your supportive comments and I look forward to the engagement and I am happy to provide you, Larry or anyone else all the documents I obtain or generate as they become available. Thanks again
Steven R Pribramsky, CPA, CFE
Pribramsky & Zuelch
Certified Public Accountants and Associates
937 Fleming Street Key West, FL 33040
(305) 294-1872 fax
sloan bashinsky (firstname.lastname@example.org) 6:40 PM
To: Steven Pribramsky
Cc: Larry Murray
Hi, Steve – De nada, glad someone who knows the school district got the fun job. Am copying Larry with my reply, which should give you his email address. Sloan
Larry Murray replied:
Larry Murray (email@example.com) 8:25 PM
To: sloan bashinsky, Steven Pribramsky
Thank you very much for your graciousness in providing a copy of your contract with the School District. My principal interest is in learning the scope of work to which you have agreed.
Thank you also for your willingness to provide copies of documents as your work proceeds. We shall see what evolves, particularly whether or not Coastal is cooperative with you.
On Monday, I will be making a Public Records Request of Coastal, something that I told you about on the phone the other day. My intention in making a PRR is really to help you dislodge the records from Coastal. I have no idea what Coastal’s onsite rep, Keith Sokaloski (sp?), has been telling headquarters, if anything.
I cannot imagine that Miami is happy to learn of your appointment. My guess is that, unlike Keith, they would rather work with you than fight you, particularly litigation. They strike me as a company highly averse to bad publicity. My advice is that you establish a working relationship with someone in Miami and simply bypass Keith.
As you know, I strongly support and endorse your appointment and look forward to working with you in any way appropriate. Do not hesitate to call on me.
Dr. Larry Murray
Fiscal Watchdog and Citizen Advocate
Happy Mother’s Day