Florida Keys News
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Candidates talk debt, sewer deal

KEY LARGO -- Four Key Largo residents are now vying for two at-large seats on the Key Largo Wastewater Board Nov. 6.

Candidate David Asdourian withdrew his name from consideration last week after the board voted to appoint him to the seat vacated in early August by Susan Hammaker.

Charlie Brooks, 80, is running on his experience on the board. He also wants residents to know he plans to take a serious look at the interlocal agreement with Islamorada. Under the agreement, the village will pay the district to treat its wastewater.

"I have been adamantly against the agreement," said Brooks, who voted against the deal.

Under the agreement, Islamorada will pay the district $10.18 million as its capacity allocation charge for 1.1 million gallons of daily flow. The village also paid $1.5 million upfront to help cover plant upgrades.

Brooks also said he plans on focusing his time on finding ways to pay down the $80 million debt accrued in the construction of the district's wastewater construction facilities.

Brooks made his mark as a manager at The Miami Herald before moving to the Florida Keys where he is involved in numerous civic organizations.

Despite the district's transition away from construction, Brooks said there will always be ongoing projects.

"We're never going to get away from engineering," he said.

Brooks said he wants to focus on minimizing hardship for customers.

Paying down the debt is also about securing government funds, according to Brooks, who recently lobbied the County Commission for a cut of state money for help covering Key Largo projects.

Brooks was recently vocal in keeping board attorney Ray Giglio's salary to a minimum. Giglio was hired part-time, but through assignments from the district began working nearly 35 hours a week. Brooks declined to consider bringing Giglio on full-time, citing Giglio's inability to work quickly.

"What I object to is taking legal counsel everywhere," he said.

Also running as an incumbent is Robby Majeska, 59, who owns Keys Kritters pet shop and helps run a local Boy Scout troop.

Majeska has adopted a unique method of campaigning by placing toilets filled with flowers on the roadside as his political signs. He says he strives to be an independent voice on the board.

"I am trying to keep this an anti-Bubba utility," he said.

Majeska, who serves as chairman, said his focus over the next term would be to help the district make the transition from building sewers to running a utility.

"We're a utility that has some construction projects," he said.

Majeska credits himself for leading the effort to lobby the county for a share of the one-cent sales tax that voters will be asked to extend on Nov. 6. Funds from the tax are earmarked for sewer projects in Monroe County, Key West, Islamorada and Marathon. Key Largo has now been promised some of the proceeds.

Majeska also wants a media relations blitz as the district operates more as a utility.

"No one wants to have sewers or pay for sewers," he said. "We need to show the people what the board is doing."

Majeska said he considers the interlocal agreement with Islamorada a done deal and doesn't support revisiting it.

"We don't want to go back on it and bring lawyers into this," he said. "We see what happens in Islamorada."

Last week, Majeska was the only no vote on the Asdourian appointment. He said he felt the decision should be left up to voters during the Nov. 6 election.

Making his first bid for public office is former Free Press reporter Steve Gibbs.

Gibbs, 68, who has lived in Key Largo for 40 years, operated sailing concessions for 25 years before selling his business and working as a journalist for 15 years with the Free Press.

"After covering the board for 10 years, I learned a lot about the process," he said. "A couple things appear to need looking at."

Gibbs said he wants to come up with a better approach to odor issues at neighborhood vacuum stations. He also wants to secure money to pay down construction debt, while offering breaks to business owners who are struggling financially.

"We went into debt and we have a burden," he said. "The people of Key Largo did what they were supposed to do."

Gibbs said he also favors awarding upcoming work projects to local companies as opposed to mainland operations.

He also expressed little interest in revisiting the interlocal agreement with Islamorada.

"We're Key Largo and they're Islamorada and we don't want their poop. That's silly," he said. "Water doesn't stay in one place."

In the wake of the Asdourian appointment, Gibbs said he has no regrets over withdrawing his name for consideration for a two-year appointment. Gibbs, whose campaign signs line the highway with the colors of his alma mater University of Florida, said he is focused on getting elected to a four-year term.

The candidate with the lowest profile thus far is Mike Black, 52, a hydraulic technician who works in Miami.

Black, who was inspired to run by a local anti-war activist, said he wants to void the contract with Islamorada.

"In history, the wealthier always want to send their waste to the less fortunate," he said.

Black, who has a background in underground sciences, said wants to increase safety and preventive measures to make sure treated wastewater doesn't rise up out of the ground and into ocean.

"Islamorada is not the diving capital of the world, Key Largo is," he said.

Black also points to his plant nursery, Colorado ski lodge, 81-year-old mother and 10-year-old daughter for keeping him away from wastewater meetings. He is the only candidate who has not attended meetings or campaigned.

"I've been really busy," he said.

Black said he plans on passing out fliers and continuing to attend political forums.

"I have a strong network of people supporting me," he said. "If you vote for someone just because you see their sign at Publix, you really don't know what's going on."

Black said he wants the district to focus on improving service through new technology.

"There are a lot of things out there we could use," he said.

At this point in the race, Black is sizing up to be the outside underdog.

"If I win, I win," he said. "There's another election in two years."

jgore@keysnews.com

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