Florida Keys News
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
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Fair Share meetings questioned

KEY LARGO -- Monroe County State Attorney's Office officials say they are investigating whether state open meeting laws were violated at a Fair Share for Key Largo meeting last month.

Led by Key Largo Wastewater Board member Steve Gibbs, the Fair Share group was created to pressure county leaders to provide more funding and services to the northern island, which is part of unincorporated Monroe County.

The group has pushed for the county to purchase Rowell's Marina, pave roads, crack down on illegal vacation rentals and contribute more funding to help Key Largo pay down debt from building its state-mandated central sewer system.

Attending Fair Share meetings with Gibbs have been fellow board member Robby Majeska and Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District Manager Margaret Blank. The sewer district's attorney, Ray Giglio, has also attended a meeting.

Chris Weber, an investigator for the State Attorney's Office, said his office received a complaint that violations of the state's Sunshine Law may have occurred recently when Majeska and Gibbs allegedly discussed wastewater issues. It is illegal for officials elected to the same board to discuss outside of publicly noticed meetings any matter that could come before them for a vote.

An investigator is expected to begin contacting members of the sewer board, Weber said.

"The problem with Sunshine Law violations is they're hard to prove," Weber added.

Giglio told the Free Press that Fair Share meetings are open to the public. He added that Majeska and Gibbs are not talking about anything on which they will vote.

The meetings, however, are not publicly noticed as the Sunshine Law stipulates.

Gibbs told the Free Press he is aware of the Sunshine Law and is careful during Fair Share's meeting to not speak about wastewater votes.

"If something comes up we may vote on, either I or [Majeska] will leave the room," Gibbs said. "If I need to, I will also recuse myself from a vote."

The overlap between the wastewater district and Fair Share has drawn some criticism from local activist Kay Thacker.

Thacker recently questioned a $135 fuel expense Gibbs charged to the wastewater district to cover mileage costs to attend recent Middle Keys meetings with County Commissioners David Rice and George Neugent. Gibbs said the purpose of the meetings was to discuss wastewater matters. However, the commissioners also asked about the activities of Gibbs' new group, he said.

"During a two-hour meeting, a lot of things come up," he said.

When Gibbs reported to the Fair Share group about the meetings, it drew Thacker's ire.

"Commissioner Gibbs wears two hats and then uses the two hats to his advantage," Thacker wrote in an email. "One at Fair Share meeting he is a private citizen, yet when it comes to expenses and getting paid, his hat is as KLWTD commissioner."

Blank, who was with Gibbs during the meetings in Marathon, said their purpose was wastewater funding. In an apparent swipe at County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy, Blank also noted that county commissioners outside of Key Largo have been more open to bringing parity to the island.

Murphy, who has told the Free Press she encourages the Fair Share group to meet, said she doesn't necessarily support all of its efforts. She added the group has not built enough political leverage to affect the county's agenda.

jgore@keysnews.com

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