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Murphy runs on reversing commission's "accomplishments"

Incumbent Monroe County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy says her greatest successes have been not what she's accomplished, but things she helped reverse.

"My success is not things that went forward; it's the things that went backward, things that I was able to get rid of," says Murphy, seeking her first full four-year term as the Upper Keys District 5 commissioner.

The Republican Murphy is running against Key Largo resident Sal Gutierrez, not affiliated with any political party. Gutierrez isn't considered a serious candidate, just one who runs to air his gripes about the county's restrictive land-use rules.

In describing things she was "able to get rid of," Murphy cites a list.

"The Sterling Program, it was a terrible program, it hurt employee morale," she says. "Cost more than $500,000. Got rid of it before it was even completed. I managed to get rid of an outside attorney, who was also very expensive. We tightened up his contract and he went bye-bye.

"I was able to plant the seed to get Tom Willi fired. Dixie watered that seed and it sprouted -- with a little push and a shove."

Murphy, 72, was referring to:

  • The Sterling Program, which then-County Administrator Tom Willi embraced. Monroe County hired Carroll Consulting in 2005 to help improve the way the county does business. The company specializes in grooming local government entities for the Governor's Sterling Award, which recognizes good business performance.
  • The County Commission ended Carroll's contract before its work was complete.

  • Key West attorney Jerry Coleman, hired as the county's affordable housing consultant in 2005. He actually voided his county contract on Jan. 31 after Murphy suggested the county sever its relationship with him in light of a budget crunch.
  • Coleman charged the county $350 an hour. But increasingly, his invoices went beyond consulting on housing issues. So at the suggestion of County Attorney Suzanne Hutton, the commission agreed to reign in the expenses by seeing to it that Coleman address only affordable housing issues. That's when he decided no more work for the county.

    From the beginning of his contract to the end, he was paid around $465,000.

  • Willi, fired by the commission last December for what was widely viewed as financial mismanagement, and blamed for a nearly 8 percent increase in taxes this year to fix mistakes. Roman Gastesi replaced him.
  • Commissioner Dixie Spehar called for Willi's firing -- 11 months after the commission initially held a special meeting to consider getting rid of him. He survived that February 2007 on a 3-2 vote but ultimately lost support.

    Murphy, who is twice widowed, retired from Monroe County Emergency Medical Services in 1996. She was also a two-decade volunteer with the Tavernier Volunteer Fire Department.

    She took office in September 2006, beating Key Largo resident Glenn Patton in a special election to fill the remaining two years of the term of Commissioner Murray Nelson, who died in April that year.

    Murphy is often aligned with Commissioner George Neugent on issues, but she is also considered blunt and a person who always speaks her mind.

    "The No. 1 problem that we have right now, of course, is [constructing sewage treatment systems under a state mandate]. That should be No. 1 in everyone's mind," she says. "But riding equal to and on the same plane as that is the financial status of this county. That's going to take constant vigilance because things are going to get worse."

    And she says she doesn't understand why Gutierrez is running.

    "He's not an opponent; he's not running seriously. I don't know why he's put his hat into the arena," she says.

    Gutierrez -- who refuses to speak to the media -- has run for office in the Keys twice before. In 2004, he ran as a Republican against Nelson, also a member of the GOP. Gutierrez received 28 percent of the vote. He also ran for state House in 2006, one of five GOP candidates. He didn't survive the primary.

    Gutierrez's beef with the county has to do with several lots he owns in the Upper Keys. He says county restrictions have devalued them, and he describes the county's land-mapping system, which classifies land and the ability to build on it according to its environmental sensitivity, as "a system of stealing people's property."

    "That's why I'm running for office," he says in a video on his Web site, "to get that squared away."

    Gutierrez is retired from the air-conditioning business.