Sewer GM avoids official reprimand. Emails, letters reveal widening rift between commissioners

Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District commissioners Steve Gibbs, shown from the back, and Robby Majeska, facing the camera, argue over the potential reprimand of the district's general manager Paul Christian.
Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District commissioners Steve Gibbs, shown from the back, and Robby Majeska, facing the camera, argue over the potential reprimand of the district's general manager Paul Christian.

The top unelected official of Key Largo's sewer taxing district avoided a public reprimand this week following a summer spent butting heads with two members of the elected board in charge of the operation's budget.

Paul Christian, the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District's general manager, angered district Commissioner Andy Tobin in June by not providing details about a salary increase for then-plant operations manager Dan Saus. Tobin did not think the pay hike authorized by Christian was enough.

The two have since clashed over Christian's management style and over Tobin's perception about the degree to which Christian is obligated to share information with commissioners.

Tobin's colleague on the five-member board, Robby Majeska, is also outraged by what he calls Christian's lack of transparency, so much so, he considered asking him to step down.

"I almost wanted to come in here today and ask Paul to resign," Majeska said at the commission's meeting Tuesday night.

Tobin and Majeska lost their effort to publicly sanction Christian in a 3-2 vote.

"I think it's unnecessary," Commissioner Steve Gibbs said. "I don't see the need for any reprimand or further discussion about the general manager's abilities or actions."

Christian bumped Saus' salary from $98,000 a year to $102,900. Tobin wanted to raise Saus' annual pay to $116,000 and wanted to know Christian's reason for not going with the higher number. Christian did not tell Tobin how he came to his decision.

Tobin urged his colleagues Tuesday to agree to sanction Christian.

“If we fail to do anything, it’s approval of the conduct,” Tobin said.

Saus quit the district this month and is set to start his new post as utilities director for the city of Marathon on Aug. 17. Tobin and Majeska said Christian was a major factor in Saus' decision to leave.

Specifically, Tobin wrote in an Aug. 11 memo that Christian blamed Saus for an acid leak that damaged one of the sewage tanks at the district's mile marker 101.5 treatment facility.

Christian denied he ever blamed Saus for the acid damage.

"I did not blame Dan Saus for anything," Christian said in an interview after Tuesday night's meeting. “I was very happy with Dan."

Tobin said in the memo that the wastewater district's attorney, Ray Giglio, confirmed "Mr. Christian blamed the operations manager for acid damages to one of the tanks."

Giglio said at the meeting that Christian did not blame Saus for the acid incident.

Christian had not responded by press time Thursday afternoon when the acid damage occurred and its extent.

Saus could not be reached for comment about why he left. Commission Chairman David Asdourian said Saus told him he left because his name was being mentioned in press reports about the power struggle between Tobin and Christian.

"Dan was very happy here. He does not blame Paul," Asdourian told his colleagues Tuesday night. "He got upset seeing his name and his salary in the newspaper."

The rift between Tobin and Christian has since birthed a conflict between Tobin and Gibbs.

In an Aug. 10 e-mail sent to his colleagues on the dais, Gibbs blasted Tobin, writing, "Mr. Tobin's quest for control of the district and his childish attempts to discredit the GM have become boring."

Gibbs also attacked Tobin for what Gibbs says is being unprepared for meetings and not being up on all the issues coming before the commission.

"He has had numerous chances to educate himself but has not attended staff meetings," Gibbs wrote. "Nor has he read the agenda ahead of the meetings. He has no time to educate himself like his fellow commissioners because he is too busy figuring new ways to harass" Christian.

Tobin submitted a letter for the record in response to Gibbs' e-mail.

"In response to you e-mail last night, let me suggest that attacking the messenger is a boorish tactic and suggesting the other commissioners are controlled by me is insulting."

Following Tuesday's meeting and the vote not to reprimand Christian, the embattled general manager was asked by this reporter how he felt now that the issue was over. His response:

"I don't know. Is it over?"