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FKAA chairman has homesteaded house outside his appointed district

Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority board Chairman J. Robert Dean lists this shuttered 417 Bahama St. house in Key West as his primary residence on his voter registration. He has a homesteaded house in Key Haven, an unincorporated Monroe County subdivision to the east of Key West, which is not part of the FKAA district he represents.
Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority board Chairman J. Robert Dean lists this shuttered 417 Bahama St. house in Key West as his primary residence on his voter registration. He has a homesteaded house in Key Haven, an unincorporated Monroe County subdivision to the east of Key West, which is not part of the FKAA district he represents.

The chairman of the board of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority does not live in the district he represents, according to documents obtained by The Keynoter/Reporter.

Chairman J. Robert Dean is also registered to vote at a residence different from the one for which he receives a $50,000 property tax break designated for primary homes, known as the homestead exemption.

That caused Monroe County Elections Supervisor Joyce Griffin to call State Attorney Cathering Vogel, whose office is looking into it.

This is the second time in nearly two weeks residency concerns were raised about a governor-appointed FKAA board member. Melva Wagner resigned Aug. 31 after it became known she no longer lives in the county.

The Aqueduct Authority is charged through state legislation with bringing potable water to the Keys. It's also constructing a Lower Keys sewer system.

According to property and voter registration documents, Chairman J. Robert Dean, 85, owns a house with a homestead exemption at 14 West Cypress Terrace in the Key Haven subdivision outside Key West. That is in FKAA District 1. He represents District 3. A home must be a primary residence to receive a homestead exemption.

Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Joyce Griffin said one must register to vote using the address of his or her primary residence.

"If you don't, you're committing a felony," Griffin said. Griffin, however, backed away from saying Dean's situation constitutes registering to vote with an address that is not his primary residence.

"Trying to prove where a person is living is a difficult thing," she said. "A lot of times, it's a state of mind."

FKAA board members must live in the districts they were appointed to represent by the governor, according to the utility's bylaws.

"The members represent each of the five County Commission districts and are appointed from areas corresponding with the registered voting districts," the FKAA's establishing language states.

J. Robert Dean's wife, Donna Dean, 80, lists the Cypress Terrace address as her voter registration residence, but her husband does not. Instead, he lists 417 Bahama St. in Old Town Key West, which is in District 3, on his voter registration.

Dean did not return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment. Nor did FKAA Executive Director Kirk Zuelch.

Dean's attorney, Bobby Highsmith, said his client is not breaking the law or violating his homestead exemption. He said it is legal for one spouse to stay at a homesteaded residence while the other lives somewhere else. Highsmith said J. Robert Dean's primary residence is on Bahama Street, and his wife's is the Key Haven house. The couple is not separated, said Highsmith.

"Domicile and residency are questions of intent," Highsmith said. "He has always intended to maintain the Bahama Street home as his primary residence and domicile."

"Registering to vote elsewhere" is listed on the Monroe County Property Appraiser's Office website as among the top five reasons people lose their homestead exemptions.

But Property Appraiser Scott Russell said that the rules get more complicated with married couples. Russell said he’s aware of the questions surrounding the Deans’ homestead exemption, but since it is a “unique situation,” he needs to check with his agency’s lawyers before taking any action.

“I’m researching it as we speak,” Russell said Thursday.

At least four other people also list the Bahama Street address as their voter registration residence, according to documents obtained by KeysInfoNet.com. They are James L. Dean, Jerry Craven Dean, Lilia Solis-Dean and Eric Bryant Lang.

The house, which is shuttered, is behind Dean's business, Dean-Lopez Funeral home, 418 Simonton St.

Highsmith said all five people aren't necessarily living together in the house.

"It's carved up into three apartments," he said. "There's an upstairs and a downstairs and a rear unit."

According to Monroe County Property Appraiser's Office records, the 417 Bahama St. home is owned by the Dean Donna Louise Rev Trust, an entity whose mailing address is the same as Dean's homesteaded house in Key Haven.

Key Haven is an unincorporated subdivision about a mile east of Key West. Simonton Street and Bahama Street are in the heart of Old Town Key West.

Information about Dean's place of residency comes out almost two weeks after Wagner submitted her resignation.

As for Wagner, she now lives near Naples. A Lower Keys neighbor told FKAA staff that Wagner's house had been largely unoccupied since summer 2014.

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