Monroe County voters have lots of choices come the Nov. 8 general election, and we applaud all candidates for putting themselves out there for public scrutiny.
The Keys Supervisor of Elections Office mails out absentee ballots Oct. 4 and early on-site voting starts Oct. 24. From history, we know about 30 percent of registered voters will cast ballots before the official election day.
The Keynoter/Reporter/Flkeysnews.com editorial board sat down with countywide candidates the past two weeks to get their views on the offices they seek and why they are running. These are our recommendations for Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District Board, Public Defender, State Attorney and County Clerk.
Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District Board
If you’ve attended any Upper Keys municipal or special taxing district meetings over the past 10 years, you’ve encountered Sue Heim. Retired from the insurance industry, Heim is outspoken on issues affecting taxpayers and ratepayers alike. You name the topic, Heim knows about it, knows how it became an issue and can tell you why it’s fair or unfair or a good or bad idea. In short, she does her homework.
She’s running to be a commissioner on the board of the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District. We say it’s about time she ran for something. Heim has the knowledge, diligence and civic commitment for which all politicians should strive. And, the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District is the perfect vehicle for the tireless consumer advocate. She’ll look out for what’s best for Key Largo ratepayers while keeping her colleagues on the dais and the utility’s staff on their toes. We enthusiastically recommend Sue Heim.
Heim is competing for one of two at large seats on the commission against Gary Bauman, a Realtor who previously served on the board; Dennis Caltagirone, a retired public school teacher; and Steve Gibbs, a retired newspaper reporter seeking his second consecutive four-year term as a commissioner.
All three men have demonstrated dedication to the community. Bauman served on the dais during the taxing district’s infancy, as it journeyed from a model of efficiency as a major, multi-million dollar construction project on its way to a smooth-running utility. Clearly, he has the track record to represent ratepayers. And Caltagirone has a strong desire to serve, as evidenced by his decades teaching children and his 2014 bid for a seat on the School Board.
Gibbs has accomplishments on the commission that includes helping to pay down the district’s $81-million debt and pushing for the approval of the district’s headquarter building at mile maker 103, which saves about $50,000 a year in rent.
Gibbs has a governing philosophy of choosing a strong chief of staff and letting that person, for the most part, control his or her operation. He often clashes with Commissioner Andy Tobin, who feels the commissioners should be more involved with managing staff. We feel both commissioners’ views on the topic have merit, but at times, each can go too far. At the same time, ratepayers are well served by both commissioners, and the two men balance each other out on the board.
The Reporter/Keynoter recommends Steve Gibbs for another term.
Monroe County public defender
Monroe County Public Defender Rosemary Enright has decided to exit public office after leading the public defense attorneys’ office for 20 years. This office represents defendants in criminal cases who cannot afford private counsel.
Voters have a clear choice in this race: Democrat Trish Docherty Gibson, a career public defender with more than 20 years of experience who has served as No. 2 in the office for 13 years, and Republican Robert Lockwood, a relatively inexperienced attorney who is relying on his work in a family-owned dive-shop business and visitor information center more than anything else.
Gibson’s current job dictates two things: She must be an administrator of the office as well as try cases. She says she deals with a lot of cases involving registration of sexual offenders as required by state law. She also says that if elected, she will have to drop the courtroom work to focus on running the office, like Enright has done.
Lockwood, too, says he would focus on administration, not trials (“It’s a law firm.”). But here is the difference: Gibson knows better how the day-to-day work in courtrooms works. She says she regularly consults with assistant public defenders – and assistant prosecutors – on a variety of cases to bring justice while ensuring the system works as smoothly as possible.
Lockwood says his No. 1 priority would be the morale of staff. He says morale would be strong under his leadership because he ran his family’s small businesses out of college and knows how to treat staff. He says his two years as a Broward County prosecutor and three years as a Monroe public defender combined with running small businesses make him qualified.
We disagree. Trish Gibson is clearly more qualified than her opponent and we recommend her for the four-year term.
Monroe County state attorney
The Monroe County State Attorney’s Office prosecutes crimes. Following established court procedure while trying to attain justice is the priority here.
This race pits two people who have squared off previously: Democratic incumbent Catherine Vogel and Republican Dennis Ward, whom Vogel defeated four years ago in the primary when then-incumbent Ward was a Democrat (he switched parties afterward).
Ward made public corruption his priority. The case of now-convicted former schools Superintendent Randy Acevedo and his wife Monique for stealing nearly half a million dollars in School District money fell into his lap, but he didn’t just roll over to “it’s how it is” in Key West. Ward got two convictions and an eight-year prison sentence for Monique Acevedo.
He reopened the case of a Florida Keys Mosquito Control District supervisor accused of using his position to get district cell phones for his family. That case was initially not prosecuted by Vogel’s now-office administrator – the state attorney before Ward when the malfeasance came to light. The prosecution under Ward had that Mosquito Control supervisor admit guilt. There are other cases involving prominent names.
Vogel has a long history in prosecution, from her time in Miami-Dade to here. But she seems averse to pursuing some cases and issues.
That includes no death penalty for a suspect charged in an Upper Keys double murder. Vogel says there were not sufficient mitigating circumstances present under the law to make a death penalty case winnable. While we are not lawyers, we believe mitigating circumstances were obvious – a robbery charge related to the murders filed; the mother’s children being alone with the bodies of their parent and her boyfriend before being found wandering outside by a neighbor; and the motive of the crime, prosecutors say, was to get rid of a witness who knew about a large haul of drugs the alleged shooter came into months before the murders.
Vogel has had a touchy case lately surrounding a Miami-Dade judge’s son’s arrest and a warrant served on that judge for vandalizing the truck of her son’s friend. She recused her office from the judge’s case – but not the son’s. We believe she should either prosecute both or refer both to a mainland prosecutor’s office.
They both talk about turnover in the office. There is always turnover when a new leader takes the job, from state attorney to newspaper editor. Changes are made, people leave. It’s how it is.
They both talk about drunk-driving cases stacking up. Both offer explanations. Those explanations seem to result in a draw depending on what information one uses, so we’ll call that a wash.
Ward has flaws – he is a bull in a China shop, never refraining from speaking his mind. Vogel has flaws – she shies away from controversy. We believe the former would serve the voters best – an outspoken state attorney who doesn’t care where the chips fall without jeopardizing prosecutions and whose legal decisions held up from his previous time in office. We recommend Dennis Ward as state attorney for the next four years.
Monroe County clerk of courts
County Clerk Amy Heavilin lost to Republican Kevin Madok, a former employee, in the primary. So it is Madok and Democrat Ron Saunders, himself a former staffer (staff attorney), going against each other to be the de facto accountant for county government and the clerk of the courts.
Madok is a numbers guy, has been his whole life, from the private sector in California to his time here, in the past in the Clerk’s Office and now with Monroe County government. Saunders spent years in the state Legislature, working both sides of the aisle no matter if there were a Democratic or Republican majority.
Madok trumpets his math skills. Saunders trumpets his people skills, noting his time as House minority leader and chief of the House Appropriations Committee, which helps craft the state budget. Both have value.
Madok says Saunders is part of the problem, that he worked at the office for three years and didn’t improve anything about problems that led to a slowdown in the county government squaring its annual finances. Saunders says put good people in place, we don’t need to micromanage.
We’re split on this. Madok has a lot of numbers experience. Saunders has decades dealing with negotiating, honing people skills. In this race, we believe residents would be served well by either candidate serving a four-year term.