A company that recently settled a long-standing, potentially multimillion-dollar lawsuit with the Monroe County government again wants a potentially multimillion-dollar debris hauling contract and has offered $100,000 from the settlement to six local charities.
One of the charities that has been offered money by the emergency debris removal company Ashbritt, the Cheryl Cates Memorial Foundation, was formed in memory of the late wife of Monroe County Mayor Craig Cates. Mayor Cates is not associated with nor on the board of the foundation, he said.
Following Hurricane Irma in 2017, Ashbritt filed a lawsuit against Monroe County after a hyper-political recovery effort in which Gov. Rick Scott doled out lucrative debris haul-out contracts to other companies, which stymied Ashbritt’s ability to contract trucks, drivers and crews.
For weeks, Ashbritt was unable to perform the requirements in its contract, as state-contracted crews were working in South Florida and the Keys. At issue has been whether the county enlisted the support of the state for debris removal or if the state took it upon itself to contract with haul-out companies and crews, which ultimately made it more difficult for Ashbritt to do its job.
The dispute led to public shouting matches at Monroe County Commission meetings between then-County Commissioner George Neugent and Ashbritt owner Randy Perkins.
Neugent charged that Perkins and Ashbritt will eventually sue the county over the arrangement with FDOT. Ashbritt is paid by how much debris they remove, not by the hour or a set amount. Perkins has accused FDOT of stealing his subcontracting crews and trucks by paying them more under contracts that were signed after the hurricane made landfall and on which he was not allowed to bid.
Perkins responded “we’re not suing you, just let us do our jobs.” Perkins said his “issue is not with the county but a higher authority,” referring to the Florida Department of Transportation and the state government.
Neugent then asked Perkins to sign an indemnification letter agreeing not to sue the county, but Perkins declined.
Perkins also accused Gov. Scott of renegotiating on lucrative haul-out contracts post-storm and giving them to political supporters. An agreement was finally worked out, but it led to Asbritt receiving far less than what it expected to earn after Irma had the state government not intervened.
The lawsuit dragged out for nearly six years until the county settled with Ashbritt in March, just months before the case was headed to trial in June and after the county spent $219,458 on outside legal counsel and other legal expenses, according to county financial records. The county agreed to pay the company $100,000 and reinstate Ashbritt’s contract with the county. Ashbritt had been requesting roughly $1 million in damages and $2 million in legal fees.
As part of the settlement agreement, the county also told Ashbritt the contract will be put out to bid. The contract has been put out to bid, and bids will be returned by June 8, according to county legal staff. The Monroe County Commission will vote on the contract in July and have it in place by August.
At the last Monroe County Commission meeting, Ashbritt’s attorney Bart Smith announced Ashbritt wanted to be a good partner with Monroe County moving forward and told the commission that Ashbritt planned to donate the $100,000 to six Florida Keys charities, including the Cheryl Cates Memorial Foundation.
Mayor Cates was “thankful” the money was going to local charities, but it will not affect his vote on the contract, he told the Keys Citizen.
“This is a serious contract,” Cates said of the contract that could result in an emergency debris hauler being paid millions of dollars following a tropical storm or hurricane. “This is a business decision and we have to make the best decision for the county.”
The other five charities are the Key West Military Affairs Committee, Domestic Abuse Shelter of the Florida Keys, the Guidance Care Center-operated Heron House in Marathon, Michelle’s Foundation in Key West and the K-9 Relief Fund of Key West.
Smith told the commission at the May 17 meeting that Ashbritt planned to donate the settlement funds to charity, and it wanted to be a good partner with the county.
“Asbritt intends on bidding on the contract,” Smith told the Keys Citizen after the meeting. “Ashbritt is proud to donate to local charities.”
Prior to the lawsuit being settled, the county sought a legal opinion from the state Commission on Ethics because Upper Keys County Commissioner Holly Raschein is the government relations director for Ashbritt and the county needed to know if there was a conflict of interest. Raschein was hired for the position in 2020, prior to her becoming a county commissioner but following her term as a state House representative.
“In Commissioner Raschein’s case, Ashbritt is a principal by whom she is retained, given that the company is her employer,” the Ethics Commission opinion stated. “Therefore, any vote that would inure to Ashbritt’s special private gain or loss will pose a voting conflict for her. You asked specifically about certain votes that may be scheduled for the Board of County Commissioners in the future. Any vote concerning the payment of legal fees or the settlement of the litigation would inure to Ashbritt’s special private gain or loss because those matters directly affect the county’s ability to pursue the litigation, which will necessarily affect the size of Ashbritt’s recovery or liability in the lawsuit.”
The Ethics Commission did state in its opinion that state law prohibits public officers from having contractual relationships with the governments in which the public officers serve, which will mean Raschein will have to choose between working for Ashbritt or continuing on as county commissioner. Raschein said Tuesday that she has not made a choice yet.
On Oct. 17, 1996, Walter Logan, a lifelong newsman who was twice wounded as a correspondent covering World War II from the battlefront, died of pneumonia in Key West. He was 82. At the time of his death, Logan was working on his memoirs of his news life, a manuscript that was nearly complete.
His death, in some ways, marked the sunsetting of strong, unfiltered journalism, but it has become more significant now because, after more than 26 years, the manuscript was discovered at a Susie’s Key West estate sale in late December.
Shane Keween, the new vice president of Finance and Administration at the Dolphin Research Center, stumbled upon the well-preserved compilation purely by accident. He believes the estate sale was conducted at the home of Shirley Block at 1300 Tropical St., Key West, who passed away last year.
Keween’s son Cruz, 16, had been visiting estate and garage sales for a year, acquiring items he could sell on eBay to save up for his first vehicle. On one of those trips, his father and mother, Nicole Knight, brought him to this estate sale. While there, the elder Keween, who’d always been intrigued by old books, found the manuscript among the many for sale there and purchased it for $1. It was only days later when he realized what he’d found.
Logan was United Press International’s (UPI) foreign editor when he retired to Key West in 1979. He was described by fellow UPI correspondent Aline Mosby, who knew Logan for more than 30 years, as “sort of a quiet man, but a great foreign editor for UPI.” Another former UPI colleague, Helen Thomas, who was a famous presidential correspondent, described him as a “journalist in the elite sense of the word. He was a tremendous newspaper man.” Coincidentally, Thomas was the keynote speaker when Keween received his master’s degree in 1999.
Historical information on Logan is scarce, possibly because he was more focused on his news reporting than accolades or headlines. But his accomplishments and legacy are far from scarce.
He accompanied Secretary of State George C. Marshall to China in 1945 during the civil war between the forces of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and Communist Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung. On Jan. 9, 1943, as World War II raged, Logan was one of a handful of journalists brought in to cover President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s covert trip to visit U.S. troops fighting in North Africa. FDR was the first president to fly in an airplane while in office, and Logan had the distinction of making that historic trip.
On Nov. 23, 1963, Walter Logan’s opening sentence for a UPI newspaper piece was “Grief rolled across the nation like a gigantic shock wave,” upon the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
His 400-page manuscript was titled “Logan’s War” and is bound, except for its tattered cover, which Keween suspects was invaded by bugs. There are 16 completed chapters highlighting his exploits in North Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Casablanca, Italy, Cairo and India.
In its preface, Logan begins with the sentence, “My love affair with the navy started when I was a teenager back in land-locked Arkansas.” He said then his “bedroom walls were covered with pictures of battleships, cruisers, destroyers …” He reflects on being nicknamed “Salty” by friends because of his naval knowledge, which he admits he learned more from the Army Corps of Engineers than from the navy itself.
Former Keys Citizen reporter Wendy Tucker, who also penned stories for UPI, the Associated Press and Reuters, described herself by phone “as close to him (Logan) as anyone can be.”
“He was a dear friend, pretty acerbic and shrewd but also really special,” she said.
Their kinship was forged through their love for news almost as soon as Logan arrived in Key West and endured for almost two decades. Tucker came to Key West in the 1970s for UPI to fill a void in large-scale news coverage for them in the Keys. She recalls Logan’s love of the ocean, Key West’s military presence and the ambiance of Key West as what lured him there.
Retiring in Key West likely contributed to that affinity, but the manuscript itself does not reflect on his time in Key West nor his retirement from news reporting.
Tucker also recalled what Logan called “his most powerful moment; being on the beach for the invasion of Normandy during World War II.” She even shared a family secret Logan would never admit: a close relative had been a Mississippi riverboat gambler.
Logan had no immediate family, just a nephew, but a lot of friends, said Tucker. Retired Monroe County Historian Tom Hambright, a valuable resource for Keys history, recalls having met Logan on multiple occasions and described him as being active “on the event circuit” and attending various historical affairs in Key West.
Logan joined UPI in 1935 in its Memphis, Tennessee bureau. He later worked in bureaus in New Orleans, Atlanta, Nashville, Raleigh, New York and Washington before he was assigned as a correspondent with the U.S. Navy in the Atlantic during World War II. Logan covered the North African campaign, naval operations in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the U.S. Eighth Air Force in Britain and fighting in Italy, including the Anzio landing. He was wounded twice, in Tunisia and Italy.
Logan retired after a 44-year news career covering many remarkable and infamous people of the 20th century, including Indian leaders Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung. Logan even met Chinese Communist foreign minister, Chou En-lai, on a late trip to China.
Logan had been offered the Purple Heart after his service during World War II but turned it down because he felt others deserved it more, wrote Bill Anderson for Florida Keys Magazine in 1985. Logan also won numerous awards for his witty comments on the men’s fashion scene, and he wrote a weekly column for UPI’s feature department for a time. A stickler for proper dress, he once scolded a UPI cable editor for “wearing a Windsor knot with a button-down collar.”
While unfinished, the manuscript represents a unique perspective and chronicling of foreign relations and World War II. Keween isn’t sure what the future holds for it but is open to suggestions.
“Knowing that he spent hours upon hours typing these pages, I feel compelled to try to help Walter get it past the finish line”, said Keween. “It’s a cool piece of WWII history that I would hate to see lost forever. Perhaps I will find a way to get it published.”
In observance of Memorial Day on Monday, May 29, a variety of ceremonies honoring the nation’s veterans killed in action will be held throughout the Florida Keys. Active military, veterans, family, friends and the public are invited to attend in appreciation of those who gave the greatest sacrifice for our rights and freedom.
Events will be held at the following:
• USS Maine Memorial, Key West City Cemetery, 9 a.m.
• Veterans Memorial Garden, Bayview Park, 10 a.m.
Big Coppitt Key
• Southernmost Cemetery, 11 a.m.
• Islamorada Hurricane Monument, Mile Marker 81.8, 9 a.m.
• Murray E. Nelson Government Center, 11 a.m.
The message from hurricane forecasters and meteorologists is simple: Stay aware, be prepared and have a plan, because it only takes one hurricane to devastate a community.
Hurricane season starts Thursday, June 1, and runs through the end of November and local, state and federal emergency management officials remind residents to have an evacuation plan, make sure flashlights, radios and generators are working and to stock up on canned goods and water.
Earlier in the week, a tropical disturbance formed in the southwestern Atlantic Ocean with showers and a few thunderstorms associated with a broad area of low pressure located a couple of hundred miles northeast of the central Bahamas, but it was poorly organized, according to the National Hurricane Center. Strong upper-level winds and dry air prevented development while the system moved generally north-northeastward at 5 to 10 mph over the southwestern Atlantic Ocean.
Predicting how and where a hurricane or tropical storm and comparing pending storms to past storms is not a good idea, Chip Casper, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service in Key West.
“We try to emphasize that every storm is unique,” Casper said. “Those comparisons don’t serve anyone. You can’t compare two storms, whether it is Georges in 1998, Wilma in 2005 or Irma in 1997.”
“You need to know what to do, how to do it and when to do it,” Casper said. “It only takes one. The Florida Keys are in Hurricane Alley and have you have to be prepared.”
In the wake of Hurricane Ian last year, Casper and Monroe County Emergency Management Director Shannon Weiner are working on public service announcements warning about storm surge, Weiner said. While the eye of Hurricane Ian was about 70 miles north of the Florida Keys, parts of the chain of islands received flooding from the Category 4 hurricane because of storm surge.
“There is not as much awareness as there needs to be,” Weiner said. “It can happen in small storms, and it can happen in big storms.”
The Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project team is predicting 13 named storms during the Atlantic hurricane season. Of those, researchers expect six to become hurricanes and two to reach major hurricane strength with sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or greater, according to CSU.
The team bases its forecasts on a statistical model, as well as four models that use a combination of statistical information and model output from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, the UK Met Office, the Japan Meteorological Agency, and the Centro Euro-Mediterraneo sui Cambiamenti Climatici. These models use 25 to 40 years of historical hurricane seasons and evaluate conditions including, Atlantic sea surface temperatures, sea level pressures, vertical wind shear levels and other factors.
So far, the 2023 hurricane season is exhibiting characteristics similar to 1969, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2015, according to the Tropical Meteorology Project team.
“Our analog seasons exhibited a wide range of outcomes, from below-normal seasons to hyperactive seasons,” said Phil Klotzbach, research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science and lead author of the report. “This highlights the large uncertainty that exists with this outlook.”
The team predicts that 2023 hurricane activity will be about 80% of the average season from 1991 to 2020. By comparison, 2022’s hurricane activity was about 75% of the average season. The 2022 hurricane season will be most remembered for its two major hurricanes: Fiona and Ian. Fiona brought devastating flooding to Puerto Rico before causing significant surge, wind and rain impacts in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada as a post-tropical cyclone. Ian made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane in southwest Florida, causing more that 150 fatalities and $113 billion dollars in damage, including damage in the Florida Keys.
The CSU team will issue forecast updates on June 1, July 6 and Aug. 3.
In addition to an evacuation plan and basic supplies, the Monroe County offices of the Florida Department of Health encourages residents to prepare now to protect their health heading into the hurricane season.
People can register in a Florida Special Needs Registry. If a person knows or cares for an individual with a disability or special need, such as a medical condition that requires assistance but not hospitalization, he or she should pre-register with the Special Needs Shelter Registry. The local emergency management office notifies registered residents when there is an evacuation. People must register in advance so emergency planners can contact the person during an emergency. For more information, call the local county’s emergency management office, or visit the Florida Special Needs Registry at https://snr.flhealthresponse.com/.
People should keep track of their medications. After a storm, people may have limited supplies of prescription medications, and their local pharmacy might be closed. People need to list each prescription medication they take, its dosing instructions, and the name and contact information of the prescribing doctor. People should keep this information updated and with them when a storm threatens, and bring their medications with them for an evacuation.
People should update their contact List to ensure they bring an updated list of all important contacts, including doctors, friends, relatives, out-of-state friends, or relatives. Designate one person who can relay to others about their evacuation and health status and serve as a point of contact for others trying to reach them.
People should know their equipment. After a storm, many people are hurt or killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from unsafe generators and the use of potentially dangerous equipment, like chainsaws or other unfamiliar equipment. Learning to use tools before a storm is safer than in a chaotic aftermath. Now is the time to read the owner’s manuals and learn how to use each tool safely, according to the Health Department.
To learn more about preparing for hurricane season, visit http://www.floridadisaster.org/planprepare/preparing-for-hurricane-season or call your county’s emergency management office.
The grand jury in Monroe County met in the past week and handed down murder indictments in two separate cases, one involving a shooting in Bahama Village and the other a fentanyl case in Grassy Key that led to the death of a 53-year-old woman.
The grand jury indicted Alexis Joy Sather, 23, of Marathon, on a charge of first-degree murder for reportedly selling fentanyl that resulted in the overdose of 53-year-old Amanda Roberts of Grassy Key, according to Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward.
“We are one of the few state attorney’s offices that are aggressively pursuing homicide charges in these drug dealing cases that involve fentanyl and drugs laced with fentanyl,” Ward said. “This office and Sheriff Rick Ramsay are aggressively pursuing these drug overdose cases.”
Roberts was found dead at her residence on Sept. 2, 2022. Evidence of drug use was found at the scene, according to Sheriff’s Office spokesman Adam Linhardt. The Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the cause of death to be a fentanyl and diazepam overdose. The ensuing investigation showed Sather sold Roberts the fentanyl that led to her death, Linhardt said.
“I hope this message is very clear; quit selling this poison in our community, it is ruining lives and killing people,” Sheriff Rick Ramsay said at the time of Sather’s arrest on the murder charge. “If you sell these drugs and someone dies, we will pursue murder charges against you.”
The Sheriff’s Office Special Operations and Major Crimes divisions, as well as the State Attorney’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration, worked collaboratively on the case.
Sather was already in jail on other drug-related charges when she was additionally charged with Roberts’ death, Linhardt said.
Sather is the third suspected drug dealer in the past year to be arrested on murder charges stemming from the overdose of a person from the purchased drugs. Authorities have also arrested Ronald Meyers III and Judson Johnson in the drug-related death of 42-year-old Brandon Marr of Grassy Key.
The Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene of an overdose death on Grassy Key in February 2022 where Marr’s body was discovered at a friend’s apartment. His death was caused by a combination of alcohol and cocaine use, Linhardt said.
The grand jury also indicted Angel Font on a first-degree murder charge in the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Jossue Gomez in the early morning hours of June 22, 2021, Ward said. Suspects Daino Gaines and Cortez Leatherwood have already pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree murder and attempted robbery with a firearm and agreed to testify in the trial of Font, according to prosecutors.
Authorities identified all three men as being involved in the fatal shooting, according to Key West Police Department reports. The investigation started when Bahama Village residents phoned police to report a man, later identified as Gomez, lying in the street near the intersection of Ameila and Howe streets, his clothes saturated with blood, according to Key West Police Department reports.
Paramedics reported that Gomez had a wound channel from his left temple to the top of his head. Gomez was stabilized on the scene before being airlifted via Trauma Star to Jackson South Medical Center, where he later died.
There will be no Morning Magazine or Evening Edition on Monday, May 29, for Memorial Day.
On Tuesday’s program, Key West Fire Chief Alan Averett talks with News Director Joe Moore and Chuck Thomas about some recent fire-rescue calls in the city and preparations for hurricane season, which begins June 1.
Also on Tuesday’s Morning Magazine,
• Justin Martin, Key West High School Athletic Director
• Andrea Leal, Florida Keys Mosquito Control Director Executive Director
• Capt. Beth Regoli, Commanding Officer, NAS Key West
• Sarah Fangman, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent
• Dr. Jonathan Gueverra, The College of The Florida Keys President and CEO
• Steve Estes, The News Barometer Editor/Publisher
• Alicia Betancourt, Monroe County Extension Director
On Evening Edition, host Ron Saunders talks with Monroe County Commissioner David Rice