KEY WEST — The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority board fired Executive Director Tom Walker on Friday, Nov. 13.

The public water and sewer utility agency board met Friday, and included in the meeting was an annual evaluation of Walker, who was celebrating his first year back with the FKAA.

The board voted 4-1 to terminate his contract, with board member David Ritz dissenting.

“Tom is a good person, but I had to do what’s best for the company,” board Chairman Bob Dean said.

Walker’s firing comes several weeks after he and board member Cara Higgins clashed about a contract during the board’s last meeting.

On Friday, Cara cited Walker’s communication with the board as a “major issue” and inability to understand the board’s authority as an issue. Board member Richard Toppino also cited “differences with the board” as reason to terminate the contract.

Walker, an engineer by trade, had previously worked as a deputy director with the FKAA and was rehired last year as executive director after Kirk Zuelch retired from that position.

Deputy Executive Director Kerry Shelby has been named interim executive director.

The board is scheduled to meet Wednesday, Nov. 18, to discuss filling the position in the long term.

Ritz said the timing was not right for firing the executive director, as the FKAA is in the middle of two multimillion-dollar construction projects. Also, Ritz has been “pleased with Tom’s performance,” he said.

The FKAA is currently building a $16 million headquarters to replace its building on Kennedy Drive in Key West, which was damaged in Hurricane Irma and had to be demolished.

The utility also wants to replace or upgrade its desalination plant on Stock Island, which was built in 1967, to produce 4 million gallons of fresh water a day, up from the current 2 million gallons.

FKAA is still seeking funding for the project. The state Legislature set aside $1 million, but the estimated price is $38 million to $42 million.

“Also, with COVID restrictions, this is not a good time for staff,” Ritz added.

Walker could not be reached for comment for this story.

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