Harsh words are flying at Orlando’s main road-building agency.
Two days after being accused of violating Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law, board member Marco Pena said in a three-page memo that he is being unfairly maligned for trying to fight the “Old Boy” culture at the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority.
The claim of Chairman Walter Ketcham that Pena and two others illegally discussed agency business in private among themselves or through intermediaries is “not only wholly unfounded and reckless, but reek of the 'Old Boy' sensibilities that have so long marred the reputation of the authority,” wrote Pena, a growth strategist at Florida Hospital.
Pena and board members Scott Batterson and Noranne Downs last week voted to find a replacement for executive director Max Crumit. They said Crumit had to go soon because he has been looking for another job, possibly with contractors who work for the agency that oversees a 109-mile system of toll roads.
Ketcham and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs were on the losing end of the 3-2 vote. They argued Crumit has done a good job and had earned rave reviews during his two years at the agency, including numerous compliments from Batterson and Downs, who runs the Florida Department of Transportation in Central Florida.
Both Ketcham and Jacobs questioned the vote, and said it seemed to have been prearranged.
Pena, who unsuccessfully ran for the state House and was appointed to the board two months ago by Gov. Rick Scott, did not return a call from the Orlando Sentinel for additional comment.
In a letter sent to Ketcham and agency attorney Joe Passiatore, Pena said, “it seemed genuinely improper to me that a person (Crumit) who hires and fires every staffer in the Authority, and who can award tens of millions of dollars to the very contractors with whom he is pursuing a job search, was not even required to publicly disclose that he was presently engaged in such a private sector job search.”
Ketcham, who initially asked Passiatore to determine if the Sunshine law was violated, has called such claims by Pena and Batterson “a disgrace and borderline slanderous for no good reason."
Pena also said he is “supremely concerned” with Passiatore’s decision to forward Ketcham’s complaint to State Attorney Jeff Ashton, who has acknowledged receiving the allegation, but has not announced if he intends to investigate.
“I find your (Passiatore) decision to summarily refer the unsupported and seemingly politicallly motivated allegations of Chairman Ketchum directly to State Attorney Jeff Ashton, without a modicum of independent verification, clarification, investigation or review from your office, to be beneath the standard required of a General Counsel to the Expressway Authority,” Pena wrote.