The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority’s new headquarters, 1100 Kennedy Drive, Key West. CONTRIBUTED

    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last month reappointed two members to the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) board of directors. Richard Toppino and Cara Higgins were reappointed to four-year terms. 

    The Keys Weekly filed a public record request for Toppino’s and Higgins’ application files from the governor’s office on March 16, but had not received any information as of March 31.

    Two weeks after the reappointments, Jolynn Reynolds, a former aqueduct authority employee and the ex-wife of its former executive director, Jim Reynolds, filed a lawsuit against the Florida Keys’ water company.

    In the March 10 lawsuit, Jolynn Reynolds claims Cara Higgins “used her position on the aqueduct authority board to act in favor of her own personal interests and to retaliate against anyone who opposed her or attempted to bring her misconduct to light.”

    The lawsuit alleges that Higgins, who has been in a relationship with the plaintiff’s ex-husband, Jim Reynolds, since the Reynoldses separated, contributed to the end of her marriage, and used her position on the FKAA board to help Jim Reynolds’ private company secure contracts with the FKAA involving inspection services for the new FKAA headquarters building in Key West.

    Higgins told the Florida Commission on Ethics that she had abstained from voting on any and all matters related to Jim Reynolds’ company and any contracts potentially awarded to it. 

    The claims levied in Jolynn Reynolds’ lawsuit are the same eight allegations she filed in earlier ethics complaints against Higgins that were dismissed by the Florida Commission on Ethics due to a lack of probable cause. 

    In July 2022, the Florida Commission on Ethics “found no probable cause on eight allegations of violations of the ethics laws,” against Higgins, according to documents from the state commission.

    “(HIggins) is a public officer who is involved in a dating relationship with a vendor of her agency. The relationship was disclosed to the (FKAA) Board….(Higgins’) actions seemed reasonable and in the best interests of FKAA and the taxpayers,” wrote Elizabeth Miller, advocate for the Commission on Ethics, who investigated all of JoLynn Reynolds’ allegations against Higgins.

    When reached by the Keys Weekly on March 28, Higgins said, “The Ethics Commission reviewed the numerous allegations made, performed an extensive investigation and found no evidence whatsoever to support any of it.  The investigator did however find that my actions were not only reasonable, but also in the best interest of the FKAA. I will not comment on the rehashing of already refuted accusations. My focus remains on moving forward with the FKAA on improvements to our infrastructure, fiscal responsibility and service to our ratepayers.  This is an exciting time for the FKAA. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve another term with our current Board and with Mr. Veliz at the helm.”

    Greg Veliz, the current executive director of FKAA, told the Keys Weekly last week he cannot comment on pending litigation.

    No hearings had been scheduled for the lawsuit as of March 28.

    Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.