KEY WEST OFFICIALS MAKE WEIGHTY DECISIONS
Did you catch all that? Key West officials answered several high-profile questions at the March 31 city commission meeting. Here’s the rundown:
WILL THE CITY EXPAND THE HOUSING AUTHORITY BOARD FROM FIVE TO SEVEN SEATS? No. The commission voted 5-2 against the expansion. Mayor Teri Johnston and Commissioner Sam Kaufman favored the seven-member board.
The community was also divided. Many of Johnston’s supporters called for new ideas, enhanced expertise and greater diversity on the board. Others criticized the condition of public housing complexes operated by the housing authority and the lack of transparency on the board.
“Four-year terms become lifetime appointments on this board,” resident Tom MIlone said. “It seems the housing authority is a secret society…out of touch with transparency and the need for a community perspective.”
Several well-known community leaders and business owners spoke in support of the status quo while repeating the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Attorney Nathan Eden wrote, “A knee-jerk reaction to a problem which has not been verified to exist is always unwise. I advise keeping politics of any nature out of the Housing Authority venue.”
Ed Swift wrote, “The five-member board should be saluted not burdened by two more board members, and two more opinions on each and every vote….”
Residents Monroe Holloway, Natalia Duke and others favored the expansion.
“The status quo is no longer acceptable,” Holloway wrote. “Additional commissioners with backgrounds in public engagement, social services, housing, finance and management are needed to bring fresh perspectives, increase strategic and mission-related transparency as well as encourage more stakeholder participation. Expansion of the commission would also provide an opportunity for appointments that better reflect the racial, cultural, gender, and age diversity of our community.”
Peter Batty, who was recently hired to handle communications for the housing authority board, committed to the commission that he would pursue the creation of resident advisory boards for public housing communities.
WHO WILL BE IN CHARGE WHEN CITY MANAGER GREG VELIZ LEAVES ON APRIL 16? Patti McLauchlin.
The commission voted unanimously to appoint Veliz’s second in command, McLauchlin, as interim city manager and to increase her annual salary from $156,000 to $185,000 while she’s in the position.
“She’s coming into COVID, budget discussions and collective bargaining agreements,” Mayor Teri Johnston said.
THEN WHAT HAPPENS? HOW WILL THEY FIND A PERMANENT CITY MANAGER ? WHERE WILL THEY LOOK ? We don’t know yet. The commission began discussing the search for a new city manager, but ultimately postponed the discussion until the meeting on Tuesday, April 13.
Resident Tom Milone suggested the commission limit the search to the state of Florida.
“I just want to be open to exceptions,” Johnston said, reminding the commissioners that Katie Halloran, the planning director, was hired from out of state.
HOW MUCH WILL THE CITY PAY VELIZ FOR HIS UNUSED LEAVE TIME? Half of what Veliz requested, although no dollar figures were discussed during the meeting. The commission voted 5-2 to pay Veliz for half of the proposed amount of hours he had accrued in unused annual and sick leave. Johnston and Kaufman opposed, pointing out that the city needs to rein in the accrual of leave time and enforce the provision in some employees’ contracts that caps the amount of accrued leave time the city will pay upon the employee’s departure.
The discussion included concerns about another 77 city employees who also have accrued more than the allowed cap of 960 hours of leave time.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE CITY COMMISSION? Key West officials will rethink Duval overhaul on April 13