NEW CRUISE SHIP LIMITS NEED OUTSIDE LEGAL COUNSEL
Nearly all city commissioners on July 12 emphasized their willingness to ban the majority of cruise ships from Key West by turning the three voter-approved cruise ship referendums into city ordinances.
But those ordinances must be defensible in court against the anticipated lawsuit from the owners of Pier B cruise ship dock, who are expected to sue the city for turning away most of their customers.
“We’ve got to do this right and that takes a lot of patience,” Commissioner Jimmy Weekley said, referring to the Safer Cleaner Ships Committee’s call for action and criticism of the delay in drafting the ordinances. “We need to bring an ordinance that’s defensible. Everyone needs to be patient. Our attorney will update us at each meeting.”
City attorney Shawn Smith, who has warned the commission of the potentially dire legal consequences of trying to regulate private property, is in the process of hiring an outside, independent attorney or law firm to help draft, then defend, the ordinances.
Smith on Tuesday advised the commission not to approve the cruise ship ordinances as they are currently written in draft form “because there are no penalties included for violating them.”
“I’d prefer you wait to consider those ordinances until you have outside counsel in place,” Smith told the commission, adding that he expects to have someone for the commission’s review within a week.
“Specifically, I looked at the individual suggested by the Safer Cleaner Ships Committee, and the recommendation I got back was to not hire that person if you in fact want an independent person,” Smith said. “I don’t intend to hire someone that has an agenda in place, or an idea in place. As many of you have suggested to me, hire somebody that is independent and will review the facts and will issue an opinion to you.”
Commissioner Sam Kaufman agreed.
“We want to do this in the best interest of the entire city so it can withstand court scrutiny. There’s a lot of complexity with regard to the many different, potential claims that Pier B could bring. And I agree, we should have independent counsel that’s separate from the Safer Cleaner Ships committee. That independent counsel really should be disassociated from the committee because in the end, it’s the city that will have to defend our ordinances.”
Commissioner Greg Davila reminded residents that “each of us has expressed a desire to follow the will of the people with this, but we need to do it while making sure all our ducks are in a row.”
In other commission activity — and inactivity — Mayor Teri Johnston withdrew a prior agenda item that sought to replace housing authority board member Annette Mobley, who lives in public housing. Johnston had initially proposed replacing Mobley with Lakay Barnett, but would have needed the commission’s approval. Mobley had expressed a strong desire to remain on the board, and submitted to the mayor a petition with 200 signatures supporting her continuance on the board.
Also, the commissioners commended city manager Patti McLauchlin for successfully negotiating a partnership with Monroe County and the Key West Housing Authority to fund the continuance of Poinciana Gardens assisted-living facility.
As part of the agreement, the city will contribute $400,000 for the coming year, $300,000 the second year and $200,000 the third year if needed. The goal is to get the facility financially stabilized.
McLauchlin also told the commissioners that she is still waiting for more information about the state’s offer of $5 million in COVID recovery funds for lost port revenue.
“I’m still waiting on guidelines regarding what obligates the city if we take this money.”
Finally, the commission agreed to set aside 237 building permits for the Monroe County School District for the construction of workforce housing at the district’s Trumbo Road property, near the downtown ferry terminal.
Superintendent Theresa Axford was at the commission meeting, but did not need to speak, as the building permit request was approved without discussion.
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