02 April 2024

TDC executive director fired - Weekly briefing - April 2, 2024

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TDC executive director fired. The Monroe County Tourism Development Council Board fired its top employee, marketing director Stacey Mitchell, in a unanimous vote Tuesday, five months after a county audit questioned her job performance and ethics. Mitchell, who has been on paid leave since November, was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the TDC, the county's marketing arm. 
  • See you in court? Mitchell's attorney told the board that Mitchell is being “thrown under the bus,” and may be preparing a wrongful termination lawsuit. 
Abortion and marijuana referenda approved for November ballot. The Florida Supreme court issued separate opinions allowing each proposed amendment referendum to appear on the general election ballot in November. Florida Constitutional Amendment referenda must receive at least 60% approval by voters to be enacted.  
ROGO reality check. As part of Monroe County's cautious consideration of the contentious decision later this year to allocate new residential building permits under the County's Rate of  Growth Ordinance, analysis by the County revealed that fewer than 3,000 properties could be eligible to receive new permits, far fewer than the nearly 8,000 parcels long-believed to be eligible. 
  • Evacuation model. Under ROGO, new residential development is required to be capped when it would take more than 24 hours to evacuate the Keys in advance of an approaching tropical storm. But the model, run every decade by FloridaComerce using census data, is only the beginning of a controversial political process in which the numbers have previously been fudged and the county's decision preempted by the Florida legislature to allow more permits to be issued. The county plans a series of workshops to engage the public with the decision
  • No submerged lots. The new estimate is based on applying zoning requirements that would allow construction on the lots, such as removing those that are essentially submerged land.
  • Mythbusting. Monroe County attorney Derek Howard's detailed presentation deconstructed the concept of 'takings,'' the Constitutional protection of  property owners from uncompensated government interference in using their property. The threat of takings liability has been used to justify a push for issuing more permits.
  • Far fewer. County staffers Emily Schemper and Christine Hurley presented the result of their review of properties that might actually risk takings liability to the county.
  • Capacity of the Keys. Keys Weekly published an opinion piece that looked at the concept of capacity beyond just the hurricane evacuation model
  • Construction delays. The commission decided not to update the traffic study because there are currently excessive construction delays.
  • Traffic signal timing. The Florida Department of Transportation is still working on retiming the traffic lights along U.S. 1.
  • Failing grade overlooked. Had the BOCC accepted the 2023 study, it would have been required to suspend all new commercial development until the failing sections had been remediated; instead the BOCC approved the new Publix for Tavernier.  
New Pier B lease ignores opposition. DeSantis and his state environmental regulators approved a new lease for Pier B that increases the size of ships that can call there

Disney, DeSantis settle. Under the headline, "Ron DeSantis Claims Victory Over Disney And All He Had To Do Was Give Disney Everything They Wanted," lawyer website "Above the Law" deconstructed what they contend was a humiliation for DeSantis. 

Fish rescue. As scientists continue to investigate the cause of hundreds of fish spinning and nearly 30 dead sawfish in the Lower Florida Keys in recent months, federal and state governments will soon start a program to capture and rehabilitate sawfish and then return them to the wild.
  • Unprecedented. An rescue of this kind has never been done before in the United States.
  • No answers yet. Scientists hot on the trail of the root cause behind unprecedented sawfish deaths and spinning fish throughout the Florida Keys say they don’t have all the answers yet. But thanks to new information unearthed in a massive collaborative effort over the last three months, they could be on the right path.
LKMC may someday become a new type of  'hospital.' The Associated Press reported that as rural hospitals continue to struggle financially, a new type of hospital is slowly taking root, especially in the Southeast. No overnight beds. 
Just, well, bad. Linda Cunningham watched the new Road House movie set in the Keys, and panned it so we wouldn't have to see it
  • Mayors agree. Key West Mayor Teri Johnston didn’t much appreciate the “drug-filled and crime-ridden portrayal of the Florida Keys, and Monroe County Mayor Holly Raschein said “the only accurate depiction of the Florida Keys was their local attraction, Fred the Tree on the Seven Mile Bridge.
Neglect. Chris Hamilton used a basketball metaphor to mourn the ridership decline of the Duval Loop

Category 5 rare bird. Mark Hedden captured a photo of a pearly-eyed thrasher, that while common in much of the Caribbean, had never before been reported in North America

Our Eyes

A pearly-eyed thrasher, the first one reported in North America, seen at the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden - Mark Hedden

Previously in Key West Voices

BOCC sours on TDC Executive Director. In a candid discussion toward the end of the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting on March 20th, County Mayor Holly Raschein disclosed that Stacey Mitchell had not yet agreed to an interview that is integral to the BOCC-ordered audit of the Tourist Development Council's non-profic marketing firm, Visit Florida Keys.
  • Attorney unable to attend. Mitchell was scheduled to talk with auditors on Friday, but she cancelled because she was unable to have her attorney present at the time of the interview and the auditors would not allow the interview to be done virtually with Mitchell and her attorney, Mitchell said. “I am not refusing to talk to them,” Mitchell said. “He (her attorney) wants to be there, and he wasn’t able to be there in person.”
  • Cates wants to move forward. Commissioner Craig Cates reiterated his willingness to terminate the agreement with Mitchell. 
  • Lincoln extremely disappointed. Commissioner Michelle Lincoln expressed her frustration, and asked how much lead time is required to terminate either the employment contract with Mitchell, and / or the entire agreement with Visit Florida Keys, the non-profit hired by the TDC. It was later announced that 120 days notice is required to terminate either contract. 
  • TDC meets on March 26. The next meeting of the TDC board is scheduled for Tuesday, March 26 at 10:00 a.m. at the DoubleTree resort in Key West. Note that there  is no option to attend this meeting remotely, nor will a video be posted after the fact. An audio recording is available upon request. 
Fresh takes on takings. Earlier that day, the BOCC held the first of a series of public workshops on the potential for issuing new residential building permits in the wake of FloridaCommerce's 2023 Hurricane evacuation study of the Keys. The meeting ran for more than three hours. 
  • Mythbusting. Monroe County attorney Derek Howard's detailed presentation deconstructed the concept of 'takings,'' the Constitutional protection of  property owners from uncompensated government interference in using their property. The threat of takings liability has been used to justify a push for issuing more permits.
  • Fewer actual properties. County staffers Emily Schemper and Christine Hurley presented the result of their review of properties that might actually risk takings liability to the county. One estimate held that only 2,220 properties are prospectively eligible, far fewer than  the nearly 8,000 properties for which permits could be issued.
Weed and abortion referenda to be decided soon. The Florida Supreme Court has been reviewing the amendments’ language and must decide whether they can appear on the 2024 ballot by April 1. 

Can kicked down the road. The  planned redo of 2023 traffic study that the Monroe County Board of County Commission rejected after parts of U.S.1 received a failing grade was delayed further because signal timing improvements that were planned had not been completed, and wouldn't be done until  after peak traffic season. No new date for the study redo was part of the resolution to delay, which passed unanimously with little discussion. 
  • Failing grade overlooked. Had the BOCC accepted the 2023 study, it would have been required to suspend all new commercial development until the failing sections had been remediated. 
  • Cemex to Publix project was okayed. By rejecting the study with the failing grade. the BOCC was able to approve the new Publix for Tavernier.  
  • Florida is a holdout as one of only 10 states that has not expanded Medicaid, state and federally-funded insurance for low-income people under the Affordable Care Act.
  • But not right away. The road is long for organizers in Florida, but in every state where Medicaid expansion has gotten on the ballot, it's passed. Nearly a million petition signatures are needed to get it on the ballot in 2026, and then 60% of voters would need to approve it.
Police calls are down. Key West's Police Department has seen a steady decline in calls for service and 911 calls to dispatch over the last three months, as well as a decline in reports generated and arrests. 

An end to homeless camping? House Bill 1365, entitled “Unauthorized Public Camping and Public Sleeping” was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis
  • Clean and safe. DeSantis heavily endorsed a push to crack down on public camping in early February, standing at a podium with a sign reading “Don’t Allow Florida to Become San Francisco. DeSantis said the bill, to take effect on Oct. 1, will “help maintain and ensure that Florida streets are clean and safe for our residents.”
  • Details, details. While providing clear direction to the state as a whole on Florida’s treatment of homeless encampments moving forward, numerous clauses within the bill leave plenty of mud in the water as to how exactly it will apply in the Florida Keys.
DeSantis ready for chasin' the Haitians. Worried the chaos and violence in Haiti will trigger a surge in migrants attempting to come to the U.S. by boat, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is sending more than 250 officers and National and State Guard troops to the southern part of the state
  • Some Haitian-American leaders believe it's more about politics than preparedness.
  • So far, the Coast Guard says it has not seen an increase in the number of Haitians attempting the hazardous crossing.
Realtor's commission will likely drop. The National Association of Realtors announced it had settled an antitrust lawsuit that had claimed the organization and its real estate agents colluded with brokerage firms, pressuring home sellers to pay high commission fees to agents.
  • Commission fees will be negotiable and, according to the settlement terms, cannot be included in the MLS listing for a property. Rather, the fee must be negotiated individually for each sale with each agent.
  • In announcing the settlement, NAR did not set a new suggested commission fee, but the current 6% standard is significantly higher than the 1% and 2% commissions paid in other countries such as the U.K. and Israel, according to CNN.
Staffing companies operator sentenced to four years. In a press release, the U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Florida announced that Petr Sutka was sentenced to four years in prison for running a series of labor hospitality staffing companies that served hotels, bars and restaurants in Key West and elsewhere. 
  • The companies employed non-resident aliens not authorized to work in the United States, and did not did not report the wages to the IRS, or withhold federal income taxes and Social Security and Medicare taxes. 
  • In addition to his prison sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez ordered Sutka to serve three years of supervised release and to pay $3,551,423.84 in restitution. 
  • Sutka’s co-conspirators Vasil Khatiashvili and Zdenek Strnad are scheduled to be sentenced on April 22.
Capacity of the Keys. Keys Weekly published an opinion piece that looked at the concept of capacity beyond just the hurricane evacuation model

Did we change? Linda Cunningham said that most of us unconsciously now mark time as before and after Covid, and looked at how much did (and did not) change since then. 

Lazy asses of the hawk world. Mark Hedden considered broad-winged hawks and domesticated chickens.