26 March 2024

TDC 'nuclear option' considered - Weekly briefing - March 26, 2024

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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.  

Our Eyes

A broad-winged hawk surveys the world from atop a power pole - Mark Hedden

Previously in Key West Voices

Hospital fails Key WestLinda Cunningham followed up on last week's news about Lower Keys Medical Center, and City Commissioner Sam Kaufman's plan to form a task force to consider options ahead of the contract expiration in 2029. Kaufman reported to the City Commission last year that troubled parent company CHS pulled about $31 million in profit from Lower Keys, while closing the one cancer treatment center here. There are 63 job postings now, including physicians and surgeons, a lot of empty spots for a facility that says it has 144-200 employees.
Haitian invasion? Gov. Ron DeSantis is sending up to 133 soldiers to the Florida Keys in anticipation of a potential influx of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers from Haiti, which has been  afflicted by gang violence recently.

Publix buys Keys Plaza. Supermarket industry and commercial real estate publications reported that Publix has purchased Keys Plaza for $74 million. The site is the grocer's second Key West location (where Albertsons was), as well as the shuttered KMart store. No plans were announced in conjunction with the sale. 

City opposed North Roosevelt palm removal. The Key West City Commission approved a resolution requesting FDOT remove the guardrails from plans and maintain the palm trees. An FDOT construction project scheduled to start in 2025 calls for the removal of the palms from the end of U.S. 1 to nearly Eisenhower Drive to make room for guardrails to be installed along the path and the bay.

Golf course opposed. Overdevelopment concerns and resident demands for transparency surrounding the upcoming Florida Keys Resort at the Florida Keys Country Club property once again brought out a full house to the Marathon City Council’s March 12 session.
State funds budgeted for the Keys. Florida legislators approved a $117.5 billion budget to conclude a 60-day session in Tallahassee on March 8. Funds for a number of Florida Keys projects were included in the state spending plan, but not all requests were granted for the southernmost county. The budget awaits Gov. DeSantis' signature, subject to his line-item veto authority. 

Liveaboard rate increase postponed at Garrison Bight. After a heated debate and angry public comments, Key West city commissioners postponed for up to 90 days implementing a significant rate hike for some live-aboard boaters at the city-owned Garrison Bight Marina. The rate increase for part-time boaters docked at the marina had been scheduled to go into effect on April 1.

ROGO workshop scheduled for Key Largo. The first of a series of ROGO workshops is scheduled at for 10 a.m. on March 20 at the Murray Nelson Government Center in Key Largo. Florida Keys leaders have 10 months to respond to the state on which hurricane evacuation model is best for the island chain, a decision that will determine if or how many additional residential building permits will be issued.

Underwater speakers help restore degraded reefs. Researchers have discovered a new method that could encourage the restoration of degraded coral reef populations

Not just in Monopoly. Mandy Miles appreciated free parking in Key West after learning an expensive lesson.

Which hysterical bird? Mark Hedden is rereading Elizabeth Bishop's poems, in the hope of determining what birds were having temper tantrums.