05 March 2024

Yet another TDC audit / Sam I am... not - Weekly briefing - March 5, 2024

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Yet another TDC audit raises doubts. In the latest of its (so far) three audits of Monroe County's Tourism Development Council, the Monroe County Clerk found a lack of transparency by the TDC. Between fiscal year 2022 and 2023, TDC increased its advertising budget from $18.6 million to $30.2 million – without providing “any economic justification for such a material increase.”
  • Bidding fairness. The audit also challenged the fairness of its bidding process, questioned whether Tinsley Advertising is receiving preferential treatment, and recommended the TDC rebid the contract. Tinsley itself passed the audit. 
  • Read it yourself. Of course, you may read the entire audit here
  • Correction. Last week's KWV asserted that no recording of the TDC board meeting on February 20 was available. In fact, a link to an often poor quality audio recording of the nearly two hour meeting was readily provided to KWV upon request. KWV apologizes for the error. However, there's no mention of the recording's availability on TDC's page on the County's web site. 
Sam I am... not. Contrary to his earlier statements to local media, incumbent city commissioner Sam Kaufman confirmed that he will not run for Key West mayor and would instead remain on the commission
Local candidates appeared at Hometown Key West's Call for Candidates gathering on February 26.
Mysterious aquatic deaths. Many media outlets, including some on the mainland, are reporting on a spate of unexplained deaths of endangered sawfish in the Keys, as well as various fish species swimming upside down in circles. Theories about the cause abound, urgent research is underway and proposed, but answers remain elusive.
  • Reward offered. Federal wildlife officers responded in January to reports of an unhealthy-looking sawfish. Officers found the sawfish, beached on a shallow flat oceanside of Geiger Key, missing its saw-shaped snout. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement said it is offering a reward of up to $20,000 for information that leads to a criminal conviction or a civil penalty of whoever injured or mutilated the sawfish.  
Abortion rights heading for the ballot? Florida voters could have the chance on November 5 to protect a woman’s right to have an abortion by approving an amendment to the state constitution.
  • A statewide campaign led by Floridians Protecting Freedom collected 996,512 signatures — more than 100,000 more than the 891,523 that were needed.
  • Supreme Court review. Now the amendment language must be approved by the state Supreme Court. The court’s ruling on the Amendment 4 ballot initiative is due by April 1. The justices are not supposed to consider the merits of the case or the proposal, just the proposed ballot wording.
Cruise ship cap upheld in Federal court. Safer Cleaner Ships celebrated a Federal court ruling (by a Trump-appointed judge) upholding cruise ship restrictions approved by voters in Bar Harbor, Maine. While the ruling has no immediate impact here due to the Florida legislature's preemption of the three majority-approved referenda limiting cruise ships in Key West, SCS said that the people of Key West should "take strength from the fact that a federal judge has found clear Constitutional authority for municipalities to limit cruise ship passenger disembarkations at private facilities such as Pier B."   

Foul play is not suspected. Dexter Butler, a “beloved” teacher and basketball coach at Key West High School, was found dead in a storm drain near the school on Saturday morning, police said.

Time travel. Linda Cunningham took us back to the 1980's with her love for reading old newspapers. There's truth behind the old saw that the more things change..
  • Plus c'est la même chose... Linda gifted us this 1999 gem from the New York Times that includes a quote from recent Fantasy Fest Queen and local favorite Fran Decker.
Improving pedestrian safety. KWV guiding spirit Chris Hamilton wrote in praise of the many pedestrian safety improvements made by the City of Key West

Weird looking duck. Mark Hedden introduced us to a sexy duck, the red-breasted merganser

Daylight savings time resumes at 2:00 a.m. Sunday, March 10. Most computers and phones will automatically adjust. 

Our Eyes

Gone, But Not Forgotten - C.J. Groth

Previously in Key West Voices

No Keys homes for regular folk. In an insightful and sobering analysis of the harsh realities of home ownership here, Linda Cunningham made clear how regular folks just can't live here anymore. Her proposed remedy is worthy of your considerationEssential reading. 

TDC stands behind its suspended executive director. In the wake of a second harsh audit of Monroe County's Tourism Development Council, its board members met on February 20 in a meeting for which no remote access nor video recording was available. They defeated by a vote of 7-2 a motion to fire TDC director Stacey Mitchell made by board member and County Commissioner Craig Cates. Mitchell was earlier suspended by the TDC board, with pay, while other audits are underway. 
Probably Roman back. The BOCC approved county administrator Roman Gastesi's retirement for at least six monthsPer state law, Gastesi could come back to his position after six months, which he said he wants to do.

Public engagement plan on ROGOs. A presentation to the BOCC outlined its plan to take public input on the controversial plan to issue new residential building permits. Gastesi said it's the most important issue facing the Florida Keys.

Not just your imagination; record January traffic at EYW. Key West International Airport reported a nearly 16% increase in passenger numbers over January 2023, outpacing every January passenger count on record at the airport. 
  • AA touts low fares. As evidence of TDC and American Airline's marketing prowess, similar stories touting low fares to Key West appeared almost simultaneously in multiple publications
Dead coral. A team of researchers documented significant coral mortality from this past summer’s heatwave in Keys coral restoration sites.

Choppers grounded. Monroe County has temporarily grounded its three air ambulances after one of the Sikorski S76 helicopters made an emergency landing at Marathon International Airport.

KW staying the course? Despite the certainty of at least four new faces on the Key West City Commission later this year, sitting commissioners saw continued support for the City's major proposed projects

Controversial measles outbreak response. Florida's surgeon general garnered national attention and widespread criticism for his advice to a Florida elementary school that may leave unvaccinated children at risk of contracting one of the most contagious pathogens on Earth, according to clinicians and public health experts.

No weird ducks in the pond. Mark Hedden invited us to experience his recent visit to Ft. Zach