21 May 2024

Fired TDC director to sue | Arrested developments - Weekly briefing - May 21, 2024

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Fired TDC director to file suit. Stacey Mitchell, who was fired from her leadership position at Monroe County's Tourist Development Council in the wake of unfavorable audits, will file a wrongful termination lawsuit sometime this year, according to her attorney.
Tavernier CEMEX / Publix development derailed by the state. In a surprising ruling, Florida's Department of Commerce, Division of Community Development filed an order rejecting the plan for an overlay zoning district that was approved by the BOCC in February
  • Inconsistent. The order said that the special zoning district, created to allow the major development to circumvent land development restrictions, was inconsistent with development limits under provisions the Florida Keys Area of Critical State Concern designation. 
  • Staff opposed. County planning staff had recommended denial of the proposal due to its inconsistency with the goals and objectives of the Tavernier Livable CommuiKeys Plan, which guides development in the area from Tavernier Creek to MM 97. 
Casa Marina development delayed. After hearing strenuous objections by many residents of the Casa Marina neighborhood, the Key West city commission voted to postpone its decision on a zoning change request by the resort's owners until the Nov. 14 commission meeting, when four of seven members of the commission will be newly elected. 
  • New transient licenses sought. Park Hotels & Resorts is promising they’ll rebuild the employee housing on one of the parcels if they can build six new buildings on the other parcel with 23 new hotel rooms, requiring new transient licenses that have not been newly issued in Key West for more than a decade.
$300 million bond issue to go to Key West voters. Key West voters in November will be asked to approve issuance of $300 million in general obligation bonds, which will be funded by increased property taxes. 
  • Approved by the commission. The city commission on May 9 voted to give preliminary approval to the ballot question, although a second reading is required next month before it is formally placed on the ballot. 
  • Potential projects could include a new fire station on Kennedy Drive, renovations to the police station, revitalization of Mallory Square, replacement of the Martin Luther King Community Pool, Bayview Park renovation and addition of a splash pad, and several road-raising, draining improvement projects.
Third candidate files for KW City Commission District 6. Local attorney and Bahama Village resident Marci L. Rose entered the race for the commission seat that Clayton Lopez is vacating due to his term limit. She faces candidates Aaron J Castillo and Thaddeus Cohen in the August primary. The top two vote-getters would then square off in November, unless a candidate gets over 50% of the vote to win outright in August.  

  • Concerned residents. The appointments come in the wake of a packed meeting this month at which residents shared concerns that many of their health needs — including cancer care — aren’t being met.
$35 million of TDC funds for workforce housing. The BOCC approved an ordinance and policy change, so if and/or when the governor signs a bill, the county can move forward on putting $35 million in Tourist Development Council funds toward affordable housing projects. The funds would be restricted to housing for tourism industry employees, in a sense a taxpayer subsidy for the tourism industry. 

Increased trash cost. The BOCC tentatively agreed to increase the residential trash rate by as much as 20% (in unincorporated Monroe County), 10% more than staff recommended, for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

New Seven Mile bridge considered. State transportation officials hosted a meeting about replacing or conducting major repairs to the Keys’ iconic bridge. Any such work would be years away. 

But no climate change in Florida. Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation to eliminate climate change as a priority in making energy policy decisions, despite the threats it faces from powerful hurricanes, extreme heat and worsening toxic algae blooms. The measure also removes most references to climate change in state law, bans offshore wind turbines in state waters and weakens regulations on natural gas pipelines.

Florida GOP opposes weed. The Florida Republican Party officially decided to oppose Amendment 3, the constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would legalize recreational cannabis for adults 21 years and older. 

Rock star. Mandy Miles told us how the tax collector's rock star auditor and a software tool have identified tax cheats and enabled collection of more than $400,000 in unpaid bed tax, interest and penalties - in less than a year

Hedden double header. Because of delayed posting of links, we have two columns today from marvelous Mark Hedden, from May 14 and 17. 
Fond appreciation. Every seat was filled at Williams Hall for the community's celebration of the life of Shirley Freeman

Our Eyes

Frangipani Hornworm - Liz Acar

Previously in Key West Voices

Cans kicked down the road. The Key West City Commission, ahead of August and November elections that will result in four new commission members (out of seven), postponed until November two votes on issues facing vocal local opposition

Yet another TDC audit released. Following three problematic audits of Monroe County's Tourist Development Council by the County Clerk's office, the audit of the tourist-tax funded entity commissioned by the County Commission itself was released
  • Nothing new. The audit, which cost roughly $375,000, reiterated previous concerns of the other audits, which looked at the relationships between TDC’s contractor Visit Florida Keys (VFK) and public relations firm NewmanPR and advertising firm Tinsley Advertising & Marketing.
  • Improper and excessive spending. “Based on our study and analysis of the documents and information provided... personnel, at the direction of and/or under the supervision of VFK former Marketing Director Stacey Mitchell, caused improper and excessive expenditures to be paid and failed to adhere to established policies and procedures,” according to the audit.
Insurrectionists among us plead guilty. A Marathon couple await sentencing after pleading guilty for their roles in the U.S. Capitol riots on Jan. 6, 2021.

  • State Attorney Dennis Ward, Public Defender Robert Lockwood, and County Judge James “Jimmy” Morgan III all were unopposed by the noon deadline on April 26. 
Follow-up - sawfish rescue case detailed. Following reports last week that a rescued smalltooth sawfish had been euthanized in captivity, Keys Weekly ran a detailed narrative of the rescue attempt and euthanasia decision amid continued uncertainty about the cause of the unprecedented die-off. 
Canal restoration photo-op. Monroe County Mayor Holly Merrill Raschein viewed canal restoration efforts in Key Largo. Restoration includes backfilling the canal to raise its bottom to an optimum depth of about 7 feet to allow maximum flushing and tidal flow.

San Carlos ownership disputed. Duval Street's San Carlos Institute, built by Cuban exiles in the 19th century during Cuba's struggle for independence from Spain, is in the midst of a legal battle over its ownership.

Prepared. Linda Cunningham was all ready for the challenges of her annual camping trip to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas