Florida Keys Day went well in Tallahassee

Teri Johnston, the mayor of Key West, joined KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM yesterday morning to talk about what’s been going on in the city.

Florida Keys Day in the legislature went well.

Johnston said, “We had two appropriations that we were requesting. One is for the Caroline Street Roadway improvement and if you’ve ever been down Caroline Street, particularly down around the corner of Elizabeth and Caroline, it is very lying. So we were asking for a budget request of $800,000 for a $2.8 million project which we are going to fund about 77% of and then our second appropriation was for the southernmost point for a seawall repair, and to raise that road, make that road one way, put some benches, some landscaping there to really make it the tourist destination that we know it is. It’s the I think the second most photo photographed spot in the United States. So we did not make the House Appropriations, we did not make their budget on either one of these projects. But Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez came through for us and both of the projects that made the Senate budget. The governor cut about $4 billion out of the budget before appropriations were made. So people were doing a lot of scrambling around in Tallahassee. So we really worked Tallahassee hard, and I’m hoping that it will come through for the city of Key West to alleviate some of the burden on our residents.”

What were some of the other priorities?

Johnston said, “First of all, to change that language at the land authority level. We have been talking about the 3.2 and the 28 home ownership units there, 14 of those have language in there that require somebody to qualify every single year, to be able to stay in those units. So we wanted to get that language taken out and have them qualify once at the time of purchase. So again, Ana Maria Rodriguez and Jim Mooney have put that language in the Live Local bill. That is moving through. We also wanted to change the language for the TDC to take a one time $25 million excess budget out of there for affordable workforce housing that is geared right towards those people who are employed by the tourism industry. So that is moving through also. From 2007, we have charter language in there, which prohibits the city of Key West from acquiring any type of land or property without first going out for a public referendum. A public referendum takes months and months and months, and it costs anywhere from $40,00 to $60,000 to get on the ballot. What that does to us is that really eliminates our ability to acquire properties. Perry Court came on the market for several million dollars less than what we actually paid for it. But we couldn’t respond quick enough to that. Right now, our police department is seizing drug houses and like the County, the county can go and acquire those drug houses and fix them up and put their employees in as employee workforce housing. We can’t do that. We have to go out for public referendum. So what we’re trying to do is get that language changed, so that we can actually react to the market to acquire some more affordable workforce housing, not only for our own employees here at the city of Key West, but for every employee in the city.”

There are also other issues that will likely be ongoing discussions throughout the session.

Johnston said, “Vacation rentals are back up there, they’re taking a look at those they would like to regulate those from Tallahassee. Again, we’ve got another flag bill that comes up prohibiting us from flying certain flags. So, the preemptions are still coming. It’s one of the things that we made loud and clear is that we have so many big issues, stop spending time and money on the smaller issues that are normally overturned in the courts, that we were spending a lot of time on that upset people, really focus on what we got in front of us, which is, skyrocketing insurance costs, a lack of quality housing, sea level rise in many of our communities, we got some major issues. That’s really what we would like our legislators to focus on end and really allow us to govern our own towns.”

Disbanding the citizen review boards for law enforcement was also a topic of discussion.

Johnston said, “I have a resolution that’s being brought forward at our next City Commission meeting opposing that, because we’ve got a great CRB and they work wonderfully with our police department, and to disband those I think would be a real disservice to every community that has worked hard to set up one.”

Johnston announced last week that she will not be seeking re-election after more than 14 years of service.

She said, “It’s probably one of the most difficult decisions that I have made in my adult life. But I sat down with my campaign team, and we took a look at our campaign promises over the years since 2007. Our campaign projections, every single one of them have either been completed or they are in the works right now in the city of Key West. So we’re feeling really good about our accomplishments and the way that we have governed and it is time for some new young people to take the helm. I have said for years that the city of Key West has not been a representative government of the people, about 90 to 95% of our residents have come from somewhere else. So we really need to have commissioners, and a mayor that actually represent that, represent the people of Key West who were working and keeping this a vibrant community. I’m going to work hard at bringing in new young candidates, candidates that have families, candidates that are willing to serve on a City Commission and candidates that are really going to going to represent our demographics. So I’m going to work hard between now and August to get those people to step forward. It is tough. I mean, I don’t think anybody out there, would say that it’s easy to be in politics in 2024. But it is such a worthwhile position. It’s a noble position. Done right, you can sleep every night if you are representing the majority of the people for the long term, then you are doing things right. Then you need to put your head into the ring. Because it really is a terrific position.”

Mike Stapleford of KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM said, “We certainly have admired your passion, your energy, your commitment to the city of Key West over the years.”

Johnston said, “I will remain very involved in the city of Key West. You can be assured of that and I was able to accomplish it because of people like you, people that got the message out, that actually informed the community of what we were trying to do, what our obstacles are, where we’ve been successful and where we failed. You have to get the right information out because social media is a haven for misinformation. Anybody that’s pulling all their information from social media, at least, we have an opportunity to negate that and correct the information to avenues like your station.”

Stapleford said, “We certainly have tried to be responsible, but it’s a two way street. Our gratitude is certainly very sincere, in you being accessible to us all the time. That benefits the public and the constituents as well.”