Islamorada has a new Village Manager

Mark Gregg, Councilman from the Village of Islamorada, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the village.

The village officially has a new village manager.

Gregg said, “We did approve a contract with our brand spanking new village manager Robert Cole. The terms of that agreement are virtually identical to the one with that we had with Ted Yates with the exception that Mr. Cole did not have a need for a relocation expense. So little bit better for the village financially. He was approved 5-0 and we’re super, super happy to have him on board. He I think he’s going to be a great fit for Islamorada. He even started working before he got started, he was meeting people and talking to people and going around town and learning about all the different parts of the village. So that is a very exciting new development giving some of the bumpy road we just went over with village manager issues.”

What is Cole’s background?

Gregg said, “He has over 30 years of municipal governance experience. The lifespan of a city manager is usually very short, three, four, five years. Mr. Cole is the exception in the sense that he’s only worked in two places. I think his original place where he’s from in the Chicago area was Oak Park, Illinois. I’m not familiar with it. I’ve never been there. But I’m told it’s a nicer community. He wanted to have a career change after, 18 years or something like that, a long term there. So he relocated to Scarsdale, New York, which I also understand is a very nice community and he was there eight or nine years and then to Florida. So he’s been living in Florida, up in the central part of the state. He has some family going to school up there. So it was an easy shift for him to move south. It’s just he and his wife. He is an empty nester. A father of four, very proud of his very successful children. He’s looking forward to I hope finishing his government career here in the keys with Islamorada.”

What is Cole thinking about in terms of priorities going forward?

Gregg said, “I have had extensive conversations with him. First of all, he has a very pleasant personality, he is easy to talk to. He is well educated, lots of experience. When you use the old expression checks all the boxes, he does that for me. But on a more specific level, in discussing how he might address certain problems or how he plans to make improvements, he has a very measured approach to things. I believe that he’s going to just be observing right now carefully upfront, he’ll make adjustments along the way. But it’s some point, he’s going to have to kind of step back and just say, okay, here’s what I want to do and then he’ll do it. He works for the village council, but he has full authority to run the village and the staff as he sees fit without conflicting with our policies and instructions. He’s very businesslike, he has a lot of experience. He is a serious person, but you can have a very casual friendly conversation with him. So the best of both worlds in that regard. So I have high expectations, and that’s why I picked him right up front is the guy I wanted to be our manager. So far, he has lived up to all of my expectations. So I’m excited to see how he goes forward here.”

The finance manager recently tendered her resignation.

Gregg said, “I cannot think of a single person who has done more for longer in the village employee area than Maria Bassett. She’s been with us over 10 years, she has served as the financing director and then whenever we’ve had a call to duty, she stepped in as manager and interim manager, and I’ve lost count, I think it was at least four times and maybe five. She recently passed whatever the point of qualification is for her retirement vesting, and so she’s probably taking advantage of that. I know she has some family up north that she’s looking to connect with. So I don’t really know all of her plans, but I can tell you that she will be sorely missed. I for one, as a council member, and personally, cannot say enough good things about all that she’s done. When we’ve had trouble she was the first one to step up and take on addressing the problem. So my thanks to her. I know that the village is grateful for all of her long term dedication to service.”

The state of Florida a few years ago created a resiliency program.

Gregg explained, “In layman’s terms, that means how we’re going to address climate change and sea level rise. It’s a very calculated, precise program, which begins with a study called the vulnerability study, where we go around and we learn about where we need to focus our resources first, kind of a triage thing, what’s the most important, medium important and lowest importance? They look at things like how high above flood is village hall? Because that’s where we operate from, and then all of our infrastructure, facilities, roads, sewage, water, all of that. Then ultimately down to the resident level, where, how it’s going to affect people how they get to and from their homes, when the roads may flood. What happens if we really get a big hurricane? Are we going to make some changes? Are we going to rebuild in place, or we’re going to move people up to higher ground or not rebuild? I mean, there’s a ton of considerations. It’s very scientific, I will say that, we hired a firm to conduct a vulnerability study, which is required by the state’s regulations, in order for the village to qualify for the billions of dollars in grant money that’s available to spend on these problems. So they’re nearing the end of that, they the consulting firm that did this for us. They gave a presentation at a workshop, I think week before last and then a summary of that at the village council meeting. We saw some interesting slides up on the screen about what the village may look like about 75 years from now, and the water is going to get higher, and we’re going to have more stronger storms. We need to pay attention to that and make some prudent decisions as far as how we want to live here going forward. I’m told that all of this is going to be available on our website once the refinements to the study is finished. We paid a lot of money for it. So, the public needs to take a look at that and start thinking about it, planning long term right now. So that’s what I’m interested in.”

What about the sawfish maladies? Has Islamorada seen anything?

Gregg said, “I have not heard of anything. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen here. But I’ve not heard of anything comparable to what I’ve read in the media about the sawfish and other things that are happening down in Key West and the Lower Keys. It’s absolutely horrifying and heartbreaking to hear about it and to see it in the media. I hope they figure out what’s going on. I read some things online about what the state, they’re are asking people to report in if they have any information about these incidents, so I don’t know what’s going on. It’s getting kind of crazy and hopefully, it’s just an anomaly. And it’ll pass and they’ll recover and we’ll get back to normal on that. But fortunately, not yet in the Upper Keys, nothing yet that I know of.”

There will be all five council seats up for election this year.

Gregg said, “We’ve also proposed some charter amendments, which would extend the term from two years into four and then would provide for staggered terms. So that would in my personal opinion, that would resolve some of the issues we’ve had with well, longevity of managers for one, and then stability of government number two, and then having somebody around who has some background knowledge instead of a fresh new group of new council members if we had a complete turnover like we did in 2020. So those are election related things. The village council has passed some ordinances that are a prerequisite to putting that on the ballot, and then it will be up to the voters to decide if they want that or not. So it’s a little bit of a wait and see. But that’ll be exciting if it happens. I would be remiss if I didn’t reach out and give a huge thank you to the Monroe County Commission and the Monroe County staff for helping us through. They realized that we were struggling with a village manager absence and they offered to have a series of three different interim managers fill in Brian Cook, Ed Koconis, and now we just finishing with Kimberly Matthews, all three of them did a fantastic job and kept us afloat, kept us moving forward and kept us stable. So I can’t thank them enough for having done that. It was Roman Gastesi, the recently retired county manager, he put all that together and made it happen for us. So we are eternally grateful for that.”