July 25 – After less than a year on the job, Islamorada Village Manager Ted Yates’ contract will not be renewed after a 3-2 vote from Islamorada Village Council recently.
At the meeting, a number of staff members, residents and businesses stood up in support of Yates, but when the vote came down, three council members decided the manager’s tenure.
Yates came to the Keys from Ohio where he was the mayor of a small town. He and his wife moved to the islands and purchased a home here.
Yates made a point to be very active in the community.
Yates said, “I think when I took this position, evaluating whether my wife and I were going to basically sell everything that we owned and move down to the Keys, it was much more of a life decision than it was a professional decision. I was in a really great spot up in my community, had been there in local government for probably 14 years, and just tremendous support. Coming down here, I knew it was going to be challenging, and felt that long term, I could really make a difference and ultimately look back and say, this is what I have done and this is how I changed what has been.”
Islamorada has had trouble maintaining a village manager for a while now.
Yates said, “Just the way the council was elected, their election cycle, there’s just a lot of things that really could be looked at, and deeper. I thought we were on a path to do that. Really, today is not about me. I mean, I’d like to just talk about the community. We just we have such an amazing community down here. I say we now because I feel like I’m part of it. This is I think even though it’s been a year, a place that my wife and I call home and hopefully have an opportunity to stay here. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to be part of Islamorada and what I think is ultimately going to be changes in both the government and the community’s perspective of that as well as, a lot of the surrounding areas in terms of how they view Islamorada.”
Where does the village go from here?
Yates said, “I’m not real sure. What’s happened in the last few weeks with my role, from the people I’ve talked to, it never really happened in terms of just sort of an awakening the silent majority to say we’ve kind of had enough. I hope that through all that’s happened and the collateral damage that’s gone on with me personally and then within the residents, that something positive comes out of it. I’ve never wanted anything but the best for Islamorada, its residents. Especially with staff. I mean the staff, the culture and morale when I came in was probably some of the lowest that’s been shared with me that it’s ever been. We have such wonderful people doing just an amazing job on a day to day basis behind the scenes that get very little recognition. I think we’ve been able to come to a point where we’re all having fun coming to work and really getting all the job’s done that need to make Islamorada special. All those services and all the amenities and everything that people enjoy in terms of the quality of life is because of the staff that are out in those trucks and sitting in offices and in village hall and running the grounds because they’re the ones that really I think, by this decision is going to be impacted more than more than anyone. I hope that, ultimately, something good comes out of this, whether I’m part of it or not part of it. I’m concerned right now we’re in the heart of hurricane season, we’ve got budget hearings coming up in about a week and a half. We have the year end closings. We have just a lot of things happening. I will do whatever I can to help this transition, both for the staff and for the community as a whole.”
Mike Stapleford of KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM noted, “I will say on a personal note, anytime I’ve met you or observed you, I have certainly observed the utmost professionalism, decorum, and you continue to conduct yourself that way, despite the recent events. You obviously still care very deeply about the village of Islamorada. I hope that people take note of that, as well.”
Some of the issue could be development – some people would like to see development in the village and others would not.
Yates said, “There are a lot of different agendas, potentially political agendas that are really going on behind the scenes. Islamorada has done a very good job over the years, when I look back historically, and I look at our zoning codes, and I look at how things have operated here of balancing that environmental protection along with just constitutional property rights and development and being able to help guide that in a way that they both can kind of meet and coexist. It’s really difficult to try to draw a line and say, one side’s pro-environmental one side’s predevelopment. I don’t see that. The division of council currently, in terms of supporting me and not supporting me, that seem to be the labels, but that’s not the case. When you look at councilmen on both sides, I think they’ve supported projects on the development side, and then they’ve also stood up for the environmental side, no matter which side of this argument that you’re on. So I think just moving forward this is a healing of council and their relationships, both with each other and the community more than it is that type of division. I ran this organization in a way that I felt was going to make it more productive, more efficient and provide better service to the residents. Unfortunately, there were some hard decisions that that had to be made, but that’s what I was tasked to do. I have no regrets about any decisions I made. I think ultimately, they needed to happen. I’ve been doing this a long time, and the community I came from was larger. I had eight unions I dealt with, which made things a little more challenging, but, there’s a level of professional respect that we all need for one another. Unfortunately, some of the relationships that I had with council, were very challenged and I apologize for things that I may have done that limited that relationship, but I think, ultimately, we just need time together to build that. That’s what I was hoping for. I spent a lot of time talking to council about how the stability of our local government here to have five council members running every two years, is just not healthy for any long term consistency and how we how we do things and had long conversations about how we change that and how we need to show the community that look, we’re moving in the right path, you need to embrace that, and help us make those kinds of changes. It was difficult for me, I’ve only been given one year to help facilitate a lot of the long term things that need to go on here. Right now, there’s probably zero chance of any real changes in how council are elected. It’s been overwhelming to my wife and I. I had a lot of support and I had a lot of people that we were very close to, in my role as Mayor of Ohio, but the way this community has come out and just kind of wrapped their arms around both of us from love and support, and basically told us, you’re not going anywhere. So we’re trying to figure out what God has planned for us next, but it’s really comforting to know that we have that kind of support here. I think ultimately, the division between our current council members is much deeper than just the context of environmental and development. If you’ve been in local politics long enough, you can kind of read through the lines and see what’s happening. I hope that they can work through it and find a way to build those relationships with each other. They can disagree, they just need to have a shared vision, they need to have a shared path of moving forward.”
Did the non-renewal of the contract come as a surprise?
Yates said, “I think it did come as a surprise to me. We had been having challenges with a couple of my relationships with council members, both before and after any staffing changes that I made. But I had faith that we would work through those. It’s like a marriage. You can’t go through a year, five years or 10 years or 20 years of a marriage without having ups and downs and having to work through challenging times. I think that’s the same in this kind of role and especially as small as this community is. I came down here all in. I get involved. I get engaged. I’ve met almost every one in the business community. That’s just what I felt I needed to do both, because I wanted to make this my home and second because I think it’s my role as a village manager. I don’t know where things go for now. I had some things lined up that I was hoping to try to do some team building and some workshops with council that could try to bring them together and closer and I would have loved an opportunity to do that because I think no matter whether I’m sitting in this seat or not, those things need to be done.”
What is next for Yates and his wife?
He said, “I’ve been talking with a lot of people, looking at different options. I love the public sector. I love what I do, as crazy as people think I am for saying that. I still love this job. I love touching the lives of residents on a daily basis. I had opportunities to potentially do different things at higher levels, but the more you move up, the more detached you get from your residents and locally. I love doing what I do. I don’t know really what’s next. I kind of trust God to point me in the right direction. He always has. A lot of times in my life when one door closes, two open.”
A recent lunch brought a very timely message.
Yates said, “I had a friend that took me out for lunch yesterday, just to get away from Islamorada. He kind of showed me around and we went to this hotel and there was a bellman, greeter up front, just full of joy. We went in and walked around, came back out and he said, look, you guys, I feel the need to share this with you today. He opened up a notebook and he said, here’s a poem that I have. He said do you know Bear Bryant? I’m like, absolutely. He said Bear Bryant read this poem, every single day of his life, as soon as he woke up in the morning, and then he read it to us. As much as I know about Alabama football, I did not know this.”
This is the poem by Dr. Heartsill Wilson called “A New Day”:
This is the beginning of a new day.
God has given me this day to use as I will.
I can waste it or use it for good,
but what I do today is important
because I am exchanging a day of my life for it.
When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever,
leaving in its place something that I have traded for it.
I want it to be gain and not loss; good and not evil;
success and not failure; in order that I shall not
regret the price I have paid for it.
Yates said, “I just told him, you have no idea what’s going on in my life, and how I’ll never forget what you did today. This man gave me a hug and as we went on about our day, just reflecting back, it’s just these are little things in life that probably leads back to the question, do you know what you’re going to do next? I don’t think, but I have faith that I’ll wake up the next day and hopefully do something good.”
Stapleford said, “Faith will certainly get you there and at moments like that, restore your faith in humanity, there are good people out there.”
Yates said, “Thank you so much for all that you’ve done and allowing me to be on the show and share with you over the past year.”