Key West City Commission meetings are busy times

Key West Mayor Teri Johnson joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the city.

The last city commission meeting saw a lot of business take place.

Johnston said, “It was without controversy. It was including adult conversations and we got through every single issue. Not that we agree on all, but I think in the evening session, some of the ordinances needed some input from critical departments in the city of Key West. So what we did was we passed it on first reading, with the promise that those departments would be folded in, and by the time the second reading was in front of us, which will be another two months to give them time to, to garner input, that we will have a really solid ordinance in front of us that has as few unintended consequences as feasible. So we’re looking forward to that. We got a lot of business done in and in the evening session, we invited back Commissioner Hoover, who had been gone with some medical issues. She joined us by Zoom in the morning, but was there in person in the evening. We were without Commissioner Lopez, who underwent some heart surgery this this past week, and he’s doing very well. Commissioner Weekley was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras festivities. So hopefully, our next Commission, we will have a full cadre of elected officials.”

There are a number of big projects that are moving forward, including the Mallory Square and Duvall Street projects.

Johnston said, “They are huge projects. They are multi year, multi millions and millions of dollars. But the Duvall Street is one of those streets that we have not put any significant infrastructure improvements in that street in 53 years and it is showing it. We’re flooding on the lower three blocks of Duvall in sunny days and we just we need to bite the bullet and make those improvements so that street is prepared for the climate change to come and also is going to provide a livable income for businesses that are going to be coming down to Duvall Street for years to come. Right now I understand that the current merchants don’t want any disruption in service and we’re certainly working with our outside consulting agencies to make sure that that happens. But we need to put some money in there. We need to be prepared. If we’re not looking at that we’re really sticking our head in the sand.”

The Key West City Commission is getting behind a resolution opposing the state legislation looking to prohibit the citizens review boards for law enforcement.

Johnston said, “We had terrific support. In fact, Chief Brandenburg got up and he was one of the largest supporters. He said it’s a needed check and balance in our system. What it’s done is it’s made our Key West Police Department a better, more effective department. They work very well with the citizens review board. It’s an independent board and it must always stay an independent board so politics doesn’t enter the scene here. But they work very well with the police department. They point out perceived weaknesses, and the chief either agrees or disagrees and takes care of them. In fact, he gave us an example at our commission meeting about how the CRB presented some areas of needed improvement and the chief went out and got every one of his officers trained in that area. So it’s a win win for our community.”

The park and ride agreement also went through at the commission meeting without discussion.

Johnston said, “We had three or four major ordinances that have to do with our land development regulations, and building codes and things of that nature and we got those discussed. We did have some public comment on Garrison Bight because we had passed a resolution several months ago regarding the rate structure at Garrison Bight and that was to move it more towards workforce housing. So right now, Vice Mayor Kaufman is in meetings with our city manager Al Childress and a group of Garrison Bight residents so that we can come to a consensus there and try and meet in the middle. So that’s in the process. They spoke, they were very respectful, but pointed out their viewpoint. It will come back to the city now and I believe we’ll probably have a compromise coming up.”

The State of the City address that Johnston gave at the beginning of the year was the sixth address of her tenure.

She said, “I really focused on our residents on what it takes to become a livable community. We are doing several things right. We are providing public spaces in places to recreate and free events for our children and our families. But we’ve got a whole lot more to do before we can rest on our laurels. One of them has been a chronic situation on a two by four Island, and that’s our housing. Our housing stock hasn’t changed much, but the use of our housing stock has, and as we move it more towards vacation rentals, and second, third, fourth and fifth homes, that has to come from somewhere, that housing stock comes from somewhere. Unfortunately, many times it comes from our long term rentals that happen to be housing our labor force. It’s one of the things that we cannot stress enough is that we need a labor force, we need a quality labor force in order to provide the product that we want to provide in welcoming in over 3 million guests a year. So it’s something that we’ve got to be highly sensitive to. One of the issues that I pointed out in there is the fact that in 2007, a charter amendment was created that prohibits the city of Key West from acquiring real property. Many people may not understand the impact that that has to us. But several times a year, the Chief of Police has a drug house that they have taken possession of it, and chief comes to Al Childress and Al says I’m sorry, Chief, I can’t take that house, that house that we could turn into affordable workforce housing, either for our employees or for the labor force out there, we can’t even accept it without going out for a public referendum, which takes months at a cost of between $40,000 to $60,000. So I’m sure that there was probably a valid reason for that charter amendment to be created in 2007. However, that’s a real hindrance to us moving forward providing housing, not only for our employees, but for our labor force.”

How can people get involved to change that?

Johnston said, “I anticipate there will be a referendum on the ballot and hopefully because it’s such a critical issue, we will be on the November ballot this year. As elected officials, we can’t sell pro or con, we can just educate. We have to educate as to what the impact is to our affordable housing, and that’s what we will be doing.”