Let’s check in with Islamorada

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

Brian Cook has been the interim manager for a while in Islamorada. Ed Koconis took over until December 6. Kimberly Matthews will be taking over in January. All have come from Monroe County.

Gregg said, “I would be remiss if I didn’t speak out and say, just an enormous thank you to the entire Monroe County Commission, Mayor Holly Raschein especially to Roman Gastesi, the county manager, for having extended the offer. I think we the village would have really struggled if not floundered had they not done that for us.”

Maria Bassett, the finance director in Islamorada, will fill in as manager until Matthews can step in.

Gregg said, “She has served as interim manager and regular manager in the past. So we anticipate a slower holiday month, so to speak, for December. So she’s agreed to step up once again with our great thanks and appreciation and fill that gap. Both Ed and Brian who have served so far have been just wonderful and refreshing to work with. I think they’ve actually provided the village council with a little perspective, to kind of step back and look at ourselves from 30,000 feet and see what we’re doing and how we got there, and where we want to go in the future. So, overall, it was a bumpy ride to get to where we’re at, no doubt, with the departure of Ted Yates, but it’s time to move past that. We need to look forward to get back to doing the good business of the village as usual. So I’m looking forward to the new year for that purpose.”

Was the council grateful for the county stepping in?

Gregg said, “I think I can speak for the council and I would say welcomed with open arms. Because I have to be honest and say that the council has struggled a bit, struggled between ourselves and struggled in general going forward and struggled with the change that came with the last election with some of the new members getting to know and work with the old members. The county stepped in and provided in some cases, referee services. We were having some disagreements amongst ourselves. It does no good to hide the fact that we did have some problems. But it also does a lot of good to recognize those and then to reach out to each other and try to mend fences and move forward. So the interim manager program from the county was a vehicle for us to do that and it’s working, and it has worked. I’m very grateful. I can’t say it enough how happy I am to work with them and get to know them. They’re all rock stars. They just did such a good job keeping us moving forward when we were having some troubles. So I’m excited about it.”

When will there be a new village manager?

Gregg said, “The council has taken a little bit different approach to hiring a new manager here than we have in the past. Our staff put out advertisements in in the appropriate places where village manager candidates would look. There’s resources that they look to when they’re looking for positions. We advertised in those venues, rather than hire an executive search professional, some people call them headhunters. We didn’t do the headhunter route this time.”

There were about 46 applicants that were whittled down to nine and Zoom interviews were planned. The number eventually dropped to eight.

Gregg said, “We got to see here and speak with eight of them and we have all submitted a shortlist of those that we would like to actually bring down and have interviews with which I think will occur around the 15th of January, somewhere in that week. From there, we should be able to select a winner from that and they’re good. I was impressed with the quality of the applicants that we got. We had very good interviews. So I’ve got some optimism that we’re going to do good this time. And it will be someone that we’ve selected by collaboration rather than by combat as we have done in the past. I’m really excited to have a fresh start with the new manager in the new year. So I would expect by early spring we should be up and running at full steam ahead with the new manager.”

There was discussion at the November 7 meeting of Islamorada Council to move a voter referendum forward to limit the term of a council member to eight years.

Gregg said it “would limit a council person’s maximum time of service to eight years, whether it’s consecutive, or there’s intervals in between. The part that I had an issue with was that it was retroactive. So that would have had an impact on me and one or two other prior council members. So I think we’ve had some discussions that we haven’t voted on it yet. But based on the discussion it looks like that there may be a compromise in the works that could make us all happy, which would be instead of having to vote in in the primary coming up in March, which is how it was originally done, it’s likely and I’m doing a little prediction here, but it’s likely that that would occur next November, of course, coinciding with the national presidential election and all the other big elections. So we would get a more broader base turnout from the voting population, rather than the narrow focused one that we would have had as the Republican primary. So I liked that part. I was concerned that prior council members who may have termed out have a wealth of knowledge that could be beneficial to the village in the future in whatever kind of a circumstance and we did have a council member resign a few years ago, and the Council for the balance of the term, selected a former council member to step in, and that that was really good. That’s somebody who already knows how everything works and doesn’t have a learning curve and can step right in and continue without interruption for the balance of the unfulfilled term. So I just wanted the public to have that option open. But we’ll see. Whatever the public wants is what we’ll get, and that’ll be fine with me.”

How do things look for the council moving forward?

Gregg said, “I’ll tell you very candidly, I have high optimism that we’re going to kind of, as people like to say, get our act together and we will be able to function as adults, which we haven’t always done in the past. But you get into disputes with people, or you have disagreements and at some point, you realize, hey, we’re going backwards here, let’s stop. Let’s take a look at what’s going on and let’s listen to each other and figure out what’s the best foot forward. Taking on a new village manager and coming into a new year, we have some strategic planning that we need to do, and Kimberly’s going to be a huge resource to help us with that, and get that party started. Then we’ll look at our comp plan and our land development regulations and our code in general, which that’s the source of a lot of the issues that we have. I don’t know if it’s just something intangible, but I have a sense, a feeling, a hunch, whatever you want to call it, just from some of the more recent conversations we’ve had, that I think we’ve all calmed down, we’ve all accepted the new reality of our seats on the council and our manager status and all the other issues going on. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and put our differences behind us and really focus on what the people put us there to do, which was get the work done. So instead of kind of being the snickers, and jokes, people tune in to watch council meetings for the entertainment value, and that’s not what we want. We want to make them proud of us for what we do. I feel real confident that that’s going to start happening first of the year, and going forward. So that’s going to be my approach at any rate, and I’m going to do my best to steer us in that direction.”

The fact that the Sunshine Law prevents council members from speaking outside of meetings could make things difficult.

Gregg said, “It has, to a degree, but the Sunshine Law is not a blanket prohibition on speaking to each other. The councilmembers can’t be prohibited from speaking to each other. We can talk about things. First of all, if we’ve already voted something, and it’s not likely to come back, we can talk about that. We learned from each other about that. That’s good. It helps to build relationships, but other things that that are not necessarily going to get voted on, we’re free to talk about that as well. So it does take a little getting used to and you have to be super mindful of the proper recourse and rules and limitations and be careful with that. I wouldn’t say it’s hard to do, but I do say you have to keep your mind on that while you’re talking because it’s really easy to let it drift. The Sunshine Law is just another requirement that we have and there are some off limits areas, and they’re well known and defined, and we just stay away from there. Otherwise, it’s fine. I don’t worry about it too much.”

Last week Gregg attended the South Florida Regional Planning Council’s Climate Change Conference in Miami Beach with some of his other council members.

He said, “I would just say, it’s not all bad news. There is some good news. There’s time to do things at the local level, state level, regional level, national and global level. It is a fact that change is coming and so if we act in advance, in anticipation of it rather than reacting after it’s already occurred, I think that there’s a great chance that things will be under control and we won’t be underwater and we’ll be able to deal with it. But the thing I learned that was most surprising to me is when I think of climate change, I think of water and flooding, which is a big part of it, but the major thing is heat. They showed some statistics and some data, how the heat has gone up. The temperatures are rising here in South Florida and every year, it’s a little more and a little more and started maybe 150 years ago, and the industrial revolution on Europe and it’s likely to continue. So we just get involved with that and take some actions to counter those things and change how the some of the causes that we’ve created from that, I think there’s hope that we’ll do well in the future. I just encourage people to pay attention to that and look into it.”