Let’s talk with Patti McLauchlin as she prepares for retirement

Patti McLauchlin, the retiring City Manager of Key West, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM yesterday morning to talk about where she goes from here.

The new City Manager Al Childress began in April.

McLauchlin said, “He and I started working together six weeks before that. You know, every week we would have Zoom meetings and things of that sort. So yeah, retiring city manager soon, less than about 30 days out and I’m looking forward to the next chapter in my life.”

Family will be a priority from here on out, particularly the grandchildren.

She said, “Actually family starts coming in on Sunday. I have sisters and nieces and grandchildren and sons and daughter in law so it’s going to be a great 10 day celebration. The 23rd is a little retirement get together. So stop by and say hello.”

Through McLauchlin’s tenure, there were some issues to work through.

She said, “There were moments. You know, we went through the pandemic together. I was not city manager that time, but I was assistant city manager. Whether we all agreed on some of the decisions we made, we were in the room, we made them together and we went forward. I have to say it was a good group. I learned a lot as assistant city manager to help me in the role of city manager. It was a tough time, with that going on. Of course we had the cruise ship situation. There were some times we had to keep moving forward. You just grin and bear it and you open up that door and you move forward and stick with the decision.”

McLauchlin has been with the city in one role or another for 45 years. She began as a police dispatcher.

She recalled, “My sister was here. I came to visit her. She was with the military. Her husband was in the Navy at that time. I came to visit and I wasn’t sure about it, but I ended up never going back to South Carolina. My son was a little over a year. He had asthma at that time. I brought him to Key West because of the weather. We sort of got sand in our shoes at that time and loved it and he grew up in this community. I have a lot to be grateful for for the city of Key West.”

McLauchlin went from dispatcher to records and records supervisor.

She said, “We didn’t have a computer system at that time and we had a computer gentleman come in and put together a computer system and I would go to his office and ask him 40,000 questions. Finally after about six months, he said alright, I need a part time person. So actually most days I work after my shift from five to seven to learn the computer. That’s where my start came from. I had some opportunities to learn and grow. So I will be forever grateful to the leadership of city of Key West to allow me to do that and live in this wonderful community we call paradise.”

A dispatcher was quite different at the time.

McLauchlin said, “Manual system all the way. One of the things that I am most proud of, in the records department, I started the computers, going from manual to the electronic and purchased software and things of that sort. So I have seen it grow in the computers were old and here we are today. I’m very proud of the IT department. We have a good group and I’m very proud of what we’ve done at City Hall with audio. I’ve had the opportunity to move some things in the City of Key West and with great help. I didn’t do it by myself. I have a great team all the way.”

There have been a lot of changes in Key West over 45 years.

McLauchlin said, “I’ve watched us grow and obviously it’s wonderful growth, but you miss that getting on your bike or taking a walk and seeing the ocean. You used to love to go to the beach and there was no seawall. You could just jump on the beach or drive your car and see the beach entirely. Now you have to get out of your car and you go up the stairs, and you see the beach. But that’s progress. With the pandemic, everybody was so excited that we didn’t have the traffic and so we want to leave it this way. No, we don’t want to leave it this way. Because this is not reality. Yeah, it was it was a great time, but it’s nice to see the progress we’ve made as a community. People know about this wonderful little island. People come from all over cities and countries to know what’s so special about Key West and I love that. I love sharing those stories. There’s good and bad, but I’m very proud of what the leadership in the past has done to get us where we’re at.”

One of the biggest challenges going forward will likely be affordable housing.

McLauchlin said, “Our strategic plan that just went through the workshop, it’s still priority number one. Is there affordable living in our future? That’s huge. One thing that I’m concerned about too, and it’s not on our strategic plan, is affordable childcare. I watched a program on the news this past weekend where it talked about families were having to make a choice not to go to work and that’s huge in this day and time because you need two incomes to pay the rent, to pay the mortgage, to buy the groceries, to get the gas, car payment, but we are having childcare centers close. What does that do for the workforce? How do you have two income families? We can’t get the teachers. My concern right now is housing. Housing and childcare is something that this community needs to pay attention to.”

Has it gotten worse recently?

“I think so,” McLauchlin said. “I absolutely think so. The housing has definitely gotten worse, especially in the last two to three years. So I get the question, how do we resolve it? We’re not going to build our way out of this. Eight years ago or 10 years ago, we needed 3000 units at a minimum. That’s the number that I kept hearing. We’re still in the same situation, if not worse today, for more housing, affordable, and it’s really tough.”

Did COVID cause the problem?

McLauchlin said, “I think COVID is part of it. Because I think it’s nationwide. It is no longer a City of Key West issue. It’s nationwide. So people doing COVID came the city of Key West in droves.”

Maybe one day the city could purchase property without going to a referendum.

McLauchlin said, “I’ve had realtors come to me and say I’ve got this property for sale and we can build 15 units or 12 units. Well, no, we can’t because the city can’t do that. That’s one thing I’d like to see change in our charter. We tried it. I’d like to be an advocate for that on the other side. The city needs to be able to have the opportunity to buy buildings, renovate them, and put people in.”

After her retirement, she will be back every other month.

McLauchlin said, “I plan to see how things are going in the city of Key West and be involved. I’ll be back to speak to the Commission on several issues in the next few months.”

Some of her proudest moments are advocating for employees.

McLauchlin said, “I’m very pro-employees and making sure we, from the City Hall point of view, keep our employees engaged and make sure the morale is good. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to help the morale of the city of Key West employees. I think we were able to maintain our workforce for the most part with giving raises. We’re looking at Mallory Square as the jewel of the city of Key West and I hope one day that will be developed and a place for people to come and enjoy because I think it offers a lot for our community and our tourists. I’m very proud to have been able to be a part of that and serve this this community because I think this community has accepted my family and myself and I treated the community as if I was born and raised here.”

Mike Stapleford of KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM said, “You’ve left quite a legacy here, Patty and certainly I am proud to have known you and continue to know you and I know many, many people share that sentiment. I mentioned your attitude and cheerfulness from the start of our program here and I think that that was very infectious in City Hall. You mentioned morale, and I think that that was certainly a huge contribution that you made to our city here. So thank you.”

McLauchlin said, “Thank you, Michael. It’s been a pleasure to get to know you and be a part of the show. And I appreciate that you reached out and gave me one more shout out so that I could say goodbye to this community. Thank you so much.”

Stapleford said, “Let’s just say until next time, because we’ll certainly have you back.”