There’s a lot of turmoil in Islamorada right now

Mark Gregg, Islamorada Village Councilmember, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to discuss the happenings in the village.

Contract issues with the village manager have made things a bit tumultuous in Islamorada.

Gregg said, “That item has been placed on the agenda for a special call meeting which was hastily called to be heard on this coming Monday night the 17th. The question to be called is whether or not to non-renew the village manager’s contract, which would ordinarily automatically renew for another year without any action by the council.”

There has been turnover in the council and the new council may decide to terminate the contract for the new village manager Ted Yates.

Gregg said, “Based upon the emails that I have received, the phone calls and the in-person conversations that I’ve had over the last month or so, that deal with this item, nearly all of them were in support of retaining Ted as our manager, and describe the different reasons why. Complementary reasons why, accolades, and how he’s performed. He’s become a part of our community, he bought a house here. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a manager that owned house. He lives just outside the village across the bridge in Old Town, Tavernier, which I think is actually an advantage. So there could be no allegations that he’s benefiting from his own property here.”

Yates was a mayor in a town in Ohio.

Gregg said, “So he’s all in, as they say, in the poker world. He sold us his home up there and he moved his wife down here, and they bought that house. He has become a part of the community. He goes to all sorts of civic meetings in the Chamber of Commerce and the different groups. It’s hard to go to a meeting and not see him there. He’s also established himself with other government agencies, the county, Marathon and Key West, as well as some of the state and regional state agencies. He’s not a native Florida boy, but he is an extremely quick learner. He’s adapted very well. He’s been well received and works well with those different other government groups. So he has for the last 11 months been the face of the village, the spokesperson for the village. For the first time in a long time, we’ve had stability and consistency with leadership.”

Historically, past village managers haven’t served long.

Gregg said, “No one has complained to me, outside of the very small, I would call them a political action group, the Islamorada Community Alliance, which is headed by I believe, by one of our local residents and one of our advisory committee members. They have come out against this renewal or automatic extension of his contract. It appears to me that it is founded, based upon statements made at meetings and in other media that Ted terminated our former planning director, Dan Gulizio. He was terminated and that came after he appeared at a village council meeting me and made a very unusual statement, I would say a little speech about 10 minutes long, describing his difficulties in doing his job and why it was difficult and mentioned he did mention in his own words, that he might not be a good fit for that position, and that he might be willing to step down if that was the desire of the council or the public. So I guess Ted had several discussions and meetings with him. I had a meeting with Dan after that. I do believe he was not a good fit, as he described based on the things he told me. So Ted offered him a severance package, he declined. So he was terminated.”

That seems to be the catalyst that began this turmoil.

Gregg said, “Two or three of the other council members, they were very fond of them, for various reasons. I don’t know all the reasons. I really don’t know all their reasons why they’re doing this. It hasn’t really been clearly expressed by any or all of them. I have an opportunity, I’d say even an obligation, as a member of the council to gather information and to make inquiries and to inform myself of whatever facts or circumstances are involved with any decision that we may make. I have that right under our village charter, and I exercised that right, by attending the tail end of a weekly staff meeting at the village offices a couple of weeks ago. Ted was not present at that portion of the meeting, he had left the room. I was able to gather information from the department heads at the village staff, relating to Ted’s performance, and I agreed to keep their individual comments confidential. But I was given consent by that group to mention that Ted has overwhelming support of the staff, at the Staff Department head level, as well as the day to day worker level – from the hourly wage earner to the most senior staff member. It was a unanimous statement by everyone in the room. Ted in their statements has brought, as I said earlier, stability, and consistency, and leadership. They love coming to work. They love working for Ted. Ted cares about them, and they care about Ted and to lose him in their words would be a terrible, terrible thing to happen.”

The board of the Chamber of Commerce in Islamorada has also come out to support Yates, as well.

Yates has said he would like to stay.

Gregg said, “It is bitterly divided. That is an even deeper concern of mine. I don’t know what’s going to happen in November of next year with regard to who stays on the council and who doesn’t stay. I have another 16 months there to serve with my four other counterparts there. The idea of going forward and functioning efficiently and doing the good work for the public and carrying out the duties of a public official and running the government efficiently, I see that as being a challenge that I’m not sure we’re going to be able to overcome. There are some personality issues involved. I don’t know why. I had been friends or friendly with all the council members for many years, especially the two new ones prior to their election. It is their decision that that is now changed. So it’s difficult, and you don’t have to be friends to work with somebody. But certainly being civil and respectful and making decisions based upon reason and facts and logic rather than upon emotion, anger, and other psychological considerations. I don’t believe that that is the way forward. So it’s going to be tough to go along and get along in the next 16 months.”

One idea could be to renew the contract with contingencies.

Gregg explained, “There were two measures. I had contacted our village attorneys who have a specialist on board, a special department that deals with labor law, and discussed what happens when governments have these issues like this? How do smart leaders handle this?”

They discussed the Performance Improvement Program.

Gregg said, “It’s an opportunity for the council members to create criteria for performance of an employee, namely Ted, the manager, and to give him some metrics as to how that would be measured over a period of time, and then to reevaluate and offer suggestive comments about how that those things could be corrected. If progress isn’t made and corrections aren’t to the satisfaction of the council, then at that point, I feel it would be appropriate to sever the relationship and for each side to move on. That makes sense to me. I think that’s what corporations do. I think that’s what governments do. I think that’s what intelligent people acting rationally do, rather than just to roll out the guillotine at the first hint of dissension and let the fur fly. What has not happened is, no one has described what happens after this, if this Ted is not retained. What is the next step? It’s just a black abyss. We don’t know. It raises another question, we would have to find a replacement. I’ve done that, in the last two and a half years, with finding Ted and then his predecessor and we went through using a professional I’d call him a headhunter, and it was very difficult and I refer to it as having brain damage from going through that because it’s very taxing to do that. There’s been no suggestion as to whether we’re going to do that again, and if so, but who would want to take the job after reviewing the track record that we’ve created here? Who in their right mind?”

Add to all of this, Yates has a one-year contract and the village council terms are two years.

Gregg said, “So someone taking a job who gets hired by one council knows that within two years or less, that the composure of the council could change dramatically, and their job would be at risk. That’s exactly what happened here. So we’ve got some big problems to resolve, some big picture things to talk about. I’m optimistic that we can make our way through it and come together as a government team. That’s what we got hired to do. We didn’t get hired to fight. We got hired to lead and solve problems and if we’re going to fight with each other, we’re never going to get anything done.”

In terms of further business discussion in Islamorada, the solid waste disposal contract could see a change.

Gregg said, “We’ve selected the intended vendor for that and now the contract is up, it’s been negotiated. There may be a couple of points of adjustment, it depends on the council. But I’m expecting that we’re going to end the meeting, if it gets to that with a new provider. We need to get that in place before the end of the year. We’re coming into the peak of hurricane season. So there’s a lot of things up in the air, you might say that need to be resolved. To his credit, Ted has continued to work forward and doing things even knowing that even though many of the items on this agenda and in the future may occur after he could be terminated. That reminds me of an old expression my dad used to tell me when I was a kid, which is adversity reveals character. That, to me, reveals just the kind of guy Ted is in the face of adversity. He stays on his task. He’s doing what he’s told, and he’s not letting that distract him. He’s devoted. In my investigations of this and listening to people, Islamorada really loves Ted because Ted loves Islamorada. We haven’t had that for many, many years. And I sure would hate to lose him.”