Will the fate of the Key West City Manager be decided tomorrow?

Sam Kaufman, Key West City Commissioner and Vice Mayor, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the city.

A special meeting of the City Commission will be held tomorrow.

Kaufman said, “Two city commissioners Commissioner Carey and Commissioner Wardlow asked to schedule a special meeting to terminate the contract of our city manager. Apparently there are four city commissioners that are reported in the media at least I haven’t spoken with them of course, but apparently there’s support for this, which is really unfortunate from my point of view.”

According to reports, Al Childress, the city manager in question had received a number of good performance reviews recently.

Kaufman confirmed, “Yes, absolutely. This is sort of a big surprise to everyone, because there has not been any open discussion by the City Commission, in any meeting to date with regard to any performance deficiencies or any action by the City Commission to give direction to the city manager to change in any significant way, the way he conducts operations. So it’s a big surprise to everyone. Also, the timing is a big question, because, of course, four of my colleagues who I have enjoyed serving with over the past near decade are terming out and are no longer going to be sitting on the City Commission, presumably, in about a month when the election in August takes place. So there’s a lot of unanswered questions and I think that the two or four city commissioners who are proposing this have to make their case and answer the questions that many in the public have about why this is being pursued at this time?”

Outside counsel was consulted for this issue.

Kaufman said, “I would say that it is a very positive thing for the city to bring in outside counsel in this situation. I have had the opportunity to speak with Miss Mayanne Downs who is a highly respected attorney, serving as city attorney in Orlando, and has been an attorney a long time and is really well suited for helping the city navigate this meeting on Wednesday. But the public should know that her scope of engagement, her purpose is only to look at the contract of the city manager and advise as to whether those who are proposing this, that is the two or four city commissioners that are proposing this, how they can accomplish this termination. That’s really her only purpose and she’s not advising on a lot of other things and questions that the public have about the other potential legal issues that people are talking about, and I think this is going to be a very interesting meeting and probably contentious, and there’s going to be a lot of accusations. Unfortunately, it’s going to lead to divisions that I hope we can mitigate. Because, look, we have a new City Commission coming in. We’ve had a great commission this past four years and past almost decade, I mean, I can tell you that we’ve accomplished a lot of things and now this is seeming to create division at the very tail end of this particular Commission’s tenure. That’s what really concerns me, and I don’t want to see us going forward with the new commission in a divided way.”

Other actions have been tabled until after the new commission is seated, except for the discussion about the city manager.

Kaufman said, “Well, I would say politics is an interesting type of activity and every elected official will have to decide on their own what the merits are of these proposals and determine what is best for the city. So, if four city commissioners view this proposal to terminate the city manager as being in the best interest of the city, then they are obligated to pursue that and I understand that, but at the same time, they should present the facts as to what is the justification. So far, I don’t see any facts that can support this particular proposal. There are other potential agendas or reasons why this is happening and that’s what’s really concerning a lot of the residents and they want to know, really what is behind this and why now? From my perspective, it really puts the city in a much weaker position, if it is approved. We’re in the middle of hurricane season, we have our biggest process, which is our budget process, our workshop is on July 16. We need leadership, we need Operations Management to guide us through the budget process, which is really important. So the timing is really bad. Besides that, without a city manager, we have so many things that will fall through the cracks. So many multiple types of issues and operations that have to be attended to that will just probably falter, unfortunately and we may talk about this for years to come. I should mention one issue that I have heard also is that there’s been a lack of morale among city staff and I can tell you that at least in the police department, that is absolutely not true. For years, we have talked about how we can build the morale in the police department and I can tell you now it is at a height in our police department. I’m so happy about that, because we need to keep public safety, number one, and the police department is central to that. That’s attributed to our city manager. So I can’t understand this argument that morale is the issue here, among city employees. That’s simply definitely not true in the police department and the support for our police department is central to a successful city. You see other cities that are floundering because of problems in their police department and we don’t have that problem. Thank goodness.”

The meeting will happen tomorrow at 2 p.m. in City Hall.

The Lower Keys Hospital District Board will meet in the beginning of August.

Kaufman said, “So our task force is preparing for that meeting and we are really looking forward to an update with tangible description of what cancer treatment, when it will be reinstituted in the Lower Keys and Key West. That’s the highest priority, obviously. We’ve almost been a year now without the availability of cancer treatment in Key West. Apparently there is movement to reinstate that. So we’re looking forward to that. We’re also looking forward to updates from that board. We have nine members on our central task force and 26 members of the community who are advisors. So things are moving in in a positive direction, I think, but this is an issue that we have to pay attention to for the next couple of years.”