On the second floor of the Murray Nelson Government Center is the office of Monroe County Commissioner Mike Forster. On the desk stood a picture frame of Forster and a poster with various images of his smile.

On the first floor, a notable presence and voice was missing at the Monroe Board of County Commissioners Sept. 15 meeting in Key Largo. Forster’s seat to the far left next to Commissioner David Rice would still see his name plate and flowers.  A video tribute to Forster would begin the meeting. 

“We are one man down today,” Monroe County Mayor Michelle Coldiron said to kick off the meeting. “We are missing Mike. It’s impossible to sum up Mike in just a few minutes.

“He wasn’t just a commissioner or councilman, he wasn’t just a (member of a) board of directors, he was our friend. He cared immensely about the community and he lived fully,” she continued. 

Commissioner David Rice said Forster was a friend to him and a friend to Monroe County. Commissioner Craig Cates said Forster was a “truly special person.”

“He was so sincere and gave back to his community in public service and private life. He will be truly missed and there’s a hole in the community.”

The easiest way to describe Forster, for Commissioner Eddie Martinez, was that he was a real, genuine person. 

“He said what he felt and felt what he said,” Martinez said. “There’s big shoes to fill with Mike gone.”

Later in the meeting, commissioners received a COVID-19 update from Shannon Weiner, emergency management director, and Bob Eadie, top health officer for Monroe County. Latest data from Sept. 13 saw 40 new cases, six of those being minors. 

Average cases for the past week totaled 36. That’s down from the previous week, 44, and 55 the week before that. 

“We’re experiencing a little trend here,” Weiner said.

Twenty-seven patients with COVID-19 were being cared for at Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West as of Sept. 15. Four COVID-19 patients were receiving care at Mariners Hospital in Tavernier. Weiner said both hospitals are operating in green status, with both providing monoclonal treatment. 

While Eadie said he’s encouraged by the downward trend in new cases, he raised concern over the number of children testing positive for COVID-19 and the number of patients in hospitals who are unvaccinated. 

Mike Forster’s seat has his name tag and flowers during the Sept. 15 meeting of the Monroe Board of County Commissioners. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

“If you’re starting to feel ill, get health care attention as soon as possible,” Eadie said. “The monoclonal antibody treatment available has been very successful, but it has to be started after the onset of disease. If it progresses too far where people put off medical help, the efficacy of that treatment is diminished greatly.”

A motion was approved by commissioners to reopen the small park on Bay Drive in Key Largo on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through November. The park has seen its issues of overcrowding and cars parked throughout the neighborhood over the years, as it became better known to visitors. 

Commissioners not only closed the park from June to Labor Day, but they also installed no-parking signs within the neighborhood with $200 fines for offenders. The boat ramp remains open. 

“I think this is a pretty clearly defined problem. You got a small neighborhood park that absolutely cannot meet the needs by the number of people who discovered it,” Rice said. 

Assistant County Administrator Kevin Wilson told commissioners that several groups are looking for space at the old Plantation Key Courthouse building. With a new Monroe County Government Center being constructed, the 16th Judicial Circuit Court, county clerk of the court, state attorney, sheriff’s office and public works will be moving over. That leaves space at the old building available. 

Among the organizations desiring space are JOY, or Just for Older Youth, NOAA and juvenile justice.

“We won’t be out of there until later this year or next year,” Wilson said. “There is a plan we’re going to have to put together. I’m a little leery trying to walk through judge rooms and say, ‘We’re going to put someone here and there.’ Let them operate until they move into the new courthouse, then we’ll handle requests.”

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Jim McCarthy believes in community reporting, giving back and life on the water. A workout fanatic, diver and a bogey-golfer, Jim loves chicken wings, Marvel movies and sports.