Are Key West’s days as a city numbered?

A draft bill reported by the website is making the rounds in Tallahassee. If passed, the bill would “transfer all of the city’s assets and legitimate liabilities and revenue streams to Monroe County.”

As of the morning of Nov. 17, the bill had no sponsor or bill number, but Florida Keys State Rep. Jim Mooney was aware of it. Mooney said he never expected such a piece of legislation would come forward this session. And he didn’t expect someone to place time and energy on such legislation when the state is dealing with much larger issues.

Mooney said he didn’t know the legislator behind the bill, but he does have his speculation. 

“What are you doing trying to abolish a city in my district? Stick to your district. Find yourself a city you want to abolish in your district,” Mooney said. “Does Key West need to be abolished? I’m pretty sure I’d be hearing it from the citizens and the county. Key West is a very well run city. We all know that.”

Key West Mayor Teri Johnston told the Keys Weekly on Nov. 17, “This is ludicrous. I hope it’s just political posturing. But some state legislators have worked steadily to pre-empt almost everything from local governments, and I can tell you, local governments are not happy.”

When asked whether the state pre-emptions seem to target Key West due to its proposed cruise ship limits, a past ban on certain sunscreens and other issues, Johnston said, “We’ve had some high-profile issues that have put us in the crosshairs, but we’re not alone. I just hope this is political circus.”

Key West City Manager Patti McLauchlin said she had gotten a note about the mysterious abolishment bill during the Nov. 16 city commission meeting.

“I immediately put in a call to our lobbyist, but no one knows who sponsored it, or anything else,” McLauchlin said.

The Florida Constitution states in part, “The Legislature shall have power to establish, alter or abolish, a Municipal corporation to be known as the City of Key West, extending territorially throughout the present limits of Monroe County, in the place of any or all county, district, municipal and local governments, boards, bodies and officers, constitutional or statutory, legislative, executive, judicial, or administrative, and shall prescribe the jurisdiction, powers, duties and functions of such municipal corporation, its legislative, executive, judicial and administrative departments and its boards, bodies and officers; to divide the territory included in such municipality into subordinate districts, and to prescribe a just and reasonable system of taxation for such municipality and districts; and to fix the liability of such municipality and districts.”

With no sponsor or bill number attached, County Commissioner and former state Rep. Holly Raschein said whoever is considering it is likely trying to make a point publicly. Raschein said she never saw such a bill like this filed during her time as representative in the Florida House. 

“That said, it’s egregious that a legislator who doesn’t even represent the Keys would attempt to abolish one of our municipalities,” she said. 

Mooney said the bill has “zero standing.” He said he can think of cities in Florida that should be abolished based on their track record. 

“But that’s not my job to abolish them either,” he said. “That’s the job of the local representative to abolish cities in their district. You don’t go in somebody’s district and pull this off.”

State Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez said she, too, doesn’t know who is behind the legislation. But she said it’s a “terrible idea” and would “fight every step of the way.”

Meanwhile, state lawmakers already have Key West’s cruise ship limits in their crosshairs for the upcoming legislative session with Senate Bill 280, which addresses cities’ and counties’ authority to pass local ordinances. 

The city of Key West is in the process of doing just that, turning three voter-approved referendums to drastically limit the number of visiting cruise ships into ordinances. Last year in Tallahassee, lawmakers nullified any voter initiatives and prohibited restrictions on maritime commerce. So, city officials in Key West decided to turn those voter initiatives into ordinances.

But Senate Bill 280, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Travis Hutson in St. Johns County,  presents another potential roadblock to the city’s pending cruise ship ordinances. 

The bill would require a city, before adopting a new ordinance, to “prepare a business impact statement” that includes the public purpose to be served by the ordinance as well as “the estimated economic effect of the proposed ordinance on businesses both within and outside the municipality, including both adverse and beneficial effects and both direct and indirect effects; a good faith estimate of the number of businesses likely to be affected by the ordinance; an analysis of the extent to which the proposed ordinance is likely to deter or encourage the formation of new businesses within the municipality’s jurisdiction; and an analysis of the extent to which the proposed ordinance will impede the ability of businesses within the municipality to compete with other businesses in other areas of this state or other domestic markets.”

If the new local ordinance is challenged in court, Senate Bill 280, if passed, also would prohibit a city from enforcing the ordinance until the legal challenge is decided by the courts.

— Jim McCarthy contributed to this report.

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.