palm trees line the sidewalk of a city street
The Key West city commission on March 14 voted unanimously to tell FDOT to change road work plans for N. Roosevelt Boulevard that would remove all palm trees to make room for railings and guardrails on each side of the promenade. Keys Weekly file photo

“Remove the guardrails and leave the trees.”

Commissioner Billy Wardlow summed up the Key West city commission’s sentiments during the March 14 meeting. 

State transportation officials want to install guardrails and railings along both sides of the North Roosevelt Boulevard promenade — ostensibly to protect people from passing cars on one side and from falling in the water on the other side of the wide pathway. 

But in order to install the unsightly railings, all the palm trees along the boulevard would have to be removed.

At their March 14 meeting, the commissioners voted unanimously to tell state transportation officials to skip the railings and keep the trees. 

“I think it would be horrible for that part of our community to have to look at those railings and not the trees,” said commissioner Mary Lou Hoover, who added that local residents, including Tony Falcone, had been instrumental in getting the palm trees installed more than a decade ago.

Mayor Teri Johnston asked the police department for an accounting of any accidents that had occurred on the promenade — accidents that the railings aimed to prevent.

Assistant Police Chief Randy Smith said the number of accidents along the promenade is “very minimal,” and the number of fatalities was zero.

“I find it amazing that FDOT appears to be concerned about accidents, yet they install bike lanes in the two outside lanes of both boulevards, despite us telling them they were creating an extremely dangerous situation,” Johnston said.

The commission’s opposition to the plan may be enough to persuade FDOT to change their plans for the roadwork. Maybe.

“If FDOT pushes back, that’s when we’ll regroup and get our statistics together and get the chamber involved to really oppose this,” assistant city manager Todd Stoughton told the commission.

Medical matters

Commissioner Sam Kaufman updated the commission on the task force he is assembling to gather information about Lower Keys Medical Center and Community Health Services, the for-profit company that runs it.

The 30-year lease, or operating agreement, between the hospital and CHS expires in five years. Rather than simply renew the lease with CHS, Kaufman wants the local board that selects the hospital’s operator to pursue a competitive bidding process to solicit other potential operators for Lower Keys Medical Center. 

Kaufman is working with a separate consumer advocacy group called Our Hospital Key West, ( created by local businessman Spencer Krenke, to find an alternative operator while there is still time.

“I agree with Mr. Krenke in that we need to support CHS and its operations at Lower Keys Medical Center now and for the next five years for the good of this community,” Kaufman said at the March 14 meeting while updating the commission on the task force. “But people should know that the local board and CHS are already engaged in discussions to renew the lease with CHS. The question is, would the community benefit from a competitive bidding process? And there’s a very real concern that there will be no competitive bid and the current lease will just be renewed.”

Kaufman has previously expressed frustration and disappointment with CHS as operators of the hospital. He pointed out at a meeting last year that LKMC profited $31 million in one year — profits that benefited CHS, which is based in Tennessee, while the Key West hospital struggles to recruit and keep doctors and too often has to send patients to mainland hospitals for procedures that can’t be handled locally. 

The next meeting of the hospital district board is May 13, Kaufman said. 

“We have a commission meeting on May 9, and my intention is to bring a recommendation from the task force to that May 9 meeting,” he said, adding that the task force includes Dr. Jack Norris as well as several other doctors, nurses and knowledgeable medical professionals who understand the industry and the process by which alternative operators could be solicited and evaluated. 

Mandy Miles
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.