Health Department may have to find temporary quarters

After a brief hiatus, the Key West City Commission reconvened this past Tuesday with an agenda full of proclamations, commendations and resolutions. All in all, 36 items were included on the agenda, which kept Commissioners and spectators at Old City Hall past 10 p.m. (Ahem.)

City withdraws ‘emergency’ purchase

What was seemingly an honest gaffe by the City ended up raising eyebrows this past Tuesday. Commissioner Sam Kaufman pumped the breaks on $247,500 of repairs to the old Douglas Band Room, which was designated as an “emergency purchase” on the agenda item.

“It is not an emergency purchase and I’m confused on why the regular procurement process did not take place,” said Kaufman. “The commission is ratifying action already taken by the City Manager. We cannot have something like that on the agenda and let people have that impression.”

The City hoped to procure the Douglas Band Room for the state health department, which is currently located in the Fredrick Douglas Gym. However, scheduled renovations on the gym expedited the health department’s need to relocate.

“Its all part of a multifaceted project related to Douglas Gym,” said City Manager Jim Scholl, who acquiesced it was not an emergency. “It was something that was budgeted and in the best interest in the City.”

But Kaufman’s challenge only prompted further questions from the dais; most notably, the “emergency” designation that allowed the city to skip the standard bidding process.

“I don’t understand this,” said Commissioner Billy Wardlow. “We just called these three [construction companies] and didn’t put this out to bid?”

Wardlow not only questioned the bid process, but also the discrepancies between the three bids the City received, which ranged from $250,000 to $950,000. Although the City accepted Bella Construction’s lower bid, Wardlow argued the overwhelming differences in the bids should have been red flags.

Assistant City Manager Greg Veliz did not defend the move, but instead admitted it was an honest error aimed to save the City money.

“We did this in the best interest of the City,” said Veliz. “Why blow $80 or $100 thousand on trailers when we could get this done? We mishandled it by labeling it an emergency process. We just botched it.”

Although a motion to postpone the item was proposed by Kaufman, City Manager Jim Scholl ultimately pulled the item and offered to bring it back at the following meeting with “more appropriate wording.”

The health department currently has no lease and operates rent-free based on the City’s contribution to the entity. It is not clear whether the health department would enter into a lease should they relocate to the band room on Fort Street.  According to Valdez, the bid process can anywhere from 60 to 90 days to complete, so

if procurement guidelines are followed, the health department could be forced to find an alternative, temporary location.

Tom Hambright honored for service

One of the more poignant moments of the evening took place when commissioners proclaimed January 5th as Tom Hambright Day in Key West. Hambright, who is the County Historian and has served the Key West Library for more than 30 years, received the honor before a standing ovation at Old City Hall.

“Although the Florida History archival collection has grown to be an extensive collection of unique materials, Tom’s own memory is the real treasure of the collection,” said Mayor Craig Cates. “Tom Hambright is an extraordinary ambassador for Monroe County, and the City of Key West, and a historic treasure to the community.”

Hambright, who is one of Key West’s most beloved sons, served 21 years with Navy and retired as Lieutenant Commander before joining the library. In addition, he worked as curator for the Lighthouse Museum, served on the Board of Directors of the Old Island Restoration Foundation, the Salvation Army, and the Key West Art and Historical Society — along with many other service positions.

City seeks cooperation with Navy on workforce housing 

Commissioner Sam Kaufamn sponsored a resolution authorizing City Manager Jim Scholl to engage in discussions with the Navy regarding 166 vacant rental units at Sigsbee Park. Kaufman would like to see the Navy utilize the unoccupied units for military members and civilian employees as workforce housing, to ease the strain on housing stocks in Key West

“We need help getting through the red tape,” said Kaufman, who ran his campaign with a focus on affordable housing. “There is lot of bureaucracy involved and we need to do whatever we can to urge the Navy to make these available.”

The vacant units at Sigsbee were initially bachelor’s quarters, but those accommodations were later transferred to Truman Annex. Although the City of Key West and the Navy have historically worked well together, many decisions are funneled down from Washington and face layers of administrative approvals.

Kaufamn says a meeting is planned with Congressman Curbelo on Friday, Jan. 15 to discuss possible assistance. Scholl reiterated that he believes the City and Navy “are on the right track” in reference to discussions.

The Key West Commission honors historian Tom Hambright, the tall guy in the center. Margaret Romero, left, Sam Kaufman, Jimmy Weekley and Clayton Lopez Richard Payne, Billy Wardlow and Mayor Craig Cates recognized his decades of service to the public and the official record of the Keys

Commissioners at odds over naming new city hall

City Manager Jim Scholl asked Commissioners for feedback and direction for the naming of the new Key West City Hall, which is currently under construction at the old Glynn Archer School. In a rendering presented by Scholl, the name displayed over the entrance read “Joseph Parker City Hall at Historic Glynn Archer School,” which was crafted by the previous commission in 2015.

However, several of the commissioners were at odds over portions of the name, particularly Commissioner Margaret Romero, who said many Key West landmarks already include tributes to Glynn Archer and asked that she represent the Commission in negations with the Monroe County School Board for possible changes.

Romero, who is the appointed “liaison” between the Commission and the school system, was met with obvious tension and opposition in regards to her role. Both Commissioner Payne and Mayor Cates, who both support the current proposed name, asked City Attorney Shawn Smith to define the role of liaison.

“A liaison will typically attend the meeting,” said Smith in reference to talks between City staff and the School Board. “Any messages presented by the liaison must be approved by the Commission as a whole.”

Although city staff has been directed to explore alternative names, the consensus among commissioners appeared to be content with the proposal.

“We owe that honor to him [Parker] for all of the years of service,” said Cates. “It gives respect to Joseph Parker and the Parker family.”

Later, Commissioner Sam Kaufman managed to lighten the mood when he addressed City Manager Jim Scholl and said, “Most important item. What happens to the tiger?”

Kaufman was referring to the tiger stature in front of the site, which for many is a Key West landmark and has become a viral topic in town. A jovial Scholl replied saying, “It will be on the corner as far as I’m concerned.”

Clayton Lopez Named Vice Mayor

Key West Mayor Craig Cates named Commissioner Clayton Lopez as Vice Mayor this past Tuesday. Lopez later said he was honored and humbled by the gesture.


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