Monroe County Mayor Michelle Coldiron, Commissioner Mike Forster and legislative affairs director Lisa Tennyson had a full week last week. Hurricane Elsa had us in her sights, and the commissioners had to make critical decisions about safety issues, not to mention mull over the potential cancellation of Fourth of July celebrations. But the three officials also had another significant item on their plate: They were attending the Florida Association of Counties (FAC) conference in Orlando.

The hot topics at the meeting included broadband access for the entire state and another wave of federal funding in response to the pandemic.

Coldiron said the conference was productive, with good breakout sessions. “All 67 counties had representation,” she told Keys Weekly. “The largest attendance ever, with over 500 participants.”

The mayor felt that perhaps the large attendance was due to a post-COVID enthusiasm to meet in person and to discuss the issues that all counties encountered during the pandemic. For example: internet access.

“Statewide, it became very apparent during the epidemic how important broadband is,” she said. “When the pandemic hit, not everybody had internet capabilities in their homes. We saw that with children and school. … We’re blessed in Monroe County with only small spots without internet access. In rural Florida, there are miles and miles that don’t have internet access. We want the entire state to have broadband.”

Coldiron said the hope is that the FAC will get a larger legislative voice on all issues, such as broadband.

Attendees also discussed the new wave of federal funding in the American Rescue Plan, according to Tennyson. The plan passed in May, with a total of $1.9 trillion to be given out nationally and $350 billion set aside for Florida state and local governments. 

“Our allocation from the treasury will be $14.4 million. That will come to the county as $7.2 million this year and $7.2 million next year,” said Tennyson. 

“We haven’t made the determination for allocations for this money for different reasons,” she explained. “One, money is flowing, and two, the federal treasury has yet to issue guidance and rules. And three, we have until 2024 to encumber the funds and until 2026 to expend the funds given. The landscape of pandemic needs is different than it was six months ago. Those deadlines give us time to be more judicious and careful. We’re not in crisis mode.”

Coldiron was also thrilled that Tennyson was honored within the conference by the Small County Coalition of Florida, of which Monroe County is a member. Tennyson was recognized for her advocacy that Monroe County receive part of the federal funding from the CARES Act that was released in 2020. At first, that money was only going to Floridian governments with populations higher than 500,000. 

Tennyson noticed that $1.2 billion was left over in the Florida local government pot after all the money was distributed, so she pitched to the state to distribute that money to smaller governments. Thus, thanks to Tennyson, Monroe County received $13.3 million that it almost missed out on, and that money was distributed to food banks, local businesses and cities, among other entities, for COVID-related expenses.

The mayor was also happy that Forster attended his first FAC conference, and that staff from the county’s legal department attended the Florida Association of County Attorneys conference: Bob Shilllinger, Derek Howard and Joe DiNovo. And the county’s director of engineering Judith Clarke attended the Florida Association of County Engineers Conference, as well.

“My phone was blowing up all weekend from other commissioners (that we met): ‘What do you need with Elsa?’” Coldiron said. “The benefit is when we have an item we want the legislative body to support, I can call these county commissioners and say, ‘Can you call your county House rep?’ This conference is great for building collaboration.”

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Charlotte Twine fled her New York City corporate publishing life and happily moved to the Keys six years ago. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Allure, and Offshore magazines; Elle.com; and the Florida Keys Free Press. She loves her two elderly Pomeranians, writing stories that uplift and inspire, making children laugh, the color pink, tattoos, Johnny Cash, and her husband. Though not necessarily in that order.