From left, Michelle Lincoln, David Rice, Mayor Craig Cates, Mayor Pro Tem Holly Merrill Raschein and Jim Scholl. KRISTEN LIVENGOOD/Monroe County

The Monroe Board of County Commissioners selected Craig Cates as the next mayor and Holly Merrill Raschein as the mayor pro tem for the coming year during a Nov. 15 meeting in Key West. 

Cates has been a commissioner since 2019 and Merrill Raschein since 2021. Both recognized outgoing Mayor David Rice for his duties for the past year. The mayor title is given to the chairperson of the board of county commissioners. The commissioners choose the designee based on a majority vote, usually at the November board meeting. 

A mayor pro tem is also designated to fill in when the mayor is unavailable. The mayor presides over the board’s meetings and serves as the Monroe County representative at ceremonial occasions. The mayor is also responsible for signing and co-signing documents with the county clerk.

In addition to the ceremonial passing of the gavel, four of the five commissioners, Michelle Lincoln, Merrill Raschein, Rice and Jim Scholl, were re-elected to their seats and were sworn in by the Clerk of the Court Kevin Madok.

In other matters, county commissioners approved a 2023 legislative agenda for the upcoming state session in Tallahassee. Legislative Affairs Director Lisa Tennyson presented Monroe County’s priorities for the upcoming session from March 7 through May 5. Some of the priorities include securing another $25 million from the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, which funds water quality projects and land acquisition, and securing $6 million for its emergency operation center. Tennyson said the project’s been in the works for a while. A groundbreaking was held last month. 

Former mayor David Rice passes the gavel to Mayor Craig Cates.

Protecting the marine environment through developing new mooring fields and addressing derelict vessels was also on the priority list. And county officials are hoping state officials repeal or change House Bill 735, which prohibits local government occupational licensing affecting local contractors and tradespeople, passed in 2021.

County officials are also keeping their eye on efforts by Islamorada and Marathon to obtain building allocations from the state. The county and Keys municipalities were given 1,300 workforce housing allocations after Hurricane Irma. Key West, Marathon and Islamorada started the process to accept their 300 units. The county elected to hold off due to legal challenges. 

Coined as “early evacuation” units, a recent court decision stated that Islamorada and Marathon aren’t allowed to use these allocations as such since they don’t comply with state statute for a 24-hour storm evacuation. Tennyson said the county’s statement supports legislation to amend the statute, but commissioners decided to change language to state that they are monitoring the situation.  

“I think it’s important to leave it in the agenda, pending draft language. I think it’s an important topic and we want to be part of the conversation. I don’t want to commit us until we see draft legislation,” Merrill Raschein said. “We’re not attempting to undermine the area of critical state designation. That’s a misguided opinion if you ask me.”

“We’re monitoring it, but it doesn’t mean that we’re supporting it,” Cates said.