A bit of drama started last week’s Key West Planning Board meeting, when longtime board member Jim Gilleran left the meeting before it began, citing “serious ethical concerns about actions in the planning department.”
Gilleran’s concern involved Key West Planning Director Katie Halloran, whose husband recently applied for and received a building permit allocation for their home at 913 White St. The home is in her husband’s name, according to county property records. As such, the building permit application was in his name, not hers. Other applicants did not initially receive building permit allocations, which are in limited supply.
“I am confronted with a dilemma tonight, a matter of such serious ethical concern regarding the city’s Planning Department, that I am not going to attend tonight’s meeting until I can seek clarification on this matter,” Gilleran said at the start of the May 19 Planning Board meeting. He then left City Hall and the meeting continued with four other board members present.
When contacted about his concerns, Gilleran told the Keys Weekly on May 24 that he had no evidence or information that anyone, including Halloran, had done anything wrong or unethical, but that he had “respectfully requested” a meeting with the city manager and other departments to address his concerns.
City Manager Patti McLauchlin told the Keys Weekly emphatically on Tuesday, May 24 that there’s no reason for any concern. She said Halloran had acted with complete transparency, specifically to avoid any such implications of impropriety due to her position as planning director.
“There were no surprises with this application at all. Katie emailed me and the legal department about this application months ago, and she had asked me about it verbally long before that. She wanted to make 100% sure everything was above board and transparent,” said McLauchlin, who forwarded to the Keys Weekly the Jan. 22 email Halloran sent to McLauchlin and to the city attorneys.
In that email, Halloran writes, “My family is applying for a market rate (building permit allocation) this cycle. Corradino staff [the city’s outside planning consultants] have reviewed all applications for completeness and verified or requested additional documentation to finalize rankings. … In order to ensure there is no perception of abuse or unethical processing of this application, I think someone other than me should sign the preliminary letter for my family’s project. The final ranking would be determined through Corradino staff and approved by the Planning Board this spring. I have also discussed the above with Patti (McLauchlin) and my staff is aware.”
The Corradino Group is a professional planning agency with which the city has contracted to outsource planning work due to staffing shortages in that city department.
“I sent that email to ensure transparency because I was afraid something like this might happen,” Halloran, planning director since February 2020, told the Keys Weekly on May 24. “I had asked the city manager about this last year before even starting the process.
“I think this is a clear, manipulated attack, and that a contingent of people don’t want me to have this job,” Halloran said. “My staff and I play by the rules. There is no special treatment for special people, and I don’t think that works for some people. This is my hometown. There’s no reason for me to make a mess in my own backyard with something like this.”