FINAL FOUR CANDIDATES CHOSEN FOR ISLAMORADA VILLAGE MANAGER

Islamorada Mayor Pete Bacheler. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

Four candidates for Islamorada manager will make their way to the islands for interviews with council members later this month. 

Each member on the dais provided Colin Baenziger, the village’s hiring consultant, with their top choices out of the 60 interested applicants during a March 31 meeting inside the Founders Park Community Center. Baenziger whittled the list to eight for the dais’ consideration before the council’s picks were made, but that number decreased to seven with Matthew Garside backing out. 

A separate list made available to the council showed local candidates. Baenziger advised the council during a March 10 meeting that they weren’t finalists for the position. 

Among the candidates set to visit Islamorada for interviews are Charles “Ted” Blackburn, former village councilman from 2010-14; Joseph Kirby, current Benton County administrator; Thomas Yates, mayor of the City Twinsburg, Ohio; and Lee Staab, former manager of Minot, North Dakota and Grand County, Colorado. 

In his comments, Baenziger recommended the council bring five candidates to Islamorada for interviews. 

“You’re never really sure what you want until you look a person in the eyes and get to know them a little bit,” he said. “Until you meet candidates and talk to them, you don’t know who they are or what makes them tick.”

Mayor Pete Bacheler recommended the council interview three candidates. Bacheler and Councilmen David Webb and Buddy Pinder acknowledged during their picks that they had a hard time finding three candidates. 

“What does that tell us about the candidates? That’s a rhetorical statement,” Bacheler said. 

All council members besides Councilman Henry Rosenthal gave three choices. Rosenthal selected two: Blackburn and Julian Jackson, former manager of three Georgie cities. Rosenthal and Pinder said before their picks that they wanted five candidates. 

Overall, Kirby and Yates had four votes. Blackburn had three while Staab had two. The village will pay for travel and accommodations for the candidates and their wives. 

“A lot depends on the wives,” Rosenthal said. 

It’s the village council’s second hunt for village manager since November 2020, when the current members were elected. They first hired Greg Oravec, who then left earlier this year. The former manager is received salary and benefits, as well as a housing allowance, unused sick time and accrued sick leave, through March 31. 

Former councilman Ken Philipson told council members they should consider finding housing for the next village manager. He said he went on the internet and couldn’t find one house available for rent available for the Islamorada zip code.

 “I think if you’re seriously considering someone who doesn’t have a home in Islamorada, the village should find it, lease it or buy it if they can and secure it. It’s impossible to ask a man to come down here and move here with his family or just his wife and dog and find a place to live.”

SETBACK GRANTED FOR NEW ISLAMORADA FISHING CLUB

Islamorada council members approved a variance to allow for a reduction in the required shoreline setback for Islamorada Fishing Club, located at 104 Madeira Road. The existing building was constructed in 1950, which was before there was zoning in Monroe County. With no regulations, the club was constructed 3 feet beyond the mean high water line. 

An application for site plan approval is before village officials to allow for construction of a new private club in a similar footprint. The new building is proposed to provide a setback of 2 feet from the mean high water line. 

“This club’s been around for 72 years, and we want to keep it around for another 72 years,” said Chris Trentine, Islamorada Fishing Club board member. 

Vinnie Feola, general manager, described the Islamorada Fish Club as an important legacy business for the next generation. 

RENEWAL WITH FREEBEE 

Village council members held off on a resolution to renew a contract with Freebee, which contains a few updated terms, until the April 21 meeting. Currently, the village is paying $26,440 per month for the service from Tuesday to Sunday. Due to increases in insurance and labor, a new rate of $28,542 was proposed by Freebee. The new agreement would bring the annual cost from $317,280 to $342,504. Freebee proposed eliminating one of its two vans currently in service in order to add a Tesla to transport people from residences and hotels to restaurants and businesses. It would bring the number of Teslas in the fleet to two. 

Questions by Councilman Henry Rosenthal over service times and insurance, however, led the dais to hold off on approving the agreement for now. Rosenthal, Acting Village Manager Maria Bassett and Jason Spiegel, co-founder and managing partner for Freebee, will meet to hash out the details related to times and insurance.  

Spiegel said roughly 70% of riders are local. That’s determined when a rider downloads the application and enters their zip code. On average, requests for rides see roughly two passengers per pickup. 

A COVID-19 pandemic affected Freebee’s service, Bacheler said. With the tourist season improving, Bacheler said the service will likely see better ridership. 

“I would like to give it a further chance,” he said. 

While Councilman Mark Gregg said his eyeballs went up on the new price, the service remains popular among locals and tourists. 

“We depend on visitors. That’s our economy, and they love it too,” he said. “Let’s find a way to keep it and make it affordable.”

Some municipalities utilizing Freebee have received grants from the Florida Department of Transportation to help fund the service. 

LIGHTS AT MORADA WAY ARTS & CULTURAL DISTRICT

Costs are increasing to install 29 decorative light poles in the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District. Village council members approved an amendment to an agreement with Transportation Solutions Lighting (TSL), of Boca Raton, to adjust the project’s total cost from $381,945 to $481,755. 

In 2020, the dais approved a resolution approving the selection of TSL to design and install the lighting system. The project design drawings are complete and the necessary permits were received to continue the project. Per a staff analysis, permitting from Florida Keys Electric Cooperative took longer than anticipated because of difficulties associated with the laying of wiring for the poles.

Rising material costs and delivery of equipment are factoring into the project’s new total. Village council members unanimously approved the amendment. 

AMENDMENT FOR WASTE SERVICE

The village dais voted 3-2 to approve a fourth amendment to an agreement with Advanced Disposal Services Inc., which is now owned by Waste Management. Per the amendment, per-week pickups for commercial customers with large roll-off, self-contained compactors will go from three to one. Pinder and Rosenthal voted no on the resolution.

In addition, the amendment provides a billing option for grouped residential dwelling units to be treated as a commercial customer. In some instances, condominium and homeowners associations prefer to be treated as commercial customers to avoid garbage trucks entering their respective neighborhoods to collect trash. In this case, HOAs have the option to request a commercial account and receive an appropriately- sized dumpster with recycling bins and location for disposal of yard waste and request removal from the non-ad valorem assessment roll. Once HOAs make contact with the contractor to set up the commercial account and be billed directly by the contractor for services, the HOA will submit a request in writing to the village to be removed from the non-ad valorem tax roll for solid waste assessments for residential services.

Depending on the effective date of the change, the village will refund pro-rated solid waste assessment amounts to the individual homeowners comprising the HOA. Should the HOA desire to revert to individualized residential services as a residential customer, the request should be submitted to the village by Aug. 1 of any year to go into effect Oct.1.

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Jim McCarthy is a northerner who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since his graduation from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3 years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. Behind every community is resiliency and resolve in difficult times. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim serves as President of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. “It’s a group that lives by the motto ‘Service Above Self,’” he says. “We’ve done service projects at the Tavernier nursing home, sitting down and socializing with residents. “We’ve also supplied cameras to young students exploring the Keys ecosystem.” Jim loves sports, family and time exploring underneath the water depths.