a woman in a red shirt smiling for the camera
Stacey Mitchell, the former marketing director of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. File photo

The former marketing director of the Florida Keys’ top tourism agency will file a wrongful termination lawsuit sometime this year, her attorney told Keys Weekly.

Stacey Mitchell was fired March 26 in an 11-0 vote by the Monroe County Tourism Development Council’s board, at the behest of county Mayor Holly Raschein, after a series of audits by County Clerk Kevin Madok found the TDC lacking in financial controls.

TDC staff technically works for the nonprofit Visit Florida Keys – not the county – but its funding comes from taxes on tourist lodging.  

“My office is currently drafting a complaint under the Whistleblower Act against Visit Florida Keys,” said Zachary Zermay, an attorney in Coral Gables. “We’re interviewing witnesses.”

Mitchell wasn’t the source of any money management problems, Zermay said Tuesday. The TDC has no chief financial officer on staff. Instead, Mitchell, whose background is in sales and marketing, was the top director. 

“The record reflects my client has done a phenomenal job as marketing director of the TDC,” Zermay said. “She’s an advertiser, she’s not a comptroller. People forget Mr. Madok is the comptroller of the county. He was the one signing the checks.” 

The county clerk’s title includes “comptroller.” 

The audits by the clerk’s office generated enough controversy to get Mitchell fired after 25 years at the TDC, the multimillion dollar agency tasked with promoting the Keys as a tourist destination. She was promoted to its top job in 2017. 

Zermay said the audits only came after county commissioner Craig Cates, of Key West, was initially denied TDC funds to pay for a drone show at the county’s 2023 bicentennial celebration because the county had missed the application deadline that applies to everyone requesting event funding.

“All of this stems from my client making Craig Cates go through the proper protocols for a $150,000 drone show,” Zermay said. “There was a campaign of retaliation against Ms. Mitchell in the form of the audits.”

But at first, the TDC board stuck up for Mitchell, voting down a motion that Cates made in person at a February TDC meeting.

Cates said his motion wasn’t personal.

“This is a business decision,” Cates told the board. “We need a better director. We’re not blaming her.”

Audits of TDC practices, though, did blame Mitchell. 

The county commission hired its own forensic auditors, Cherry Bekaert, to review Visit Florida Keys’ financials. Their audit, released April 30, found that under Mitchell’s supervision and direction, the nonprofit “caused improper and excessive expenditures to be paid and failed to adhere to established policies and procedures.”

That drone show eventually happened with TDC funding when the county commission went above the TDC and approved it.

On March 25, 2023, 250 drones lit up the night to cap the bicentennial kickoff party at the Coffee Butler Amphitheater.

Seven months later, the first TDC audit conducted in more than 20 years came out, disparaging Mitchell’s leadership. 

“The audits were a way of retaliating against my client,” Zermay said. “Mr. Cates needed a pretext to terminate my client. That was one massive pretext.”

Mitchell, whose annual salary was $205,749, had been on paid leave since Nov. 16, 2023, two weeks after Madok released the first of four planned audits on the TDC and its partner agencies NewmanPR, Tinsley Advertising and Two Oceans Digital.

Only the Two Oceans Digital audit report remains forthcoming.

Gwen Filosa
Gwen Filosa is The Keys Weekly’s Digital Editor, and has covered Key West news, culture and assorted oddities since she moved to the island in 2011. She was previously a reporter for the Miami Herald and WLRN public radio. Before moving to the Keys, Gwen was in New Orleans for a decade, covering criminal courts for The Times-Picayune. In 2006, the paper’s staff won the Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news and the Public Service Medal for their coverage of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. She remains a devout Saints fan. She has a side hustle as a standup comedian, and has been a regular at Comedy Key West since 2017. She is also an acclaimed dogsitter, professional Bingo caller and a dedicated Wilco fan.