ISLAMORADA COUNCIL REVERSES COURSE ON TERM-LIMIT PROPOSAL

Pinder named mayor once again

two men sitting at a table with microphones
Councilman Mark Gregg, foreground, and Councilman Henry Rosenthal. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

Displays of division and dysfunction were witnessed on occasions inside Founders Park Community Center as the Islamorada council conducted its business in 2023. But there was a glimmering moment of unity at the council’s final meeting of the year on Dec. 14, as the group of five members reconsidered and unanimously decided to revise a term-limit proposal that brought fiery discussion a month before. 

On Nov. 7, the council voted 3-2 to send the question of cumulative eight-year term limits to village voters in the November 2024 election. Currently, the village charter allows council members the chance to run and serve eight consecutive years, which translates to four two-year terms, before having to step away. A termed-out councilperson could step away for a year, two years or more, make another run for office and serve another eight years. 

A proposal before the council last month, however, would ask voters if they’re in favor of eight cumulative years — and make the limit retroactive. Councilman Mark Gregg, who voted against the call for referendum, believed the proposal was targeted at several members, like former mayor Deb Gillis, himself and others who’ve held several terms in village office. He call the idea “political assassination by charter.”

The proposal passed via a 3-2 vote during a Nov. 7 meeting. Vice Mayor Sharon Mahoney, Councilwoman Elizabeth Jolin and Councilman Henry Rosenthal supported the term limit referendum. Two days later at a Nov. 9 meeting, however, Rosenthal asked council members to reconsider the previous vote to send the term limits question to voters. Sure enough, the council voted 3-2 for a reconsideration in December. 

During council’s meeting on Dec. 14, Gregg asked fellow council members to eliminate the retroactive part of language within the referendum. 

“This has an impact on those who might want to serve in the future,” he said. “I do this not for the money, obviously, because I love it and love my community and I love the environment here.”

Rosenthal reversed course from his prior vote and told council members at the Dec. 14 meeting that he didn’t support sending a term limit question of eight-years retroactive to the voters. He said the proposal wasn’t fair to Gregg and Gillis, who could be affected by the new proposal. Rosenthal went on to say his first vote went along with the dissension seen and faced within the Islamorada council and community in recent times. 

“That is not pulling us together as a body,” Rosenthal said. “I don’t care if they’re (council members) here 150 years, the public will make that choice.”

Mahoney commended Rosenthal for changing his mind and “pulling everyone together.” Council members voted 5-0 to alter language to eight cumulative years that wouldn’t be retroactive. If approved by voters next November, the new eight-year cumulative term limit would commence once a newly-elected council is seated. 

Council members unanimously approved an ordinance that would call for a referendum to increase monthly compensation from $1,000 to $1,500. Pay for the five members has remained at $1,000 a month going back to March 2006. A 2005 referendum saw a majority of voters supporting a bump in pay, which at one point was $300 per month. 

Gregg proposed the referendum also include language that council members are entitled to a cost of living adjustment that village staff receive annually. Council members also said “yes.” 

“I appreciate the volunteer nature of many things that I know we all spend our time doing, but this is kind of an intense volunteer effort,” Jolin said.  

The question will ask voters at the Nov. 5, 2024 election whether they support a jump in pay. If passed, the pay increase would take effect following the 2024 election. 

“I’m staunchly behind giving you a raise to $1,500. I think it’s fair. I think it’s in a large part overdue,” said resident Van Cadenhead. 

Council members previously considered sending a question to voters on whether they’d say “yes” to a monthly $2,000 paycheck per council member. The proposal didn’t garner the four votes needed for passage. 

Pinder selected as mayor

No debate or disagreements were witnessed among the council in its selecting of Buddy Pinder as mayor and Mahoney as vice mayor for a second year in a row. During the Dec. 12 meeting, Gregg nominated Pinder as the mayor, who presides at meetings and signs certain documents like resolutions and ordinances. Pinder nominated Mahoney as vice mayor, who fills in for the mayor in his absence. 

Buddy Pinder was selected as mayor for the second year in a row at a Dec. 12 meeting at Founders Park Community Center. JIM McCARTH/Keys Weekly

Helicopter landing agreement

Council members voted 5-0 on an agreement with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District to allow use of Founders Park’s Great Lawn for helicopter landings six to 10 times a year. Last August, the mosquito control district’s executive director, Andrea Leal, contacted the village to inquire about possible landing sites for FKMCD’s helicopters to refuel and reload larval control products used to target immature mosquitoes living in the water before becoming biting adults. Leal said FKMCD uses Bti, or Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, which is a naturally occurring soil bacterium applied by air to larval habitats. Leal said the product is environmentally safe, as it’s used on organic farms, and poses no toxicity threat to people. 

FKMCD’s aerial operation formerly worked out of Tavernaero Airport on Plantation Key. A council communication states that mosquito control isn’t able to utilize that location anymore. Once the helicopter lands, Leal said crews reload with fuel and Bti. The helicopter would land twice during its aerial larviciding operations.

In other news:

  • Monroe County School District’s Pat Lefere visited the council to provide a report on the proposed improvements for the Coral Shores baseball field at Founders Park. Recently, the school district approved a request for qualifications for the design and construction to Chris-Tel Construction. Improvements won’t proceed, however, unless the village council gives approval. A lengthy discussion between village and school officials, as well as the public, resulted in the call for a community meeting in 2024 to examine the improvements. 
  • An idle speed zone at Tavernier Creek, a ridesharing service advisory committee’s recommendation to the council, manager contract and negotiations and the Fills were other discussions among the council and village staff. Visit islamorada.fl.us to view the full Dec. 12 and Dec. 14 meetings. The council dealt with 30 tabs during the course of the two meetings, which together went more than eight hours.

Jim McCarthy
Jim McCarthy is one of the many who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures in Western New York. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 5-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club. When he's not working, he's busy chasing his son, Lucas, around the house and enjoying time with family.