With its 4-0 Dec. 20 vote, the KCB City Commission repealed its July award of an $8.375 million contract to Hands On Builders, LLC for construction of a new hall. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY KEYS WEEKLY.

The clash regarding Key Colony Beach’s City Hall is now more than six years old, but the document reversing course on construction of a brand-new building is brief, at least for the legal world – less than two full pages, to be exact.

Approved with a 4-0 vote at the city’s special meeting on Dec. 20, with commissioner Beth Ramsay-Vickrey absent, a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlines dismissal of resident Laurie Swanson’s civil suit seeking a temporary restraining order following the commission’s July 20 vote to award an $8.375 million contract to Hands On Builders LLC for construction of a new hall.

Swanson’s dismissal, officially filed on Dec. 27 with the Clerk of Court, comes in exchange for the commission’s repeal of its July vote.

“It’s always reassuring to me when you see democracy in action, which is exactly what this is,” Swanson’s attorney Matthew Hutchinson told the Weekly by phone. “I want to commend Laurie, Dick Harper and the rest of the group. … They put together their time, effort and resources and made meaningful change.”

The MOU, which Hutchinson said was brief by necessity as “when you have a city commission, the more provisions in there can be more complicated,” primarily concerns the HOB bid, which Swanson previously told the Weekly was her sole aim in the legal proceedings. However, petitions for a referendum vote on the fate of City Hall, filed by roughly 250 KCB voters in September, were not fully addressed in the document.

Since September, the city has maintained that it would not process the petitions for referendum, which it said were impermissible as a method of challenging the commission’s July decision. In a Sept. 21 hearing for the lawsuit before Judge Mark Jones in Key West, Jones had laid the groundwork for subsequent hearings and the crux of the suit moving forward: Was the $8 million award a legislative action, subject to challenge per KCB’s code, or a discretionary budget decision by the commission, which did not appear to be?

Though the case will no longer see a second hearing, the status of the petitions, and what other residents may choose to do moving forward, is somewhat unclear. Though Swanson is the face of a group known as “Concerned in KCB,” there is no formal established entity, meaning Swanson can’t take official action on behalf of the other voters. Still, Hutchinson said the recent pivot looked like it would render the need for further action moot.

“I can’t speak to what the other voters would do. I can only speak to Laurie’s position that she would not needlessly pursue a lawsuit through court, taking up time, expense and money,” he said. “If the lawsuit had gone to conclusion, the judge could have agreed with us on the law and could have ordered them to have a vote. But I equate this to, if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a noise? (Now) there’s no one there to pursue a lawsuit.”

All options are, in theory, now back on the table for City Hall, including repair of the existing building or a move to replace it with a new contractor or new design. At the commission’s Dec. 14 meeting, newly-elected Mayor Joey Raspe acknowledged that scores of residents, including those who signed the petitions, have “all kinds of ideas” for a desired final outcome, but that “(KCB has) to see what’s practical for us to actually get done.”

Hutchinson praised the change in direction from city leadership. 

“I think the mayor has made clear that one of his goals is to be much more open with information,” he said. “I’ll be anxious to see where this goes.”

On Dec. 14, Raspe said he intended to schedule a walk-through of the existing City Hall building with Building Official Lenny Leggett in order to evaluate the feasibility of continued use or repairs for individual portions. Ramsay-Vickrey continued to speak against the use of the existing building, warning that the hall complex had been designated as an unsafe structure and that all portions of the existing complex must be considered as a single building, with one portion ineligible to reopen while others remained condemned.

Alex Rickert
Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.