Greg Veliz had tears in his eyes by the time the city commission meeting ended at 10 p.m. Tuesday, April 13. It was the last such meeting for the city manager, who leaves his city hall office on Friday, April 16 to work as deputy director of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority.
Veliz was promoted to city manager in August 2019, after serving as assistant city manager to predecessor Jim Scholl. Before that, he headed the city’s Community Services department.
His tenure saw unprecedented difficulties, locally and globally. On Tuesday night, all seven of his bosses thanked him sincerely for his dedication to the city and the sacrifices he made for it.
“You always fought for the health and safety of this community,” Commissioner Jimmy Weekley said.
Mayor Teri Johnston said their relationship “was probably the most challenging,” she said. “But you came in every day and we made it work. … Your years as city manager were in dog years. I can’t even fathom how difficult it was for you, your family and friends. … FKAA is lucky to have you.”
Commissioner Clayton Lopez told Veliz, “I can only say, much respect. You came through, and you did not disappoint. And I thank you for one of your first acts as city manager, your selection of our assistant city manager in Patti McLauchlin. You’re leaving us in good and capable hands.”
McLauchlin will work as interim city manager during the search for Veliz’s replacement. The commission will work with Slavin Management Consulting to identify candidates familiar with Florida government.
In addition to hiring the consultants, the commissioners each will appoint one Key West resident to a screening committee that will interview, evaluate and make recommendations about the top candidates.
Speaking as a private citizen, former city commissioner Margaret Romero at Tuesday’s meeting criticized the commissioners for failing to update and specify the city manager’s job description to include particular leadership qualities, work experience and expertise they seek.
Veliz had kept silent during the commissioners’ discussion of the city manager search, but at the end of the meeting, he offered some emotional advice: “When I hear you talk about job descriptions, I beg you, you’ve gotta find someone who gives it up for the city,” Veliz said. “It is a 24-hour job sometimes. Patti (McLauchlin) gives it up. (City Attorney) Shawn (Smith) gives it up. People around here give it up for this city.”
Veliz then pointed toward the back of the commission chambers, where his wife, Terri Veliz, sat.
“Every time I gave it up for the city, that lady back there, she paid. And I have to apologize to her and thank her for all the sacrifices she made,” Veliz said.
IN OTHER NEWS…
Their T-shirts declared, “I am not a derelict,” and their message Tuesday to the Key West City Commission was clear: “We are not the problem.”
More than a dozen residents who live on boats anchored off Key West pleaded with city officials to oppose pending bills in Tallahassee that would force them to pull anchor and move their vessels every 90 days.
Commissioners spent the bulk of Tuesday’s five-hour meeting listening to liveaboard residents’ opposition to House Bill 639 and its companion, Senate Bill 1086.
If passed, the bills would force liveaboard residents to pull anchor and move their vessels every 90 days in an effort to prove their boats are seaworthy and not derelict vessels.
Scores of residents live on boats anchored off Wisteria Island, just across the harbor from downtown Key West. KEYS WEEKLY FILE PHOTO
Many speakers acknowledged that derelict, or abandoned, vessels are a significant problem, including to the liveaboard residents. Such boats often are left to sink, rot or break free from a shoddy anchor to threaten other boats, waterways and personal property.
But they emphasized that existing laws — if properly enforced — would address the problem without affecting responsible owners living on viable vessels.
“I’ve been trying to understand how moving every 90 days helps anyone with anything. It does nothing,” said liveaboard resident Amanda Spindle. “Please give some thought as to why you’ve heard absolutely no one advocating for moving every 90 days.”
Major Rob Beaton with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission assured the city commission, “The vast majority of these people here tonight are not the problem. They’re engaged and are, for the most part, responsible vessel owners. But FWC will remain heavily engaged with the public and with the city if this bill passes. There’s a lot of tension because it’s an unknown. We’d workshop this issue and get some of the unofficial leaders of the boating community involved in the rule-making process to implement these new regulations. We’re at least well over a year out. The way the language is currently written, the timer doesn’t start until the additional mooring balls are in place.”
City officials emphasized to the boaters that they have no control over the bill, and urged them also to contact the Monroe County Commission, which voted to support the Tallahassee bills, and state lawmakers, who are currently considering it.
South Roosevelt Boulevard improvements
Commissioners also heard Tuesday from state transportation officials at Florida Department of Transportation who detailed upcoming work plans for South Roosevelt Boulevard.
Work on the $11.5 million project is slated to begin in October 2023. Improvements will include: Repaving, retaining wall repairs, reconstruction of the beachside promenade, roadway elevation in some areas to improve drainage, three blinking-light pedestrian crosswalks similar to those on North Roosevelt Boulevard and new sidewalks on the north side of the road.
Commissioner Sam Kaufman asked FDOT project managers why the work plan doesn’t include a designated bike lane, as the city is trying to promote alternative transportation and fewer vehicles. Kaufman and others asked FDOT officials whether a bike lane could be added, but did not get a satisfactory answer.