The recent city commission meeting didn’t include any “elbow shots to the kidney,” or threats of a parking lot fight, as occurred in Congress this week.
But tempers did flare in Key West on Nov. 9, when the commission shot down Mayor Teri Johnston’s two new appointments to the Key West Housing Authority board.
Johnston wanted to appoint Thaddeus Cohen to replace Roosevelt Sands Jr., who had stepped down from the board last year, and then passed away last month at the age of 93.
She also wanted to replace Bob Dean on the housing authority board with local attorney Robert Cintron despite Dean’s request to be reappointed.
Both Sands and Dean had served on the board for more than 40 years and Johnston has indicated in recent years that she wants to see new experiences and skill sets on the board.
But the rest of the city commission, with the exception of Commissioner Sam Kaufman, voted — often vehemently — to deny Johnston’s appointments.
(According to Florida law, housing authority appointments are the purview of the mayor, but require confirmation by the full city commission.)
Commissioners Billy Wardlow, Jimmy Weekley and Lissette Carey opposed the appointment of Cohen due to his potential upcoming run for the city commission. If successful in that election, Cohen would have to resign from the housing authority board.
“I can’t see going through this process again. Let’s make an appointment of someone who’s going to be there and will stay there,” Wardlow said.
“I take issue with replacing someone who committed 52 years to the housing authority board with someone who may only be able to serve on that board for six months,” Carey added, referring to the longtime service of Sands.
The commissioners in opposition reminded Johnston that Mr. Sands, in his resignation letter, had recommended a successor he felt would do a stellar job.
“Have you even interviewed Mr. Sands’ recommendation? Have you even given him the courtesy of an interview?” Weekley asked the mayor, who then offered to postpone Cohen’s appointment while she met with Sands’ recommendation, Kenny Rahming.
“I find this type of objection very off,” Johnston said, calling her appointment process “a very dirty process. I’ve been appointing people to boards in this city for 16 years, and the housing authority appointments are never questioned and always approved by the commission,” she said. “Never have I seen the actions I’ve seen here,” the mayor added.
She questioned why, when word of her planned appointment of Cintron to replace Dean was made public, “within hours he got a call from the city attorney, then from Commissioner Lopez, then from Commissioner Weekley.”
Lopez then pointed out that the commission’s prior approval of mayoral appointments always involved reappointments of someone remaining on the board, or replacement of someone who had died or who had voluntarily stepped down from a board – not the removal and replacement of someone, like Dean, who had asked to continue serving.
At the end of the often-heated discussion, the commission voted 5-2 to deny the mayor’s appointments of both Cohen and Cintron.
Wardlow, Lopez and Weekley also commended Cintron and his commitment to the city, adding that their opposition wasn’t personal against him. Cohen was not at the meeting to say whether he plans to run for the city commission, but Lopez said that he has “intimated to me that he will run, though he has not filed or officially announced it yet.”
Kaufman voted in favor of both of Johnston’s appointments, saying he would give deference to the mayor’s authority to appoint people to the housing authority board.
When both appointments failed, Kaufman said, “It’s my understanding that Bob Dean will just remain on the board if no new appointee is approved.”
But the resignation of Sands a year before his death leaves his seat open. It remains to be seen whether Johnston will interview and consider Sands’ suggested successor in Rahming, a lifelong resident of Bahama Village, who, according to Wardlow, is well acquainted with the housing authority and its developments.