KEY WEST OFFICIALS DEMAND GUN CONTROL FROM STATE & FEDS

Key West city officials heard some pushback from community members on June 7, when they voted 6-1 in favor of a resolution demanding that the U.S. Congress and the Florida Legislature “enact common sense gun legislation including (1) mandatory background checks and training for every firearm purchase in the United States, (2) removing high-capacity magazines and assault-style weapons from our streets, and (3) making gun trafficking a federal crime.”

The resolution passed, with Commissioner Billy Wardlow dissenting, but only after four people spoke against it. 

“The things you’re saying are not factual. There’s no such animal as an AK-15 and a magazine is just a box that bullets come in,” said Charles Meier, a U.S. veteran and firearms instructor who lost his leg in the Middle East. He was referring to Mayor Teri Johnston’s misstatement on a recent radio interview that misidentified the AR-15.

 “You’re not doing anything with this resolution. It’s a knee-jerk reaction,” Meier said. 

Key West resident Steve Akaila also spoke against the resolution, saying, “the problem with these resolutions is that the definition of assault rifles is a political one, not a factual one. The reality is that everyone wants to do something about violence in communities. And Uvalde was a tragedy, but the police stood outside for an hour.”

Former city commissioner Margaret Romero, who’s running against Johnston in the mayor’s race, called the gun control resolution “the me-too bandwagon. It’s like ‘me too, me too.’ But other people are working on this and if people in Key West wish to contact the state and federal legislators, that’s fine. I think we’re all concerned with illegal guns, but I’d like us to focus on the agita in our planning and building department. Why do we have three city directors leaving? We can’t write legislation that exceeds the state, so let’s try to focus on what we can change here in Key West.” 

To finalize the gun control discussion, Commissioner Clayton Lopez read a lengthy statement ticking off the number of mass shootings in the country this year.

“There are few issues across these politically divided states of America that we can point to and identify consensus (although many in our highest leadership with authority to do something about it, are in denial). … This is not about opposition to the Second Amendment. In fact, I believe that argument, although continuously waged, is far from applicable here. No one wants to take away guns. What we want is regulatory authority that will protect our children.”

In other news…

The occupancy levels for Poinciana Gardens assisted-living facility have skyrocketed since August 2021, when the city, Monroe County and the housing authority formed a three-year financial partnership to keep the struggling facility funded. In August 2021, occupancy was 46% with only 52 of the 112 units occupied, said Randy Sterling, director of the Key West Housing Authority. Today, the first floor, which now houses independent, over-55 apartments, is 93% full with 27 of 29 units occupied and a waiting list for the last two units. The second floor, which offers independent, supported living with three meals a day, laundry and cleaning services, is 81% full with 25 of 31 units occupied. Work remains to be done on the third floor, which is a fully supported, assisted-living facility, where residents need the most care, Sterling said. The third floor is 56% full with 29 of 52 units occupied, he said, adding that total revenue is up 32% since August 2021. “So we’re definitely making positive progress to break even,” Sterling said, adding that a new management team is in place as well as a new food services provider.

In closing…

Romero spoke again at the end of the meeting, criticizing officials for closing preliminary budget meetings to the public. She said those meetings are where she learned that despite a citywide hiring freeze two years ago that kept the police and fire departments from hiring, Johnston hired an executive assistant. 

“City policies and the charter were not followed,” Romero said. “This city needs transparency to restore trust between government and the citizens. There’s a feeling in the public that certain people get permits in a hurry and others don’t. There doesn’t seem to be a feeling that everyone is treated equally. If we really want to restore trust and resolve this divide, we must work on it.”

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.