Things got a bit ugly at the June 8 Key West city commission meeting.
Officials voted 6 to 1 to remove a member of the city’s planning board who had refused to step down after he criticized the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, the Keys’ water utility, in an April 8 letter to the editor (published in a newspaper other than the Keys Weekly).
Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover, who had reappointed Gregory Lloyd to the city’s planning board in 2019 and 2022, asked him in an April 10 email, two days after his letter was printed, to step down. “It is about your letter to the editor….I feel your opinions express your prejudices on certain issues and therefore open the planning board to challenges on future items,” Hoover wrote.
Lloyd was appointed to his first three-year term in 2016 by then-Commissioner Margaret Romero. Hoover reappointed him twice, and his current term was scheduled to end in July 2025.
In the April email exchange with Hoover, Lloyd refused to step down, telling Hoover his printed letter summarized critical concerns about the FKAA and its water pipeline that are shared by residents countywide on social media. He assured Hoover his concerns would not supersede the rule of law and the city’s code, which determine his planning board votes.
Lloyd’s April 8 letter to the editor suggested that Monroe County consider a moratorium on development until FKAA corrects the issues with the Keys’ failing freshwater pipeline. He questioned the impacts of “new swimming pools and irrigation systems for vacation rentals and renovations/remodels” on the Keys’ drinking water supply, which is overseen by FKAA.
Lloyd’s letter sharply criticizes FKAA, saying that any qualified engineer would have advised that the Keys’ (50-year-old) pipeline) “was in desperate need of repair, and our ever-increasing development and growing population could not sustain our consumption.
“Instead of warning us of the pending crisis, the need to curtail development/usage, and get started on replacing the pipes,” the letter continues. “The FKAA’s board of directors chose to stay silent, build a new building with all the bells and whistles, and eliminated the need to have an engineering degree to serve as executive director.”
Lloyd writes that FKAA’s current executive director — Key West’s former city manager — Greg Veliz, “made no secret of the fact that the only thing he knew about water management when he took the job was ‘how to turn on a tap.’” (Veliz was city manager until April 2021, when he accepted the FKAA job.)
Lloyd’s letter also criticizes the water utility’s board members, appointed by the governor, for spending time approving lifetime medical benefits for members of upper management and their spouses, instead of answering questions about the failing pipeline and its replacement.
Following Lloyd’s refusal to step down, Commissioner Hoover used the provision in the city code that allows the city commission to remove an appointed board member with a majority vote.
Commissioners took that vote at the June 8 meeting and ousted Lloyd. Mayor Teri Johnston was the lone vote in support of Lloyd, who spoke in his own defense at the meeting, along with his wife and five or so other residents who spoke of his integrity, dedication and research on the planning board, and his courage in putting his name to concerns many residents share about FKAA.
Lloyd and his supporters said Hoover’s request that he step down was retaliatory. Lloyd called Hoover’s behavior “abhorrent,” while resident Todd Santoro, speaking on Lloyd’s behalf, said Hoover “should be ashamed of herself” for the retaliatory behavior.
Former commissioner Margaret Romero, who first appointed Lloyd to the planning board in 2016, said, “I’ve always found him to do his homework and research and I think he’s always tried to do the right thing for the city. The reasons a person now wants him off the board seem to be prejudiced toward another entity.”
Before the vote to remove him from the board, Hoover said, “Planning board members are directly appointed by commissioners. There is no entitlement to the position if people’s values don’t align.”
She also said that Lloyd’s April 8 letter to the editor wasn’t the first time she’d had an issue with Lloyd “going to the press” and “telegraphing his opinion” in letters to the editor that mentioned topics that would come before the planning board for decision.
“Any applicant to the planning board deserves to be heard without fear of bias, and too many times he has telegraphed his opinion beforehand,” Hoover said at the June 8 commission meeting.
“I’m not here to speak for Greg Veliz or Shawn Smith at FKAA,” Hoover added, referring to Shawn Smith, the former city attorney, who left the city the year after Veliz and joined him at FKAA. “They’re big boys. But there were items in Mr. Lloyd’s most recent letter to the editor mentioning issues that come before the planning board.”
Key West attorney Bart Smith echoed Hoover’s statements, telling the commission that Lloyd had written a letter to the editor in 2021 criticizing Smith and the restaurant collection at Key West Harbor for which he needed planning board approval. (Lloyd’s letter about Bart Smith also was never submitted to the Keys Weekly.)
Smith said that Lloyd’s 2021 letter raised supposed questions about Smith’s Chicago-based business partners in the marina and restaurant venture. “Those business partners are my parents,” Bart Smith said at the commission meeting.
“Your job is to decide after hearing the facts, not beforehand, and then run to the press with your opinion,” Smith said.
In casting the lone vote in support of Lloyd, and allow him to finish his term until July 2025, Mayor Johnston acknowledged Hoover’s authority to choose her own board appointees.
“But the fork in the road occurs because this is tied to Mr. Lloyd’s letter to the editor, and in the two months since it was printed, I haven’t spoken with a single person who doesn’t agree with the concerns he raised in that letter. Even we, as the city of Key West, asked the FKAA management to come in and explain their maintenance and pipeline replacement plans to us. Mr. Lloyd does the work, and we’d lose an intelligent, articulate, qualified individual on one of our most important boards.”
The mayor added, “If we were all judged by fiery letters to the editor, I don’t think Harry Bethel would ever have served on the city commission.”
Before voting to remove Lloyd, Commissioner Sam Kaufman expressed dissatisfaction with the city’s legislative process. “In effect, any one of us could bring a vote to the commission to get someone else’s appointee removed. It’s an awkward situation that I think we should fix,” Kaufman said.