a woman in a red shirt smiling for the camera
Stacey Mitchell is the director of marketing for the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, the organization charged with destination marketing of the Florida Keys & Key West.

The Monroe County Tourism Development Council Board fired its top employee, marketing director Stacey Mitchell, in a unanimous vote Tuesday, five months after a county audit questioned her job performance and ethics.

County Mayor Holly Raschein, whose elected position makes her part of the TDC board, made the motion during a regular meeting of the TDC board, which is Mitchell’s employer, at the DoubleTree Resort in Key West.

“Our community is craving some accountability,” Raschein said. “This is not personal. We’re a small community, a very close-knit community. Tourism is our No. 1 industry. After a lot of conversations and reflection, I wanted to bring this item forward.”

Mitchell didn’t appear at the meeting but her attorney Zachary Z. Zermay, of Coral Gables, told the board that Mitchell is being “thrown under the bus” because she became a political target over public funding of Monroe County’s recent 200th anniversary celebration.

“It’s an election year,” Zermay said.

Attorney Zachary Zermay speaks to the Monroe County Tourism Development Council Board onf March 26, 2024, on behalf of his client, Stacey Mitchell. The board unanimously fired Mitchell from the TDC marketing director's job. GWEN FILOSA/Keys Weekly
Attorney Zachary Zermay speaks to the Monroe County Tourism Development Council Board on March 26, 2024, on behalf of Stacey Mitchell, who the board later fired from her job as the TDC marketing director. GWEN FILOSA/Keys Weekly

The ongoing series of critical audits of the TDC’s financials is payback, Zermay said, linking it to the TDC’s Key West Area District Advisory Council denying Commissioner Craig Cates’ request for $150,000 for a special drone show for the bicentennial.

Board members did not respond to Zermay’s comments. Instead, they took the advice of Assistant County Attorney Christine Limbert-Barrows.

“It’s not worth debating whether there is cause or not,” Limbert-Barrows told the board before the 11-0 vote removing Mitchell from the top job. “Proceed without cause is my recommendation. That is the path of least resistance.”

Mitchell had been on paid suspension since November 2023.

TDC board member George Fernandez was the first board member called to vote during the roll call. He paused for a moment and with a solemn expression said, “Yes.”

Zermay told Keys Weekly after the vote that Mitchell’s firing amounts to wrongful termination.

The county’s scrutiny of the TDC began Oct. 31, 2023, when County Clerk Kevin Madok released an audit criticizing TDC leadership and finding noncompliance with county policies along with ethical concerns.

“Ms. Mitchell is marketing director of the TDC,” Zermay said. “She’s not [a financial manager] There’s a separate constitutional office to deal with this sort of thing.”

The unanimous vote comes a month after the same members stuck up for Mitchell and rejected a motion by Commissioner Cates to fire Mitchell. Only Cates and Key West Mayor Teri Johnston voted for the firing at a Feb. 20 TDC board meeting.

But a week ago, the BOCC questioned why Mitchell hadn’t yet met with the forensic auditors the county hired to review the TDC. At the March 20 BOCC’s regular meeting in Key Largo, Commissioner Michelle Lincoln, of Marathon, asked the county attorney what it would take to end the contract with Visit Florida Keys, the not-for-profit corporation that is the TDC’s executive office.

County Attorney Bob Shillinger called such a move a “nuclear option.”

Gwen Filosa
Gwen Filosa is The Keys Weekly’s Digital Editor, and has covered Key West news, culture and assorted oddities since she moved to the island in 2011. She was previously a reporter for the Miami Herald and WLRN public radio. Before moving to the Keys, Gwen was in New Orleans for a decade, covering criminal courts for The Times-Picayune. In 2006, the paper’s staff won the Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news and the Public Service Medal for their coverage of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. She remains a devout Saints fan. She has a side hustle as a standup comedian, and has been a regular at Comedy Key West since 2017. She is also an acclaimed dogsitter, professional Bingo caller and a dedicated Wilco fan.