NEW VILLAGE DAIS PREPARES TO ADDRESS KEY ISSUES

With Election Night over and results in, a new Islamorada Village Council will convene for its first meeting on Thursday, Nov. 19. Several newcomers, as well as those familiar with the various facets of village operations, will enter the dais.

The village’s five seats will see new faces from the previous council, with Jim Mooney moving on to represent the Keys in Tallahassee as state representative and Mike Forster the winner of Monroe County Commission’s seat 5, which represents Key Largo to Tavernier. Chris Sante elected not to run for another term, while Deb Gillis termed out. 

Ken Davis passed away on Sept. 12 from a heart failure and stroke. That left Henry Rosenthal as the lone candidate in the race for seat 4, which the Monroe County Elections Office determined him to be the winner. 

The dais welcomes Pete Bacheler, Mark Gregg, Joseph “Buddy” Pinder, Rosenthal and David Webb. Bacheler, who unofficially received 2,251 votes to challenger Frank Lavin’s 1,785, votes, is a 35-year resident of the village. Serving for six years as chairman of the Land Planning Agency, Bacheler said there are a few matters the village must address quickly when council convenes, notably the selection of the next manager with Seth Lawless’ departure. Maria Bassett, who serves as the village’s finance director, is the acting manager. 

“City manager ads must go out as soon as possible. Then we need to establish a committee to review the manager to decide and whittle it down to, say, three to five candidates,” he said. “Then, council will interview and personally meet the candidates.”

Bacheler said the village also needs a charter review committee to review items that may need changing within the village charter. 

“It’s very important, and we haven’t been getting around to it,” he said. “Our little community needs that.”

Seat 2 will see Mark Gregg, a 35-year resident of the village who served on council from 2000 to 2004. He was mayor one year and vice mayor for another. He’s also been a member of the village Land Planning Agency and served on the Achievable Housing Committee. Gregg was in a close race, having secured 2,187 votes unofficially to challenger Cheryl Meads’ 2,088 votes. 

Along with manager and charter matters, Gregg said he’s keenly interested in affordable housing. While it’s not as urgent as the village manager selection, Gregg said “permit armageddon” in 2023 isn’t far away. 

“The essence is when BPAS (building permit allocation system) comes to an end and build-out as far as new permits, and 700 people who own lots who don’t have a permit, we want to start the process on how we’re going to deal with that internally and with the county and state,” he said. 

Gregg said he’s looking forward to building a rapport with the other council members. Through his experience on the council, developing relationships with others is critical. 

“There will be some items that some council members will feel strongly in favor of or against. How that gets handled is important,” he said. “I don’t want a council where there are 3-to-2 votes. I’d much rather we work together and it’s 5-0. It shows strength working together as a team.”

Longtime resident and council newcomer Joseph “Buddy” Pinder won seat 3 with an unofficial 2,307 votes to Jenny Bell-Thomson’s 1,986 votes. Pinder says he’s excited to jump in and work for the betterment of the village, its residents and businesses. Among the matters Pinder said he’ll be looking into will be the pedestrian bridge by Founders Park. Work is already underway to move utilities to make way for the $4.68-million project funded by the Florida Department of Transportation. FDOT officials said a ground-breaking is anticipated by the end of the year. 

“I’m not the only one who didn’t want that thing,” he said. 

Seat 5 winner David Webb unofficially gathered 2,293 votes in a win over Larry Zettwoch, who secured 1,692 votes. A seven-year resident of the Keys, Webb is a retired FedEx pilot and president of the Port Antigua Property Owners Association. 

As the leader of the association representing more than 4,000 FedEx pilots for nearly 10 years and president of the Port Antigua group, representing over 300 property owners on Lower Matecumbe for two years, Webb said he’s refined his ability to bring diverse groups of people with sometimes conflicting objectives together through honest, open and respectful interaction. 

“(It was) a big win for the residents of Islamorada,” Webb said following the election results. “Hoping the new council will be able to close ranks for the benefit of our amazing community.”

Votes weren’t counted for seat 4 by the elections office due to the passing of Davis on Sept. 12.  As a result, Rosenthal was deemed the next councilman for the seat. A notice went out to village voters informing them that a “candidate in the race for the office of Village Council Seat 4 has passed away, resulting in an unopposed candidate.” The notice went on to state that a vote cast in the race will not change the outcome as the remaining candidate is deemed by law to be elected for that race. 

A lawsuit was filed requesting all votes count in the race since Davis qualified before the deadline. An emergency hearing on the matter wasn’t granted, however, as the notice was sent out to village voters. The lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed before the election. 

Rosenthal said he’ll be ready come Nov. 19. 

“I intend to be fair and impartial. I think we’ll just do fine,” he said. 

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