“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”
The quote by Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of Patti McLauchlin’s favorites. It hangs above her desk in her new office at Key West’s City Hall, next to a photo of the late Supreme Court justice who not only survived, but conquered a historically man’s world.
Plenty of decisions are being made in McLauchlin’s new office these days. The Key West city commission appointed her interim city manager last month, when her predecessor Greg Veliz left to work for Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority. “I can’t say it wouldn’t be nice to be one of the first female city managers, and I’ll never say never, but right now, I truly intend to go back to being assistant city manager once the commissioners find the right person for the manager job.
I’m retiring in two years, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to be in the position for just two years. I really enjoy being an assistant city manager, although so far, the vast majority of my job has involved COVID. It’ll be nice to be in that position and not have everything revolving around the pandemic.”
McLauchlin has worked for the city of Key West for 40 years (although she doesn’t want anyone to calculate too closely the math problem that would reveal her age).
“Just say 40 years,” she said, moving a small curio cabinet that holds all the commemorative coins that mark every five years of city employment. “Gosh, there’s a lot of these.”
But she moved them on a recent Friday morning to make way for a photo of her grandsons, Kaleb, 11, and Boone, 9, and Mr. Beans, the beloved Yorkie that she lost a few weeks ago.
McLauchlin is planning the same repositioning and reprioritizing in the coming two years.
“It’ll be time for me to be Meemaw. But until then, this is an exciting time for the city of Key West and we have big decisions to make,” McLauchlin said, ticking off some of the most pressing issues: “We’re going to upgrade Duval Street and Mallory Square; we have the Douglass Gym expansion and the development of the 3.2 acres at Truman Waterfront. There are a lot of really good things happening.”
And in her 40-year tenure, McLauchlin has seen the good, the bad and the ugly.
She started work 40 years ago as a dispatcher for the Key West Police Department, then became records supervisor. She later joined, then headed up, the city’s IT department, back when no one knew what “information technology” would come to mean.
McLauchlin moved to Key West from South Carolina when her son, Frank, was just a year old.
“I’m originally from North Myrtle Beach and I have a sister who has never left there, although when I retire, I’ll head to North Carolina, where my grandsons are.”
McLauchlin’s other sister, Charla Rodriguez, lived in Key West as well and for decades was second in command of the Key West Housing Authority.
“We lived together for years, and shared a closet,” McLauchlin said. “Which was great, because I hate shopping for clothes, and my sister loves it. But now, for the first time in decades, I’m the only one of my family here in Key West, so I end up working — a lot.”
“But I absolutely love working for the city of Key West,” she said. “I love believing that I’m making a difference and I intend to make a difference with our 525 employees. I want to let them know their opinions and their contributions matter. I’m also implementing an employee committee, so good things are coming and I think things are a little calmer around City Hall these days.”
McLauchlin acknowledged that her leadership style is quieter than that of her predecessor.
“Greg had a more explosive personality, whereas I’m quieter and calmer,” she said, adding that despite public perception, she and Veliz were not “super close friends before he brought me on as assistant city manager. I really hadn’t known him that well, but while City Hall was being built, and our offices were temporarily on Flagler Avenue, everyone used to stop into my office to chat. Greg came in one day and said, ‘If I ever become city manager, I want you to be my assistant,’” McLauchlin recalled. “And then it happened.”
And before Keys Weekly let McLauchlin get back to work, we asked the interim city manager five final questions that have nothing to do with the city, but everything to do with who she really is:
THE FINAL FIVE QUESTIONS:
KW: On which game show, past or present, would you want to be a contestant.
PM: Jeopardy! But I’d want to compete against my own peers, not the Ken Jennings of the world.
KW: What was in the most recent package that arrived at your door?
PM: Clothes from Chico’s that my sister sent me. She’s my personal shopper. I hate shopping, but I needed to step up my wardrobe a bit when I was appointed interim city manager.
KW: What’s the first concert you attended?
PM: Santana in South Carolina. I was on a double date with my sister. I still love Santana.
KW: Whose poster hung on your adolescent walls?
PM: Tom Jones.
KW: What movie(s) can you recite by heart?
PM: My favorite is “The Wizard of Oz” and I still cry when Dorothy says goodbye to the Scarecrow. And as a South Carolina native, “Gone with the Wind” will always be a favorite.