The last time Key West voted in a new mayor was 2009. Since then, Craig Cates has firmly held the position of Key West Mayor with three additional successful reelection bids. But on August 28, Key West will take a step closer, if not the final step, towards naming the city’s newest chief. What was once a field of 17 candidates, has now “dwindled down” to seven men and women—all making their cases on why they are best suited to lead the Southernmost City in the U.S. Should one of these seven receive 50 percent (plus one) of the August 28 vote, he or she will be the next Key West mayor. Otherwise, two of these seven candidates will move into a final runoff. Before any of that happens, we suggest you read about all seven of the men and women here…and we thank them for taking the time to chat with the Weekly and for their willingness to serve our community. Don’t forget to vote!
1. Major cities around the country are putting restriction on the number of Airbnb or VRBO rentals allowed. Do you think this is necessary and what extra restrictions/requirements would you propose — length of stay, or number of units available for rental, or complete elimination?
2. What is the best use for the old “Easter Seals” property — a new location for a homeless shelter, or workforce housing?
3. Name one action the City of Key West can take to improve either parking availability or removing traffic off local streets.
4. Should the City of Key West retain control over the amphitheater management, or subcontract it out to a professional group?
5. What’s your process, or vision, for the selection of positions such as city manager or other various administrative positions when they come open?
Having studied alcohol and addiction, psychology, not-for-profit management, French, education and public policy at various schools around the world including the Sorbonne and Harvard, Carie Noda returned home. She has worked for Monroe County Housing Authority, as an addictions family therapist, domestic violence counselor and is bi-lingual with training in five languages. Noda’s top three issues are keeping the ocean and shores clean, security at schools, and housing.
1. The greatest issue Key West is currently trying to address is the shortage of monthly local rentals. Unfortunately, due to lack of past city commissioner foresight Key West allowed a very large overage of conch homes sold in the past twenty years to be renovated and flipped into daily tourist attractive rentals. Thus our need for workforce housing. It is incredible that no one on our city counsel ever identified this in time. Now we have the same people already proven to not be effective as commission leaders attempting to spearhead the entire city as mayor.
2. Just because we identify an empty building does not mean we have the best use at hand at that moment. I personally would want for it to continue to be used under county guidelines preferably as housing.
3. As a Conch who actually learned how to drive on Key West High School property, I am proud to say “I can parallel park a 1970’s family car on Duval Street,” that said, we know Conchs love to drive up and down Duval Street, it’s a passage of rights. We do need well placed parking lots that make the city money and gets visitors to park their cars away from central areas. By the way, well-traveled, savvy tourists would not be overwhelmed by this expectation.
4. I don’t believe that we have an abundance of amphitheater management resumes filed away anywhere. I think we will probably end up with a theater manager monitored by the city.
5. Any hiring of executive managers should be done by contacting agencies specializing in highest level international resort city manager listings.
With a degree in mathematics, and consulting certifications and training in strategy and organizational management, Margaret Romero retired from IBM as an executive consultant and returned to her hometown of Key West. She is the current Key West Commissioner representing District 5 and is single. Romero’s top three issues are Financial Responsibility, Accountability, Transparency.
1. Making changes, under current State law, nullifies existing regulations/ control. Suggestions: ALL transient and short term rentals, including rooms, should Require licenses; Differentiate between transient and short term; Require commercial insurance proof; Compel smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and yearly fire inspections; Mandate owner / manager live in Key West with name, address, phone number in City records, immediately available to first responders, and public and posted with license in unit; Fee based on property type / zone (example, highest fee for transient rental in single family neighborhood); and Non-compliance fees doubled each occurrence.
2. Depends upon what options are on the table for both, the pros and cons unemotionally compared, decisions based on factual data. It IS possible the Easter Seals location be used for neither of the two options – but for something else practical and cost effective. Workforce housing often indicates children, would it really be best to have children living along College Road? Other options are available for both. There is a lot of rhetoric and emotion flying – but what is the REAL story and for how much are the taxpayers on the hook?
3. Build a parking garage near the Simonton St. fire station; central to downtown businesses and attractions, quickly accessible to the free Duval Loop – enhancing mobility from Front to United, and points near Whitehead and Simonton. And increase number of off-street parking spaces; generates revenue, takes cars off the street that travel round and round looking for a place to park.
4. A combination of the two – with precisely defined governance rubrics – governance meaning the agreed to and clearly stated guidelines, practices, processes, procedures, analysis and evaluations by which two or more parties make decisions and ultimately implement those decisions for a shared relationship or responsibility. The City cannot just relinquish total control because the amphitheater is a portion of the entire park area with ramifications and spill-over effects on the rest of the park as well as surrounding neighbors – be they businesses, residents, or government entities.
5. Elected officials only chose /evaluate three positions – City Manager, Attorney, and Clerk. Suggested process for selection of City Manager: Define responsibilities /duties; Articulate qualities, values, traits, and experience desired; Determine evaluation criteria and how assessed. I would look for: Integrity, trustworthiness, ethics; Complex problem solving, critical thinking skills; Proficiency/experience addressing Operational budget/financial issues, Organizational staff management /concerns, Community development /planning, Historic preservation. Also Good listening/communication skills; Visionary, yet practical and strong work ethic; Accessibility, community involvement; and Appreciation of city’s history and diverse communities.
With his wife of 19 years, George Bellenger owns and operates Key West Eco-Tours which employs 20 in Key West. He is a graduate of Wilmington Friends School, a Quaker prep academy in Delaware, and has a 100-ton captains license. He has been a resident of the Keys for 35 years. His son, George, attends Key West High School. Bellenger’s top three issues are workforce housing, road/ sidewalk repair and safety, and locals’ quality of life.
1. Housing for locals is at a critical point which demands actions on many fronts especially eliminating short term rentals from eating away yearly rentals that could accommodate worker housing. Currently, the number one factor in Monroe County suicides is anxiety of yearly renters. It’s not just the lack of workers for essential personal (teachers, police officers etc.) that makes this issue critical moving forward.
2. Workforce housing. In March the citizens of Key West passed a height variation in order to accommodate 104 units of workforce housing on this and adjacent sites. Let’s move forward in completing this project. The homeless shelter will most likely be moved to Bay Shore Manor with the current residents moving to the new Poinciana Gardens with their rent subsidized as to not place an unfair burden on them.
3. Build a parking garage on College Road at the transportation center with strong shuttle service to accommodate workers commuting, weekly vacationers and Stock Island residents.
4. This will be a topic of discussion today 7/30 at the advisory board meeting. All of the former management proposals call on the city subsidizing private contractors when what really needs to happen is for this facility to become a revenue source. Perhaps the city can rent the amphitheater to concert promoters for stand-alone events and otherwise manage the facility to help accommodate local groups to host fundraisers such as the Kinetic Parade and Mystic Krewe (disclaimer: I’m a member).
5. Drawing on my experience in hiring/promoting for my business I would give preference to someone local who understands the needs of the community and the difficulties associated with living in the Keys. To many times people move here for a job and quit a few weeks later. The men and women who work diligently for the city should be applauded and supported. Trust but verify, and if someone is abusing their position then grounds for termination should proceed. We deserve a fair and open city government for all citizens.
As the co-owner of Affiliated Design & Construction Managers LLC, Teri Johnston has spent the past 20 years active not only in the residential renovations and historic restorations business, but also a member of the Key West community at large. She served on the Key West City Council from 2007-2015. She is married to Dar Castillo and has two daughters and four grandchildren. Johnston’s top three issues are Livable Key West, vibrant economy, and environmental stewardship.
1. KW has a housing shortage estimated at 3,000 units. We receive 91 Building allocations per year until 2023. To impact our housing shortfall and house our KW key personnel we are going to have to change the current use of some existing units. Yes, many cities have eliminated/restricted Airbnb or VRBO rentals. I am closely watching the success of those initiatives. We can incorporate the successful initiatives that other tourist destinations have enacted while steering clear of failed initiatives. We can also partner with Monroe County who has buildable lots. KW has building permits but few buildable lots.
2. More consideration was required for both to happen. There is no doubt that adding 104 low and very low income housing units at Easter Seals/Mosquito Control property will ease our 3,000 unit housing shortage however the second half of that decision needed to be a new location for KOTS. Many will remember that the decision to relocate KOTS to the Easter Seals property was a 3 year debate with extensive Community involvement, zoning modifications and a great deal of work by staff. We are now under a 1 year deadline from the County and we are virtually starting over.
3. Create a “Duval Loop” service for our essential workers with a reasonable schedule and popular stops to get our employees to work without a vehicle or parking requirements.
4. I do not believe that we have anyone in City employee with the skill set to efficiently manage our amphitheater. This specialty should be subcontracted out to a professional group contractually with reasonable guarantees and protections for the City and our citizens.
5. Just like any other successful Community, we need to hire the brightest, most successful candidate with the skill set to manage our diverse Community and be responsive to the needs of our current residents. Any and all internal qualified candidates should be given the same consideration as those candidates identified through a nationwide search. Key West is a unique, international destination that will require a strong, experienced City Manager.
With a bachelors degree in financial management, and a minor in accounting, from Clemson University, Bill Foley is an agent supervisor at Key West Express. Unmarried, Foley has lived in the Keys for more than five years, and vacationed here for 18 years. His top three issues are affordable housing, traffic, and fiscal responsibility.
1. I see no reason why these properties should operate outside of our existing rules for rentals … transient licenses specifically. The one wrinkle that we face, that most other cities don’t, is the use of boats as rental properties. If these operations are following Key West laws and harbor rules while in our waters, and anchoring over 3 miles out; then they are currently in compliance. I would not be against fine tuning those harbor rules. Whether on land or sea, I’m pretty sure that we could find some kids willing and able to locate the illegal rentals (for a cut of the fines).
2. If those are my only two options, I will go with workforce housing. However, I strongly believe that a project like The Porches on Trumbo can be done quicker and with a minimal impact on traffic. In a perfect world, I would like to see the homeless shelter moved to Marathon. Land is more readily available (and cheaper) and residents would be closer to the mainland for medical or storm evacuation.
3. Only one? Studies have shown that there is no magic bullet to discourage people from driving, but The Duval Loop is a good start (and even better if we can stretch the route out to Stock Island). Giving our all-important workforce the option of not driving to work should lessen Old Town traffic and open up parking spaces.
4. Key West is capable of many great things, but I don’t think that running an entertainment venue should be one of them. If a reputable professional group can come up with an acceptable contract (one that does not include city funding), then we should let them utilize their expertise.
5. The important thing will be to not have blinders on. There are many great employees here, but I am not willing to just give a job to the next person in line. We will need to look everywhere for quality personnel … hardworking people that are trustworthy and that embrace what Key West stands for.
With a bachelors in economics from Vanderbilt University, and a law degree from University of Alabama, Sloan Bashinsky is also known as a perennial candidate in Key West, having run for office many times. His career encompasses both marketing and advertising, as well as general and tax law. He is unmarried, with two daughters and four grandchildren. Bashinsky has been visiting the Keys since 1956 and moved to the Keys in 2000. He said his top three issues are the environment, cost of living, and fewer people.
1. How do you legally stop people from buying houses and condos as investments to rent? Thirty-day rentals are allowed here. Transient rental ordinance violators, landlords and tenants, should be jailed and landlords fined the max and no negotiating down the fine.
2. Workforce housing. You do not want to put a homeless shelter next to the new workforce housing going in on other city land near the Easter Seals building any more than you at the Weekly Newspapers want a homeless shelter next door to where you live.
3. Absent a Category 5 hurricane T-bones Key West and reduces the population and motor traffic, more Key West residents could get out of their motor vehicles and walk, ride bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades and city buses.
4. The Key West Citizen reported today, July 30, that city staff got no decent bids from professional managers to operate the management, so city staff will operate the amphitheater for now. What professional would want to take that financial risk, when amphitheater events this year were financial disasters for the promoters and the city?
5. Far more important is selecting visionary mayor and city commissioners. Right now, there is one: Commissioner Sam Kaufman. I think Jim Scholl has been the best city manager since 2000. I would try to entice him to stick around a while longer. Otherwise, it will be … am ordeal process, I think.
Randolph “Randy” Becker came to Key West in 2007 to become minister at the Unitarian Universalist congregation. He retired after a 47-year career as a minister trained at Meadville Lombard Theological School. Before that, he earned a bachelors from Brandeis University in physics and sociology. He and his wife, Elissa, have been married for 26 years and they have four daughters and four grandchildren. He has served on numerous government and community boards and previously ran for Key West Mayor in 2016. Becker’s top three issues are affordable housing, Support for seniors, and Economic diversity.
1. Any properties listed on such sites or rented must be consistent with the provisions of our transient licensing. There should be vigorous enforcement of transient licensing. Transient licenses no longer being used by an owner should return into the possession of the city.
2. I would favor using the “Easter Seals” property as the site for a new homeless shelter – a 24-hour facility which could provide both shelter and supportive services to help people move to self-sufficiency and into their own housing. This should be coupled with a program to help the working poor beyond the first-last-security barrier.
3. Improving our public transit options, making driving a car (especially by tourists) unnecessary. More frequent and regular bus service, safer bicycle lanes, and availability of car-sharing (e.g., Zip-Car) would help to reduce both traffic and parking congestion.
4. Management of such a facility — with the complex issues of scheduling, contracts, industry contacts, and support services — is best handled by a local professional group provided that all costs for such management are derived from the operation of the amphitheater. The city should have a net income after all direct and incidental expenses of the amphitheater and its events.
5. We should be looking for individuals, both nationally and locally, who have the necessary professional education, certification, and experience. The selection process should include an independent search committee which would solicit and screen candidates, making a single recommendation to the city commission. Special attention should be paid to appropriate experience either in Key West or other communities with similar issues, needs, and advantages. The search committee should make a thorough background check of any candidate before recommendation, including visiting their current place of employment to gain a sense of the quality of their performance.