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KW Commission may hire and fire tonight

Key West City commissioners have a full agenda for their meeting tonight, including hiring Patti McLaughlin as interim city manager and firing Duval redevelopment consultant KCI Technologies, Inc.

McLaughlin, currently assistant city manager, has been tapped to temporarily take over for outgoing City Manager Greg Veliz, who is leaving April 16 for a new position with the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority.

If McLaughlin is approved as expected, she will oversee city operations while a candidate search, also on Tuesday’s agenda, is carried out. Commissioners have set aside $20,000 for the search.

In a related agenda item, commissioners will vote to appoint members to an advisory screening committee to assess and rank new city manager candidates. Each of the seven city commissioners as well as the city’s three unions will appoint one person to the committee. A last committee member will be appointed by city hall staff management.

“The Committee shall review all applications for the position of city manager and provide a list of recommended applicants to the City Commission for consideration,” the resolution states.

Commissioners will also officially fire KCI Technologies, the engineering firm hired last year to oversee redevelopment and “reimagining” of Duval Street. It was recently learned that KCI laid off the project manager and the firm’s planning department one week after winning the Duval contract.

“The city commission finds that KCI Technologies has promulgated changes to staffing and approach to the project that are not in the best interests of the City of Key West,” the resolution reads.

KCI likely will not go away empty-handed from Tuesday’s meeting. Two other resolutions continue projects KCI has been working on, including a general traffic engineering services agreement and a $135,175 contract to complete the “Final Mile” project, a state-funded plan to purchase and install bicycle, pedestrian and bus rider amenities at high use bus tops and other public areas along the Lower Keys Shuttle bus route.

In another sign that the devastation from COVID-19 is beginning to dissipate, commissioners will consider authorizing a $35,000 grant to A Positive Step of Monroe County, Inc. for its “Idle Hands Summer Youth Employment Program.” In last year’s budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, commissioners agreed to pause all grants to local non-profit organizations due to expected revenue reductions. The Idle Hands program is the first non-profit profit to be placed back on the municipal grant table since then.

“As 2021 begins there is reason to expect the city’s economic position will continue to improve in the coming months,” according to the funding resolution.

Commissioners will also vote to submit an official appeal of the 2019 Federal Emergency Management Agency’s preliminary flood insurance maps, based on scientific engineering and data conducted and gathered by the Flood Map Task Force formed by Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe (FIRM). The resolution also commits Key West to contribute up to $85,000 towards appeal defense funding.

FEMA is proposing to significantly increase flood elevations and expand the Special Flood Hazard Areas in Key West and throughout the Florida Keys. The move would significantly increase flood insurance rates in specific areas of Key West under the National Flood Insurance Program.

The commission will be held at 5 p.m., Tuesday, April 13, in Key West City Hall, 1300 White St. Interested people can also watch the meeting virtually on Comcast channel 77 and AT&T channel 99. The meeting can also be viewed on the city website, www.cityofkeywest-fl.gov, or on Zoom by telephoning 1-646-558-8656, Meeting ID: 810 9578 3277, Passcode: 061325.


Jeanette McLernon, FKOC’s new Executive Director, is seen among tropical flora at one of the many renovated group home-style apartments at Poinciana Plaza.

FAMILIAR FACES: An occasional series that looks at the people who make up our island community
Jeanette McLernon helps those in need

When it comes to helping provide affordable housing for Monroe County’s most challenged populations – mentally, physically and financially tested residents – Jeanette McLernon has done it all.

Driven the homeless outreach van up and down the Florida Keys stopping to talk to people looking for help? Done that. Created a pilot program providing counseling and therapy for developmentally disabled adults with substance abuse problems? Check. Managed a 44-person apartment complex for mentally disabled adults? Done that, too.

She has been the proverbial chief, cook and bottle washer, learning many if not most of the staff roles in multiple homeless services agencies in the Florida Keys for the past 10 years. Now, as the new executive director of the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition (FKOC), McLernon is using that boots-on-the ground experience to lead the agency, which provides homeless prevention and shelter services to individuals in need, including other essential assistance like a food pantry and counseling programs.

“I know their jobs. I’ve done their jobs. I’m glad I’ve done all these roles because I’ve been in everyone’s shoes at one time,” she said about the FKOC team she is now overseeing, plus relationships with the agencies FKOC coordinates with. “Now I’m in a position where I can ensure everything is going smoothly.”

McLernon had been working for about 20 years in homeless services in New Jersey when her sister moved to Key West in 2001. Helping her with the move, McLernon got her first taste of the Southernmost Point and then kept visiting. Ten years later while on another vacation in Key West, she went to a homeless seminar in the old City Hall. She doesn’t remember the specific topic but does remember her “eureka” moment when she understood how her professional experiences in New Jersey could be useful to the homeless population in the Keys.

“There were different challenges I was hearing in this meeting because there weren’t as many services available” in the Keys compared to New Jersey, she said. “If you didn’t want to go to KOTS [Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter] or a shelter, you could sleep on the beach. I found it fascinating. I thought, ‘I can help you.’”

So, McLernon moved to the Keys in 2011 and soon after began working at the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League (SHAL). One of her favorite responsibilities was taking the SHAL mobile outreach van out on the road.

“I would go up and down the Keys to meet people and see what the housing needs were. It was fun,” she said. “I was trying to come up with different ideas and how to create more available funds in the community to relieve some of the stress on the agencies.”

At that point, local organizations servicing homeless and developmentally challenged clients looked first to private donations to fund their programs. McLernon began to steer SHAL towards government grants, which she was familiar with through her work in New Jersey. And when SHAL dissolved into the Monroe County Continuum of Care (MCCOC), McLernon just floated over to the new agency. MCCOC became the funding “umbrella” organization for homeless social services, taking the lead to search for state and federal grant programs and then disbursing the monies to local agencies like FKOC and the MARC House under its funding umbrella. That way, homeless services became more coordinated and better subsidized.

McLernon points out she was always part of a team, coordinating with other agencies while at SHAL and MCCOC. Then, in 2015, she was hired by FKOC as its client service coordinator.

“I knew everybody anyway because we all worked together,” she said. “I just carried on the same duties. I just kept on working.”

At FKOC, McLernon handled direct client case management and on the technology side, data and records compliancy and systems assessment. Shortly before Hurricane Irma hit, FKOC reorganized and McLernon was put in charge of Peacock Apartments in Key West, a group home for mentally disabled adults. There her duties branched out to soliciting donations from local organizations, helping then-FKOC Executive Director Stephanie Kaple with grant funding and even finding speakers for homeless service seminars.

And in January, when Kaple left to move to Savannah, Georgia, McLernon was tapped for the top job. She now has a broader canvas to apply her experience and knowledge to. She says her priority will be to develop a strong funding plan for program sustainability. She also wants to coordinate with other homeless agencies that now compete for the same state and federal grant funding.

“Everybody needs a piece of the pie. We need to broaden our scope and assess what the community’s needs are,” she said.

McLernon also wants to increase the size of the nine-member FKOC board of directors.

“To have other perspectives,” she said about her reasoning to increase the board. “Our latest new member is formerly homeless. I’d like to bring somebody on in the mental health arena. Maybe another person from the faith community.”

In her so-called spare time, McLernon is helping with the housing section of the strategic plan Key West City officials are developing. She is also on the MCCOC board of directors and the Guidance Care Center Community Action Council. She chairs the Poinciana Committee, which is made up of representatives from different local homeless services agencies. And she just got a new puppy.

After 40 years in the field, though, how does McLernon maintain her passion for her work, not to mention emotionally surviving the hundreds of difficult, if not horrible, stories she hears from her clients?

“I enjoy meeting the people and getting to know them and their trials, tribulations and issues. I want to try to help make things available to people who are underserved,” she said, adding, “I just hate to see people struggle.”


Hospital, Water Top Marathon Council Agenda

The Marathon City Council on Tuesday will focus on two ordinances that involve water and irrigation within the Marathon city limits and an important review of long-sought financial documents from Baptist Health South Florida, key to the funding for the rebuilding of Fishermen’s Community Hospital.

There is also a resolution on the council’s agenda to approve an agreement between the City and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) providing funding for the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery Infrastructure Repair Program (CDBG), along with and a property redevelopment agreement between the City and Marlin Bay Yacht Club.

Ordinance 2021-07 proposes stringent irrigation restrictions. It was pulled from last month’s agenda because City Manager George Garrett wanted to have a Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority representative on hand for insight and details. It is back on today’s agenda with an FKAA speaker scheduled and is expected to be a heavily debated discussion among council members.

The City’s goal with this ordinance would be to ensure that water and landscape irrigation conservation is consistent throughout Marathon, although the language is very restrictive and specific. Many forms of irrigation, from public parks and athletic fields all the way down to individual homeowner properties, could be affected by this legislative action. The ordinance would essentially make it unlawful for any person to irrigate their property with potable water except during approved hours, even in the absence of drought conditions.

This ordinance would charge the South Florida Water Management District with far-reaching authority to regulate the consumption of water, even for the City of Marathon. At least one of the five council members, Mark Senmartin, labeled this ordinance “ridiculous” before the March council meeting.

Another water-related ordinance on the agenda is Ordinance 2021-10, which would potentially approve The city’s “10-Year Water Supply Facilities Work Plan” as Required by the State Department of Economic Opportunity. The ordinance, if approved, would update water demand projections, identify alternative and traditional water supply projects, and outline conservation and reuse levels needed to meet future demands.

At last month’s Council meeting, commissioners shared concerns regarding the city obtaining financial documents from Baptist Health South Florida before the May 1 deadline for the City to review these financials and decide whether to vote to opt-in or opt-out of the Municipal Services Taxing Unit (“MSTU”) to help pay for the rebuild of Fishermen’s Hospital. Residents voted to approve this special taxing district in 2018 after Hurricane Irma heavily damaged the hospital in 2017.

Two hearings of whichever ordinance the council decides to pass must occur before May 1 for transmittal to the county. The first hearing will be today and if the City decides to opt-in, a second hearing may not be necessary at a special call meeting on April 27. However, if the City chooses to opt-out, it’s likely a new ordinance will need to be drawn to officially remove the City from the MTSU.

A Baptist Health representative is scheduled to give a presentation on the hospital construction progress as well as to reiterate the needs for the funding. The financials Baptist submitted to the city summarized Fishermen’s Q1-4, 2020 Indigent Care Summary, which was the basis for the establishment of the special taxing unit. The MTSU is wholly predicated on Fishermen’s need for the tax revenue because of the high number of uninsured or underinsured it serves in the Middle Keys.

Per an email from City Manager George Garrett to the five-member commission, “Baptist Health and the Foundation will be prepared to make a full presentation concerning the financials as well as the progress and projected opening of the new hospital at your April 13, 2021 meeting”.

Monroe County created the Middle Keys Health Care Ordinance to ensure the availability of hospital services within the Middle Keys area.

Councilman John Bartus is also planning to update the group on the state’s increasing appetite to limit local decision making and steer more of that to Tallahassee, as was done recently regarding vacation rentals.

Sailboat causes power outage

Homes and businesses throughout the Lower Keys were without power on Monday morning after a sailboat became tangled in powerlines off the Seven Mile Bridge, according to Keys Energy Services.

The power outages were reported throughout Keys Energy Services service area, which runs from Key West to the Seven Mile Bridge, Keys Energy spokesman Julio Torrado said. Power slowly returned to the Lower Keys on Monday. However, sailboat was unable to be removed on Monday and was secured to the Seven Mile Bridge.

Wind speeds picked up significantly Sunday night and on Monday morning when storms moved across the Florida Keys. Wind gusts of nearly 40 mph were reported near the Seven Mile Bridge on Sunday night and Monday morning. The light at Carysfort Reef reported the highest wind gust at 63 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Deputy fired and criminally charged

A 21-year-old Sheriff’s Office detention deputy assigned to the Monroe County jail on Stock Island was fired Thursday after he picked up and slammed a detainee to the ground.

Former corrections deputy Jacarius John Rahming has also been charged criminally with battery, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Adam Linhardt said.

Sheriff Rick Ramsay fired Jacarius John Rahming after learning of the April 6 incident, Linhardt said.

A Sheriff’s Office incident report stated Rahming was “attacking an inmate.” A surveillance camera recorded the attack. There was no audio on the recording.

Rahming walks into the view of the camera and then shortly afterwards the inmate is seen walking past him heading towards the bunks. Rahming then follows the inmate toward the bunks and stops at the beginning of the pod, the sheriff’s report stated.

Both the inmate and Rahming are talking to each other as the inmate begins walking toward Rahming. The inmate becomes within 3 feet of Rahming and then Rahming begins to walk toward him. The inmate begins to walk backwards with his hands by his side while Rahming continues to walk towards him. The inmate continues to walk backwards away from Rahming to the end of the pod and Rahming continued to walk toward him and backed him into the wall, the report stated.

Rahming and the inmate are then standing face to face for a couple seconds and then Rahming grabs him and pushes him into the wall. Rahming and the inmate then grapple. Rahming then picks up the inmate, with both feet off the ground, and slams him onto the ground and gets on top of him, the report stated.

Another inmate attempted to break up the fight but could not do so. Rahming is then seen on top of Turner wrestling and throwing punches for approximately one minute until the back-up deputies arrive, the report stated. The initial back up deputies appear to try and pull Rahming off of the inmate but struggle to do so for a short period of time, according to the report.

The back up deputies are then able to pull Rahming off of the inmate and then handcuff the inmate. While the deputies lift the inmate to his feet, the inmate turns toward Rahming and attempts to spit on Rahming. Other deputies then have to restrain Rahming as he tried to go after the inmate. The inmate is then escorted out of the dormitory, the report stated.

“I will not tolerate abusive behavior and demand everyone under my command act professionally at all times,” said Sheriff Ramsay said. “I will always be transparent with the public, when it comes to the good as well as the bad. I want you to hear it from me first.”

The detainee was not seriously injured in the incident. Rahming has been with the department for about a year, hired on Feb. 24, 2020. His salary was $52,195, Linhardt said.