Our Key West community is fortunate. In all the cities and towns in our great democracy, none has a better mayor than KW.

Our KW form of government doesn’t give our mayor the authority most mayors have. In spite of this, our mayor, Teri Johnston, leads by example every day and focuses on what’s best for our community. No one works harder, listens more sincerely, and is more conscientious and honest about implementing what voters need now and in the future.

The most recent example is the professional and honest evaluation of senior staff’s effectiveness in serving the community and the commissioners. Sadly, and for self-interest reasons, all the commissioners gave the current City Attorney (the powerful and highest-paid government employee) an “outstanding” grade for serving citizens and the commissioners. In contrast, a majority of KW citizens have complained about the City Attorney’s obvious obstruction of the voters’ will, expressed by election, and habit of supporting wealthy dark interests in the Cruise Ship business while refusing to follow the commissioner’s instructions.

It’s hard to explain why good commissioners, who knew and understood the City Attorney’s nonfeasance and malfeasance, gave false praise to the highest-paid insubordinate in local government. Perhaps there is fear or indebtedness involved where accuracy and faithfulness to public duty should have been.

The lesson here is that in the future, KW voters need to elect individuals who are honest, and independent, and put community before self-interest – like Mayor Teri.

Roger Kostmayer

It’s not definite yet, but there is evidence that some sanity is returning to national politics. The ground may be slowly shifting away from irrational clan-like lies. If so, this is good for our nation, good for bipartisanship, and it may be changing November’s election results.

The 538 polling company now gives the Democrats a slight edge to increase their control of the Senate in November, while they project a lead for Republicans in the House of Representatives. But in both cases the Dems seem to have the momentum, in spite of the fact that President Biden still has “favorable” ratings from the electorate in the 30% – 40% range.

90 days (until Election Day) is an eternity in politics, and a rising tide for the Dems is being produced by the confluence of unusual factors that could overwhelm traditional voting tendencies. These factors include: 

  • The January 6 assault on our Capitol
  • The January 6 Congressional hearings
  • The popular opinion that wrong-doers should be accountable
  • The attempts to take personal rights and privacy (abortion) from women
  • The (often) bipartisan recent legislation addressing what the majority needs and wants such as infrastructure, global warming, military weapons regulations, anti-inflation, minimum taxes on huge corporations, Veteran’s health
  • The 63% vote by red Kansas to protect women’s right to abortions

It’s significant that a majority of Americans want these legislative solutions; and Republican politicians don’t.

Last week in Tallahassee, Patricia McGrath and Laurie Swanson (Middle Keys) met Jean Siebenaler (from the panhandle) and Dee Melvin (from the Villages) to observe the Special session of the Florida legislature. The subject of the Special Session, called by Ron DeSantis, was to take up Florida property insurance. Ostensibly the session was to address the rising costs of property insurance with the goal of taming the runaway rate increases levied by insurance companies. Exorbitant rates that are often devastating to homeowners.

We settled first in the Senate Appropriations Committee to see the bill (2D) being legislated; then moved to the House Appropriations Committee to see the bill legislated there. I expected a give and take of ideas during this part of the legislative process. Instead, I saw a bill fully constructed in some secret place and plopped onto the legislative floors. These bills came fully formed from the governor’s office it seems. The bills were not changed from the original no matter how many suggestions were made for improving the bill or improving outcomes for the homeowner.

Oh yes, the Democrats tried to change the bill by presenting amendments, amendments that were summarily voted down mostly with “no” voice votes. When 5 hands went up there was a compulsory recorded individual vote. At that time, the congressperson was to flick a switch on their desk to register a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ vote. During these amendment presentations and votes many of the congress people were out of the room and so a neighboring congress person voted for the absent congress person. In other words, a quorum was not present on the floor for most of the votes on amendments and the votes were not posted by the congress persons themselves. I saw Rep. Melo (80) vote for Keys’ Rep. Mooney (120) on numerous occasions. Mooney repaid the favor by voting for Melo by activating the switch on her desk when she was absent.

Rep. Mooney casts vote for Rep. Melo while she was absent. Melo voted for Mooney on numerous occasions while Mooney was not at his desk during the vote.

I learned that DFS (Department of Financial Services) and OIR (Office of Insurance Regulators) are the two offices whose job it is to hold insurance companies to the statute. They are to collect data and watch where the money goes. The members of OIR are appointed by the governor.

Through discussion (labeled debate) on the insurance bill, that is soon to become Florida law, it became apparent that OIR had collected little or no data on the state of the current insurance companies. Data needed to craft the current legislation. Legislators asked for that data numerous times and were told that it did not exist. When asked how they could know how to craft a bill to improve insurance rates without data, they were either stonewalled or told there was no data. Yet the proponents of the bill would not call into question actuarial tables used by the insurance company—data that no one had bothered to access or perhaps it was hidden in the back room where this bill came from.

When legislators asked why OIR did not do its job, various excuses were proffered. It was confirmed that OIR, who has the power to deny rate increases proposed by individual insurance companies, has persistently rubber-stamped double digit rate increases. The main reason proffered by the Republican sponsors of the bill for OIR’s failure was that OIR had ~ 13 regulators to cover the whole state of Florida and a 22% vacancy. Proponents of the bill said it was not possible to fill those positions because private industry pays more. Why does Florida only have 13 people in OIR when comparable states have many multiples of 13 to regulate their insurance companies?

The bill’s highlights as discussed were as follows:

  • Insurance will be granted for roofs over 15 years if the roof, after an official inspection funded by the owner, indicates that the roof has 5 more good years. If the roof is found wanting the owner will be denied insurance on the roof.
  • There will be 2 types of roof insurance offered to the homeowner. The no-deductible roof insurance will be at the ballooning rates that are in force today with no cap. Insurance companies are required sign up for RAP (Reinsurance to Assist Policyholders) this year or next. That program allows the insurance companies to offer homeowners roof insurance policies with up to 50% deductible. There is no provision in the law that forces the insurance company to lower rates on these policies.  Also, the State is putting up $2 billion for the insurance companies to fund this program. Representative Geller pointed out that if the homeowner cannot pay the deductible which could be thousands of dollars, they could lose their house. Shoulder shrug by the Republican proponent of the bill.
  • The insurance company can drop the homeowner mid-claim if the homeowner challenges the insurance company for non-payment of claims. Many of the Democrat led amendments tried to rectify this. It was classed by Rep. Trumbull (the proponent of the bill) as an unfriendly amendment. “Unfriendly to who?” Shrug. Note that this leaves the homeowner without a fixed roof and unable to get other insurance because they have an open claim.
  • In egregious cases when the insurance company is the bad actor, judges will not be able to penalize the insurance company by multiplying the award to the homeowner for his mistreatment.
  • This bill allows the insurance companies to draw out the claim payout for years with no penalty on the insurance company. The insurance company is within their rights to put off an appraisal for years if they so wish.
  • This bill does not consider that climate continues to aid and abet the destruction of property in Sunshine State. There is no provision for climate change in the bill. Hurricane and sea level rise are not addressed.
  • Trumbull (R) and company admitted that it would make no difference in ballooning rates this year and possibly not for 18 months. He also said there is no guarantee that rates will come down at all even with 50% deductible.

It came to light during the debate session that was not a debate, but a statement of position, that this bill fulfils the insurance companies wish list. SB-HB 2 disables the consumer and rewards the insurance companies by allowing them to continue the shell game that they have been playing for years. Democrats charged (not refuted) that when an insurance company is in trouble or wants to exit the Florida market, they can offload assets to a sister company and declare bankruptcy. This leaves their customers with no insurance and/or unable to get their claims filled. This bill was created without any verifiable statistics. Statistics were not verifiable because OIR did not collect any statistics. This bill was created to fix problems that were no more than rumors and hearsay proffered by the insurance companies. The session was called and executed on such short notice that there was little time to write a bill that considered possibilities that would be sounder. The bill was passed as it came in from the governor’s office probably right out of the insurance lobby.

At 1:25PM on Wednesday, May 25th, Mooney got up and gave a speech praising the bill. He said that the insurance problems will not be fixed this week, but “this bill is better than doing nothing.”

Rep. Mooney sending and reading emails while amendments were presented. Mooney voted “no” on all amendments.

FYI Monroe County and Miami/Dade are not covered by this insurance. We are covered by the insurance company of the last resort—Citizens.

Watching the sham that masquerades for Florida government was incredibly disappointing to me and my fellow travelers.

I’m so sorry that when Peary Court came around and was up for sale, that the City of Key West did not purchase it for the original $30 million price.

Then a year later, the price went up to $60 million.

It was then Key West Mayor Craig Cates that had the idea to give a private corporation, Cornfeld Group, $12 million of the city’s affordable housing fund so Cornfeld could purchase the property.

No stipulations, no ask, no strings attached. Here you go Cornfeld…..we are giving you 12 million dollars!

(By the way, that’s 20%, or what could have been, the City of Key West’s  down payment for a $60 million dollar bank loan).

Let me make my point: 157 houses at $30 million would have cost $191,000 per house.

The city could have used this opportunity to truly help local businesses who are suffering because workers cannot afford to live in Key West. They are moving out! And now we’re all suffering because we cannot get decent services in our community.

Peary Court could’ve been a co-op for the local businesses to run – to allocate housing for their workers.

A unique idea that works in other countries. Call it socialism, call it communism, call it whatever you want but call it a great idea to fix the problem we have now. Because we’re in trouble.

Or another option was for the city to purchase Peary Court and keep it for its own housing rental exclusively for local workers only. Think about how much money was spent for City Hall to relocate at Glen Archer school. Over $26 million spent (another Craig Cates idea).

Craig Cates was mayor how many years? And he gets the idea to purchase Peary Court when the price doubled?

So now we have another unaffordable, “affordable” housing that does not service the workers who support our communities. People are stressed because they have to work two to three jobs to afford to live here. But now, more than ever, people are leaving the keys to find a better life elsewhere.

$2,250 for a 2 bedroom apartment, $3,000 for a 3 bedroom, and they call it “affordable.”

It’s been proven that you cannot build your way out of the affordable housing crisis. Just look at Key West.

So here’s another important message.

Truman Annex will have their transient licenses expire in just over two years. The City of Key West should not extend their transient licenses, and we should start campaigning for this.

People understood when they purchased those Truman Annex town houses that the transient licenses would expire at a certain date. They were bought mostly for investments and that’s what’s killing us.

People making big money off housing to tourists.

They should use Truman Annex for the local workers, and that’s how you can fix housing for local workers. Or you only allow permanent residents who live here year-round the ability to purchase a house. This is how it use to be, when our community was thriving with locals, spirit, we knew who our neighbors were, etc.

Stop allowing homes to be investments.

That’s what I think!

Subject: letter to editor
Date: March 10, 2021 at 3:56:07 PM EST

Dear Editor
I wanted to write a public letter to bring attention to my concerns for the true cost of “Affordable Housing”, but I have written letters to the editor in the past, submitted to the Key West Citizen local newspaper, which never were printed.
Last year, the newly formed Stock Island Association (SIA), residents of Stock Island, formed together to fight to keep public the very last public waterfront property in Stock Island on Laurel Ave, which was about to be given to Wreckers Cay developers. There was a BOCC meeting coming up, and we wanted the public to know what was going on.
There were nine SIA members who wrote letters to the editor, yet none of those nine letters were printed in the Key West Citizen. The BOCC meeting took place, and we were defeated.
Not having our letters printed, for the public to learn about the waterfront give away and 280 apartment units to be built in a heavily congested area, was crucial.
SIA was trying to raise money for legal defense, public attention, and public support as we were organized to fight this battle, however, without our letters printed, we were all alone in our fight
I write to express my concerns of being silenced and our county politics manipulated.
It is important to have an honest local newspaper to include ALL Letters to the Editor.
If this privately owned newspaper cannot include all citizens information, then the county should fund its own printed public newspaper to give information to all citizens.
So, instead of me writing a letter to the editor and submitting it to the Key West Citizen with a good chance it would not be printed, I decided to start this Facebook page:
Letters to the Editor (of the Florida Keys).
I hope it becomes popular, read by many so that those of us who have been silenced will be silenced no more.
Power to the People
Diane Beruldsen
Stock Island

The filibuster in the US Senate is a legislative and political procedure designed to delay &/or prevent legislation from receiving a vote. Today, only a vote by 60% of (or 60) Senators (a super majority) can stop a filibuster. Although its origins go back to ancient Rome, it was only in recent times in the US Senate that the filibuster has been weaponized as a partisan tool to routinely obstruct any legislation that might reflect favorably on the opposing political party.

Traditionalists and idealists argue that the “real problem” is extreme partisanship and animosity, and eliminating or modifying the filibuster so senators in the minority can’t talk as long as they want, would only exacerbate the problem.

On the other hand, realists point out though that may be true, today in America it would be suicidal for a party put in power in the House, Senate and Presidency, by the people, to solve a series of crises, NOT to kill or modify the filibuster. It would be a betrayal of trust and render all promises to solve problems meaningless. Bipartisanship can also mean agreement and support from a majority of all Americans, and a majority of both Democrats and Republicans.

The framers of our Constitution believed in a simple majority to conduct its business, and to fail to correct this procedural roadblock would be unilateral disarmament and do great harm to our nation.