‘He did his time:’ Should a criminal record matter in choice for next Key West manager?

The Key West City Commission will meet on Thursday, May 30, 2019, to figure out how to search for a new city manager.
The Key West City Commission will meet on Thursday, May 30, 2019, to figure out how to search for a new city manager. gfilosa@flkeysnews.com

Key West City Commissioner Clayton Lopez wants the island’s next city manager to be Greg Veliz, who since 2014 has served as assistant city manager.

And Lopez says a black mark on Veliz’s record — a 1991 federal conviction for cocaine dealing with intent to distribute — isn’t a deterring factor in 2019.

“I’m looking at the man’s work history,” Lopez said. “Are we going to hold that over his head for life? He did his time.”

Veliz was sentenced to 75 months, or 6.25 years, in prison after taking a plea deal. In 1994, his sentence was reduced to 38 months. His co-defendant Charles Barwick was sentenced to five years.

“I don’t by any means excuse or ignore it,” Lopez said. “But by that same token, how long does someone have to pay for something?”

No city commissioner has raised the conviction publicly and Veliz says that throughout his City Hall career, it has come up during interviews for jobs and promotions.

He admits he sold cocaine with a group of people while he was attending college in Tallahassee at Florida State University. He later graduated with degrees in political science and communications.

“It’s come up every time since then,” Veliz said. “I got caught, I got indicted, I went to prison I got out and I haven’t done anything in the last 30 years.”

Veliz said he didn’t ask for the top job and hasn’t put in an application.

“I’d love to have the job if it were offered to me,” he said. “I like to think I was considered for the job because of the job I’ve been doing.”

Lopez says Veliz is the best person for the job because he’s already a part of Key West city government and he has a colleague who agrees.

Commissioner Billy Wardlow has proposed the commission vote to begin contract negotiations with Veliz, who earns $150,394 and has worked for the city in some capacity since 2005.

The commission will take up the city manager search issue at a special meeting set to being at 5 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 1300 White St.

City Manager Jim Scholl, who is retiring Oct. 1, earns $180,000. Scholl was city manager from 2007 to 2012 when he left office. He came back in 2014, after the commission ousted Bob Vitas.

Vitas was hired in 2012 after a national search. He was fired two years later for creating an administrative job on his own.

City Commissioner Sam Kaufman says Veliz is certainly the frontrunner candidate for the job but he wants the city to launch a professional search, led by an outside firm, rather than hire from within without any type of application process.

“I don’t know the details,” Kaufman said, of Veliz’s record. “I haven’t had the chance to ask any questions, and this is a position that’s supposed to be reporting to me. Shouldn’t we have an opportunity to interview and see the qualifications of any applicant?”

But Kaufman, a defense attorney, quickly added he believes strongly in giving people a second chance and that Veliz’s conviction wouldn’t be a significant part of vetting him for the job — especially given the fact the crime happened nearly 30 years ago.

“Greg Veliz has done a lot of good for the city,” Kaufman said.