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Insider or Outsider? Key West leaders make their choice to run the city

Key West leaders select a new city manager

About 100 locals turned out Thursday, May 30, 2019, for a special meeting on how to search for a new city manager. By a 4-3 vote, the city commission decided to promote Assistant City Manager Greg Veliz as Jim Scholl's successor.
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About 100 locals turned out Thursday, May 30, 2019, for a special meeting on how to search for a new city manager. By a 4-3 vote, the city commission decided to promote Assistant City Manager Greg Veliz as Jim Scholl's successor.

Key West has a new city manager. And he’s someone who knows the place well.

Native Key Wester Greg Veliz, the assistant city manager, got the top administrative job Thursday on a 4-3 vote by the City Commission.

He will succeed Jim Scholl this fall without the launch of a search outside CIty Hall.

The city manager serves at the pleasure of the seven-member commission that includes Mayor Teri Johnston. She decried the decision as having a lack of transparency.

”This whole process is out of order,” Johnston said.

Former city commissioners Bill Verge, Richard Payne and Mark Rossi were among the 100 people at the special meeting Thursday night at City Hall, where a proposal was on the agenda to give Veliz the job. The former commissioners all praised Veliz, 57, and said he’s the best person for the job.

That may be true, the mayor said, but first Key West should search outside of the current payroll.

Johnston said a local professional, County Administrator Roman Gastesi, could have conducted a broader search for $5,000.

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A crowd filled Key West City Hall on Thursday, May 30, 2019, for a special meeting on the hiring of a new city manager. Gwen Filosa FLKeysNews.com

But critics said a search would be too expensive and likely draw poor candidates from outside the island who think they will semi-retire in Key West in the last years of their careers.

Commissioner Billy Wardlow sponsored the resolution to give Veliz the job. Commissioners Clayton Lopez, Mary Lou Hoover and Jimmy Weekley agreed. Dissenting along with Johnston were Commissioners Greg Davila and Sam Kaufman.

Of the dissenters, only Davila is a native Key Wester, a distrinction often made when locals argue politics. Wardlow, Lopez and Weekley were also born and raised in Key West.

“This isn’t personal,” Kaufman said. “I want to have at least an interview process.”

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Key West city leaders called a special meeting for Thursday, May 30, 2019, to decide whether to search for a new city manager or promote from within. They promoted. Gwen Filosa FLKeysNews.com

Several locals said the decision to hire Veliz was politically motivated by Key West natives, who call themselves “conchs,” and use “bubbas” as a term of endearment.

“Who knows how many other top candidates are interested and being shut out,” said Eric Detwiler. “That’s the bubba system with a thin layer of legitimacy.”

Locals responded by saying Veliz earned the promotion to city manager.

“He’s earned the right to be first at bat,” said Danny Hughes. “If it doesn’t work out in a year, demote or replace him.”

“Don’t trade one that can for one that might,” said Ricky Arnold Jr.

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