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Key West Commission fires city manager despite public opposition

The Key West city commission voted 4-3 to fire the city manager Al Childress on June 26, 2024.
Julia Cooper
/
WLRN
The Key West city commission voted 4-3 to fire the city manager Al Childress on June 26, 2024.

Emotions ran high at the special meeting Wednesday when Key West city commissioners voted to fire its city manager.

After a public outcry not to fire Key West City Manager Al Childress, the city commission voted 4-3 Wednesday to terminate Childress’ work contract without cause. The move is costing upwards of $100,000 in taxpayer funding, despite the original resolution stating it would be no higher than $100,000. The higher dollar amount takes into account Childress’ 20 weeks of severance pay and other benefits, including paid vacation.

The Key West city commission voted 4-3 Wednesday to fire the city manager Al Childress.
City of Key West
The Key West city commission voted 4-3 Wednesday to fire the city manager Al Childress.

“There would be more than $100,000 due,” said Mayanne Downs, the current city of Orlando attorney who was brought in to provide legal counsel for the special meeting. “Whoever did the math didn’t take into account paid vacation and that kind of thing,”

Every member of the public who spoke before the commission opposed the resolution, and more than 50 letters of opposition urging commissioners to vote against the firing were sent to city staff prior to the meeting.

“I ask you please to not do this,” said longtime Key West resident and attorney Robert Cintron, who was audibly choked up by emotion. “It’s not the right time and it’s the wrong thing to do.”

The resolution to fire Childress without cause was sponsored by commissioners Lissette Carey and Billy Wardlow. Commissioners Jim Weekley and Clayton Lopez joined Carey and Wardlow in voting for the firing. Weekley, Lopez and Wardlow’s seats will be open during November’s general election because the three commissioners are term-limited.

Before the vote, Childress addressed commissioners.

“My wife and I have truly loved each minute we’ve been able to spend here,” he said. “The city of Key West is very blessed to have such dedicated, hardworking staff that each day are working hard to make a difference.”

READ MORE: 'Can we live here?': Lower Keys officials, residents anxious about medical care services

On Wednesday, The Keys Weekly reported that Childress believes the move to fire him originates over a report he commissioned. The report was conducted by a planning consultant group and found “unusual” processes and procedures within the city’s building department. The report goes on to say that the city is at an ‘inflection point’ where there is internal debate over “particularly who is in charge of making final determinations in enforcing what laws and which staff to use in to oversee these systems, and ultimately protect the public interests.”

Outside legal counsel was called in to conduct the special meeting after city attorney Ron Ramsingh recused himself over potential conflicts of interest involving his brother, Raj Ramsingh, who is Key West’s Chief Building Official.

Key West Vice Mayor Sam Kaufman called for a vote to schedule another special meeting in August to re-hire Childress.

City attorney Ron Ramsingh (left) addresses the public over the push to have city manager Al Childress (middle) fired.
Julia Cooper
/
WLRN
City attorney Ron Ramsingh (left) addresses the public over the push to have city manager Al Childress (middle) fired.

“I’m very disappointed in why we’re here and how we got here," Kaufman said. “There’s no basis to take any action against Mr. Childress.”

Kaufman referenced reported text messages he viewed between city manager Ron Ramsingh and commissioners Carey and Weekley that allegedly show private conversations to withhold plans to schedule the special meeting for a period of time. Kaufman said he was disappointed the move was seemingly kept ‘secret’ from commissioners that weren’t supportive.

City attorney Ron Ramsingh also spoke during the special meeting, recounting his experiences as attorney since being hired in 2023 that included a tense relationship he’s had with both Childress and Key West Mayor Teri Johnston.

“Some may say it’s not wise for me to read this statement,” he said. “It hurts my heart to see this discord.”

Mayor Johnston said she worried the vote has destabilized the city as the community prepares for the hurricane season without a city manager, who typically is assigned to serve as a point-person between emergency management officials and other staff during natural disasters.

“What about ruining this guy’s life?,” Johnston added.

The meeting to consider rehiring Childress is set for Monday, Aug. 26 at 5 p.m.

Julia Cooper reports on all things Florida Keys and South Dade for WLRN.
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