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Missing a piece: Monroe County is still one commissioner short after more than 3 months

The four Monroe County Commissioners with a Key lime pie.
Kristen Livengood
Monroe County
Monroe County commissioners, from left, Craig Cates, Michelle Coldiron, Holly Raschein and David Rice celebrate Key lime pie at a recent commission meeting. The commission has been down to four members since Dec. 7.

One of the five seats on the Monroe County Commission has been open for more than three months. It's a stark contrast to the last time there was an opening on the board.

Eddie Martinez resigned from the Monroe County Commission Dec. 7, a little more than a year after his election. Martinez was part of a Republican sweep of the board, narrowly defeating incumbent Heather Carruthers, a Democrat, by 142 votes.

Carruthers later sued, alleging that Martinez did not live in the district. Commissioners are elected countywide, but are required to live in the district.

Carruthers dropped her suit after Martinez resigned. The resignation came after Martinez was arrested on a domestic battery charge in Hialeah.

It was the second vacancy on the commission in 2021. Commissioner Mike Forster, who represented the Key Largo district, died in early September after contracting COVID-19. That time, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed former state representative Holly Raschein to the seat in less than three weeks.

A spokesman for DeSantis wrote in an email that the review of applications for the Monroe commission vacancy is ongoing and "there is no set timeline."

So far, four people have applied: Stephen Hammon, Steven Nekhaila, Edward Russell and James Scholl. Scholl, a former Key West city manager and Naval Air Station Key West commanding officer, has also filed paperwork with the Monroe elections office to run for the seat in this year's elections. The primary is scheduled for Aug. 23 and the general election Nov. 8.

A map showing Monroe county voting precincts and commission districts.
Monroe County
Monroe County District 3, in red, has not had a commissioner since early December.

If one group has its way, the upcoming elections could be the last time commission candidates run countywide. Christopher Masciotte, a former political consultant who now lives in the Keys, is an organizer of a petition drive to get single-member districts onto the ballot, either in August or November.

He said he was motivated to join the effort after Martinez's election to represent a district in heavily Democratic Key West. It led to an all-Republican County Commission.

"It really will help bring more representative government and a better conversation to the Keys when it's not one-party rule," Masciotte said, but said his motivation wasn't primarily partisan.

"It really is about making people more accountable and making it more representative at the county level," he said.

Monroe County Mayor David Rice disagreed. As someone who has to campaign countywide, he said he's accountable to voters from Key Largo to Key West.

"Right now, everybody's got theoretically five county commissioners they can go pitch their ideas to. You only need to get one to get it on the agenda," he said. "With single-member, you go from having five possibilities to one possibility. I just don't think it's a very wonderful idea."

Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.
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