The lobbyist representing Key Biscayne offered his resignation Tuesday after pursuing an unauthorized $3 million project that invoked the Village’s name for a stormwater project that went to a Hispanic chamber of commerce
Mayor Joe Rasco and Council Member Allison McCormick said they were ready to immediately accept Jonathan Kilman’s resignation. Others at Tuesday’s council meeting said they want more time to gather facts.
“I think in the end, it’ll become a distraction,” Rasco said. “And we want our lobbyists focused on doing right by us and making sure that the Village continues to receive top notch services for what we pay.”
The Council will meet late next week to make a final decision on whether to continue employing Kilman and his firm, Converge Public Strategies. Village Manager Steve Williamson said Key Biscayne is in the midst of setting its legislative priorities
“This could not have happened at a worse time,” Williamson said. “We are in a situation where we have to deal with the error, we have to deal with the repercussions that’s happening across the community.”
The Orlando Sentinel first raised questions about the $3 million appropriation last month, reporting that State House Rep. Carolina Amesty – who represents a district outside of Orlando – claimed in a February request form that Williamson wrote a letter of support for the request.
However, Williamson provided no letter and instead told Kilman not to pursue the project but focus on other priorities. The $3 million was earmarked for the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Wellington, Fla, to test a sensor to help monitor flooding.
Kilman did not return messages seeking further comment.
The group had its non-profit status revoked in 2019 by the IRS after it failed to file its financials with the agency. Meanwhile, it formed its “Institute of Sustainable Water Solutions” more than a month after the budget request was made by Amesty.
State Rep. Vicki Lopez, whose district includes Key Biscayne, said she knew nothing of the budget request by Amesty – said to be for a stormwater sensor pilot. State Sen. Alexis Calatayud, who also represents the island, sponsored the budget request in the Senate but did not include the reference to the non-existing letter of support.
Kilman sent a letter to Williamson on Tuesday stating that his firm engaged in no wrongdoing, but that “a transition to alternative representation may be desired.” Rasco called the letter “basically a resignation.”
A draft version on a form containing the reference to the support letter was not removed prior to submission for the $3 million appropriations request, Kilman said.
“This error caused no harm or prejudice to the Village of Key Biscayne,” Kilman wrote. “Nevertheless, we recognize the concerns it has caused for some within the Village.
Julio Fuentes, CEO for the Hispanic Chamber, said Wednesday that Kilman’s offer to resign “demonstrates his unwavering integrity and professionalism” in the aftermath of what he called a “drafting error.”
“It is clear to me that he has done nothing wrong,” Fuentes said. “What seems to be missing in the reporting so far is that Jonathan worked very hard to prioritize the Village of Key Biscayne.”
Following the Independent’s Sept. 28 story on the $3 million budget request, Key Biscayne residents reached out to Williamson and Council members and took to social media chats to criticize both. “We know this has put some concern on the Council. We know it has put some concern on the community,” Williamson said.
Vice Mayor Frank Caplan said, “We’ve been dealing with this for maybe a week.”
“Information has been trickling in,” he said. “I’m still learning what actually happened here and what the implications are.”
Council member Brett Moss said he was ready to vote but said if other council members needed time, he would support waiting on a final decision. Council Member Oscar Sardiñas said it would be prudent for Council members to speak to Kilman individually before making a decision.
Council Member Ed London took a no-harm, no foul approach. He said that Kilman had done well in securing money for Key Biscayne’s priorities last legislative session – whether it be money for a new library or beach renourishment.
“Why are we sacrificing a good relationship,” London said. “It really doesn’t have any effect against the Village because we didn’t participate in this.”
McCormick made a motion for the Council to vote on accepting Kilman’s resignation. But this was usurped by London’s motion to postpone the decision for 10 days.
Kilman, in Tuesday’s letter, suggested his firm can continue to represent Key Biscayne until after the session ends since legislative committees already started. This would give time for the Village to secure new representation, he said.
Williamson said changing lobbyists would mean curtailing the Village’s legislative priorities this session. “We are in quandary about where we go next,” he said.
Kilman took over the Village’s lobbying contract in 2020 from the firm Gomez Barker Associates Inc., headed up by Fausto Gomez, who ran against Rasco for mayor last year.
Williamson has said he wasn’t interested in the Hispanic chamber’s stormwater pilot, noting the Village has paid two engineering consultants to help design and guide replacing its antiquated drainage system,
Still, Kilman concluded his letter by again making a pitch for the very stormwater sensor project at the center of the controversy.
“We believe it offers significant value to the Village and the Village will be best served if it comes to fruition,” Kilman wrote.