Key Biscayne Village Manager Steve Williamson, the former Army colonel who is forging the blueprint for the largest public works project in the vulnerable barrier island’s history, is the Key Biscayne Independent’s inaugural choice for Person of the Year.
In the readers’ choice poll, Benjamin Cremaschi, who went from playing on the Village Green to playing next to Lionel Messi emerged as the clear favorite.
Read: the Readers’ Choice wears a pink jersey
The Independent used TIME magazine’s criteria as the person – or even a thing or trend – that most affected the news and lives on Key Biscayne – for good or ill.
“In the council-manager form of government, the manager leads, but only as long as he or she maintains the trust of the seven people who can fire him. Williamson has ably set the stage for transformative projects more than any of his recent predecessors, and he’s overcome many roadblocks, deftly recovering from missteps,” said Tony Winton, the KBI’s editor in chief.
“Will he succeed? 2024 will be where the rubber hits the road,” Winton said. “He has plenty of opponents.”
The Independent’s editors felt Williamson’s impact on Key Biscayne in 2023 may be looked upon years from now as immense.
Williamson is the architect of the “Big Dig,” the most ambitious public works project in the history of Key Biscayne, one that will re-plumb the island with a new stormwater system, underground utilities and harden the Village against sea level rise. It will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
In the meantime, he pushed through a short-term plan to alleviate flooding in neighborhoods known to be inundated even in mild rainstorms.
Williamson also helped push the Vision Plan – which outlines Key Biscayne’s future – over the finish line. He lassoed $1.75 million from the state for beach renourishment. And he led a $41.2 million budget – the largest in Village history – to unanimous passage. It’s a spending plan that will see numerous capital improvement projects.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Williamson. His proposed seawall ordinance ran aground and now will only be a non-binding recommendation. The police labor union rejected a deal he negotiated, even after he invested personal time at the bargaining table. But successful commanders know when — and how — to retreat.
Time will tell if Williamson’s plans will endure what could be big battles over major project decisions that will come into sharper focus soon. In Key Biscayne, 2024’s election will feature contests for mayor and three members of council.
“We got lucky when we got him,” said former Mayor Mike Davey, who presided over Williamson’s hiring. “He’s moving things along.” Davey said. “The VIllage is firing on all cylinders right now.”
Williamson said Wednesday he was recharging for the new year where the Council will decide the scope and the ultimate price of the Big Dig. “I’m really honored,” he said.
RUNNER-UP: LOUISA CONWAY
Key Biscayne condominiums troubles was the top story for 2023 and Louisa Conway was a recurring figure in news coverage and remains active in local politics.
Conway was president of EmeraldBay condo when a property manager left her position and then was arrested for allegedly stealing from residents. EmeraldBay also became mired in litigation under Conway’s leadership as it was sued by the Key Colony master association, the island’s largest complex, for failing to pay owner fees and a concrete company for lack of payment.
Residents voted Conway off the board in June, but she is on a committee overseeing litigation and testified in a deposition as the corporate representative of her building.