KEY LARGO -- A group of prominent residents who began meeting a few months ago to explore self-governance for Key Largo shifted gears at its latest meeting last Thursday.
The group has rebranded itself as "Fair Share for Key Largo." It was previously called the Key Largo Incorporation Exploratory Committee.
The small assembly last week agreed that talk of incorporation is a turnoff for many residents and could be putting a damper on meeting attendance. Key Largo residents voted down incorporation in 1999 by a 2-1 margin.
Since Islamorada incorporated in 1998, the village has been subjected to a fair amount of criticism from its Upper Keys neighbor.
Indeed, Key Largo Wastewater Board Chairman Robby Majeska, who attended last week's meeting, said residents don't want Key Largo "to be like the village of idiots."
But others in the group dismissed such views as misplaced.
"We're not like Islamorada," group leader Steve Gibbs said. "We're a working community."
Gibbs, who is also a member of the Key Largo Wastewater Board, said a Key Largo municipality would hire fewer employees than the village and also could set more reasonable salaries for positions than has the county. It would also have a right to a portion of sales taxes, such as the cigarette tax, which currently go to the county, Gibbs said.
Even if municipal status is never sought, the mere fact the group is meeting is putting pressure on the county to listen to Key Largo's needs, Gibbs added.
"Not at all," responded County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy when asked later about that claim.
While Murphy didn't dismiss its efforts, she said the group has not influenced county business, including whether Rowell's Marina is purchased.
The group's specific demands aren't entirely clear, though some members have said they favor the Rowell's purchase and want neglected neighborhood streets paved.
Kay Thacker, a Key Largo activist and frequent critic of county policy, said a clear list of Key Largo's needs should be drafted.
"We need to raise hell," Thacker said.
Murphy said she would attend a future meeting of the group if asked to make a presentation.
Meanwhile, Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District Manager Margaret Blank, who is also a member of "Fair Share for Key Largo," said she would continue gathering financial information to make a case for home rule.
The group is also considering courting the tax-base rich Ocean Reef Club to join its efforts. The private club, which has its own governing board, opted out of the 1999 incorporation effort due primarily to concerns about ceding authority to an elected body outside its gates.
The group expects to meet again at the Key Largo Lions Club at 7 p.m. Aug. 29.