The Fabulous Florida Keys with Michelle Lincoln (S3E18)

Let’s take a trip down to the fabulous Florida Keys and talk to Monroe County Commissioner Michelle Lincoln. The canals are being cleaned up but there is more work to be done. Listen to how one of the best places is America is getting even better.

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Michelle Lincoln: It’s a very diverse chain of islands, 122 miles long with a different priority in Key Largo at the northern end than you would have in Key West at the most southern point. So it’s a lot of fun balancing just the local needs and and priorities. Good government is being responsive to your community, to hearing what the needs are and being able to create policies that protect the needs of the majority of the people in your community.

I would want people to know that the majority of their elected officials are all doing this for the right reasons.

David Martin: I’m about to spend some time talking about one of my favorite places on Earth, the fabulous Florida Keys. Welcome to the Good Government show. I’m Dave Martin. And you’re about to hear my conversation with Monroe County Commissioner Michelle Lincoln. I met Michelle at the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference, just sort of by accident. A little trouble with our lunch order.

Then I found out she was from the Keys. And, well, I always want to hear more about the keys. One of the things we talked about was the Counties Canal Restoration Project. This is a story we reported on in season one of the Good Government show, and the project is improving water flow and cleaning up water in the many canals in the Keys.

Glad to report more canals are being cleaned up. Michelle comes to county government after serving the city of Marathon. She was on the Marathon City Council and she served one term as the mayor of Marathon. And marathon, by the way, is the exact middle of the Florida Keys. It’s a great spot for fishing and diving. And those are two of the things that drew Michelle and me to the Keys in the first place.

She’s also a member of the South Florida Regional Council and here with Naco, she’s on the Community Economic and Workforce Development Steering Committee. She’s second vice president of the Florida Association of Counties and as vice chair of the Water Environment and Sustainability Committee. Before serving an elected office, she was a child advocate coordinator for the state of Florida.

She continues to work on behalf of children in our county commissioners role, and she’s a mentor in the Take Suck in Children program. This is a nonprofit organization that aims to provide a pathway for success for middle school and for high school students. So we have a lot to talk about, including the only eat in the Florida Keys.

Of course, I’m talking about key lime pie. Anyway, I’ll have that conversation with Michelle Lincoln of the Florida Keys coming up right after this.

The good government show is sponsored by NACO. That’s the National Association of Counties. County Government is actually the oldest form of government in the United States, and it touches more people directly. Roads, highways, hospitals, schools, recycling law enforcement, water and sewers in most of the country, those services are maintained by the county that’s county government. Naco is a nationwide organization that represents all 3069 counties across the USA.

NACO helps county government work better together to things like sharing best practices. Because when county government works well, well, that’s just good government.

Welcome to the Good Government show. And today we’re having a conversation with Michelle Lincoln. Please introduce yourself. Tell us where you’re from and what your title is.

Michelle Lincoln: Well, thank you for that. My name is Michelle Lincoln, as you just said, and I am a county commissioner in Monroe County, which is in the state of Florida. And Monroe County is in the fabulous Florida Keys.

David Martin: The fabulous Florida Keys. And full disclosure, we we met at lunch and we were a little mix up with our orders. And what I heard you were for the keys. We just started talking because it’s one of my favorite places on Earth. What brought you the keys?

Michelle Lincoln: The gorgeous government center. The fishing. Yeah. It’s that same story that everyone says. I came on vacation and never left.

David Martin: I got sandwiches. Yes. Yes, I do. Get out to fish much, do you? As much as I used.

Michelle Lincoln: To or what? I used to pretty much fish almost every day and paddle board and play tennis and just take in everything that you can living. I have beautiful climate.

David Martin: I have some friends up in the mirada. Yes. And the upper Keys, he gets out his vote every morning about 730. He goes out and catches lunch and dinner and comes back and he has fresh fish for lunch and dinner almost every day.

Michelle Lincoln: Almost every day.

David Martin: You can just about I mean, maybe some weather. Every once in a while you get a hankering for a steak. But yeah.

Michelle Lincoln: And in lobster season, you can just go out and get your fresh lobster and.

David Martin: I’ve caught a few lobster diving down there. So, yes, it’s the fabulous sort of keys. It is. And what I do want to start with one of the stories we did in our first season on the Good Government show is we interviewed a bunch of folks about the canal restoration project that’s going on down there. I think this was three years ago.

Rhonda Haggard from Monroe County was our it was our our guide to what was going on down there. And I guess they had developed some new techniques to clean up the water and clean up the waterways and improve water circulation. How’s it going?

Michelle Lincoln: You know what? It is remarkable the difference that we see in the waters that have had the canal restoration projects in place. And it truly is cleaning up the the water. It is making the seagrass grow again. It’s bringing back all the fish and sea creatures that are supposed to be in your canal. And it’s been super successful for us.

David Martin: And it’s made beautiful water, clean and swimmable, fishable, right. You know.

Michelle Lincoln: And it’s protecting the reef. And that was the whole goal of this process to begin with, was we wanted to know and we had a study that was conducted by the Florida FSU, Florida Atlantic University that helped us do some studies on water quality and with the quality of water in a canal impact that reef. You know, we have the third largest barrier reef in the world in our backyard that we’re the stewards of.

And we found out that, yes, there is a direct correlation between the quality of the water in the canal and protecting the reef. And so so not only is it making a residential community look nicer, smell better because the dead weed isn’t there any longer, but it is improving the quality of our reef.

David Martin: That was one of the things that astounded me, and I was mostly up in Key Largo in the Upper Keys, and people said they couldn’t sit in their backyards on the canal, Right.

Michelle Lincoln: Because the water was dead. Right. And the weed would come in and it would ride and then sink to the bottom and create a sludge on the bottom of the ocean and just turned the quality of the water from being clear to all cloudy.

David Martin: Yeah. And and I remember they were talking about they couldn’t leave their boats in the water. They couldn’t swim that great. They could kind of use their backyard, which is a canal, you know, on mostly on the bay side. But either way, that’s why you go to the Keys, right?

Michelle Lincoln: Exactly. Yeah, exactly.

David Martin: And I think when we spoke with Rhonda, I think she was up to I want to say four or six canals have been completely renovated and restored. How many of you how many of you go?

Michelle Lincoln: So this is so exciting because and first of all, shout out to Rhonda Hagg, who was our resiliency officer. And I think she had a vision before any other county in the state of Florida ever visualized what we could be doing and how we could improve the quality of our water and our environment. And so she’s amazing. And actually, at our next meeting, we’re about to approve 11 more canals that have been earmarked for canal restoration.

David Martin: And where are these 11 canals?

Michelle Lincoln: They are up and down all all up and down the keys. But predominantly the ones we’re going to do this time are in the Big Pine and the the Summerland and Sugarloaf areas. So the lower Keys is there.

David Martin: Is there any thought to spreading it out up and down the Keys or is it just next door is next where so.

Michelle Lincoln: Sure, there’s a little rhyme and reason involved in how we’re doing this. It’s mainly in the unincorporated areas that I get involved with. All right. And then we we start with, which are the ones that have the most need and how is that going to fit with the funding that we’ve received to do these projects? And what kind of buy in do we get from the residential community?

Because a lot of what we’re doing will then require ongoing maintenance that we’re asking the residents of that community to provide the cost for that. So we’re having community meetings, which takes a lot of time and energy, and it’s educating the community, the specific neighborhood on the pros and cons of us coming in and doing the canal restoration, and then for them to agree that they would do the ongoing maintenance if there’s a weed gate or if there’s a pump out system that they would have to be helping to provide financial cost for that.

So then we have to have them have their meeting and then they get a vote on it and then it comes to the county commission and then we approve it. Yeah. So it’s government, so it’s slow.

David Martin: Okay. Is it hard to sometimes rally the local residents? Because I’m sure there’s a very big difference between the Cox born and raised. Sure. Don’t change nothing. You know, I don’t want that. We didn’t need that. My grandfather didn’t have it. And the folks who have, you know, realized what a awesome place the keys are and moved down.

Is that a challenge to manage the sort of two different groups and are they two different groups?

Michelle Lincoln: So expectations of the two groups are definitely different.

David Martin: Yet when is that a fair is that a fair comparison? Is that a fair assessment of the two groups?

Michelle Lincoln: Yes, it is. All right. And I think a lot of times the locals will say when somebody from New York says, well, that’s not how we do it in New York. Yeah. The local council will say, well, then go back to New York.

David Martin: Are you a carpenter? You’re freshwater.

Michelle Lincoln: Freshwater Cong. I’m an honorary. That’s all right. But when it comes to anything around the environment, when it comes to the canals, it’s truly the conks. You remember when they were beautiful and clean and pristine, and so they’re all in favor of everything that we’re doing to try to protect that environment and to get that water back to the quality that it used to be.

David Martin: And is it hard to manage the weekend homes, vacation homeowners, the folks who are coming down for the weekend from other parts of Florida, you know, to get them to buy into everything that has to happen? You know, Monday through Friday, maybe when they’re not there.

Michelle Lincoln: Sure. You know, there there is that that mindset of people who have vacation rentals and the people who come down are on vacation. So that attitude of, oh, I’m on vacation. It’s okay if I throw these these carcasses in the ocean or back in the canal, not clean them up and it’s okay if I throw trash out my window.

But locals don’t have that same thought process.

David Martin: So the Monroe County, the Florida Keys, stretches from the very southern tip of mainland Florida all the way down to Key West. You have some of the best diving in the United States, some of the best fishing in the world, certainly if not in the United States. You have Key West, which is crazy town down in the southern, the southernmost point.

What possible problems could you have in the Florida Keys? What possible what what could go wrong in paradise?

Michelle Lincoln: I know exactly.

David Martin: What’s going on.

Michelle Lincoln: Yeah. You know, it’s it’s a very diverse chain of islands, 122 miles long with a different priority and Key Largo as the northern end. Then you would have in Key West at the most southern point. So it’s a lot of fun balancing just the local needs and and priorities. So that’s always fun. Definitely because we are an area of critical state concern that was a title that was given to us by the state of Florida.

We have different rules than anyone else in the state on how we can build and when we have build out and one road in and one road out surely makes us have to always be very cognizant of hurricanes and our capacity and our levels of services that we need to provide to not only our residents but also our tourists.

David Martin: Are they ever going to make It went a little bit wider.

Michelle Lincoln: I don’t see that ever happening.

David Martin: Good and bad. Good and bad.

Michelle Lincoln: Yes, good and bad.

David Martin: It didn’t used to take as much time as it does. Drive down to the keys, drive through the case as it does, but I sense it. Traffic moves slower.

Michelle Lincoln: Traffic moves slower. You know, we have definitely a lot more daytrippers than we used to. Yeah, but we also have a lot more people who are flying in to Key West, and we’re right now in the middle of doing an airport improvement and.

David Martin: Key West in.

Michelle Lincoln: Key West International Airport, which.

David Martin: Is not really international. Or is it? It wasn’t. I don’t think there’s any international flights.

Michelle Lincoln: Well, they are private ones, of course.

David Martin: All right. Well, what about the airport on Marathon?

Michelle Lincoln: We are actually right now redoing the runways so that we can try to get a commercial service back there.

David Martin: Okay. All right. I can talk about the keys all day.

Michelle Lincoln: I know you almost did.

David Martin: But we do have some questions. We have a questionnaire we’re going to get you now. Okay. Now we’re going to we’re going to get your real take on what government is. So my first question, this is the this is the hardest one from where you sit as a county commissioner. And before I began, have you had other jobs before in politics as an elected officer, before you were a county commissioner?

Michelle Lincoln: Yes.

David Martin: What were you?

Michelle Lincoln: I served one term as a city councilwoman in the city of Marathon. Okay. So it’s one of the incorporated cities in Monroe County.

David Martin: And what made you decide to get it? You’re not from there. What made you decide to get into politics, get into government?

Michelle Lincoln: I decided I wanted to be a public servant, and I’ve always been active in the community. And when I first moved to the Florida Keys, I immediately got involved and did volunteer work. And in fact, at one point I was working as a board member for a daycare in Marathon Oak and destroyed in Hurricane Wilma and was helping them rebuild and raise funds.

And somebody said, Michelle, why are you doing this? Your children are grown. You don’t have any dogs in this fight. And I said, you know what? All these dogs are mine to fight for. And if we don’t take care of our community, who is? And so I got involved. And while doing that, I ended up getting a job with the state of Florida as a guardian ad litem.

So I was working with children who had been abused, abandoned and neglected, and I was representing them in court. And that job truly taught me the importance of gathering all my facts, doing my own independent research and study. So that when I got before the judge, I could truly look the judge in the eye and say, this is why this what I want to propose is the best thing for this specific child.

And I could do it knowing that I had a suitcase of facts in my back pocket. And while doing all of that work, I looked around. I’m like, Wow, there’s so much our community could be doing different or better, or Why isn’t anybody fighting for this cause or that cause? And I realize.

David Martin: That you got a peek under the behind the curtain.

Michelle Lincoln: I did. And so then I decided, all right, if I sing it and I truly believe I have the passion for it, then I need to put my name in the hat. And so I ran for my marathon city council and I won. And while doing that, I realized that I could do it even more so. Bigger, yeah.

And work for the entire county.

David Martin: And get to stay in Monroe.

Michelle Lincoln: And stay right here. And I absolutely love what I do every single day.

David Martin: What is good government to you? What’s your definition of good government?

Michelle Lincoln: Good government is being responsive to your community. Yes. To hearing what the needs are and being able to create policies that protect the needs of the majority of the people in your community.

David Martin: How do you know if you’re doing a good job?

Michelle Lincoln: Oh, well, they tell me every single solitary day whether I’m at the grocery store.

David Martin: Is that your personal yardstick is what people tell you?

Michelle Lincoln: Absolutely. It’s true. It truly is. It’s it’s the if you know, you’re doing your job the right way. And to me, if if I’m available and take their phone calls, their emails, if I’m out in the community. So I see with my own eyes what’s going on. And if I just plop down in the bleachers at the kid’s softball game and just talk to the parents and hear what they’re saying, then I know I’m being responsive.

David Martin: And I would imagine in Marathon, certainly there’s probably a very tight community of residents who are paying attention.

Michelle Lincoln: Oh, absolutely. And not just marathon all of the Florida Keys. I think that we’re probably the most educated community when it comes to They’re on top of every political decision.

David Martin: And I’m sure there’s lots of folks who just aren’t engaged, but I’m sure that folks who are engaged are.

Michelle Lincoln: Very truly engaged.

David Martin: Is that right?

Michelle Lincoln: It is. You know, we don’t have a television station in the Florida Keys, but we have a couple of radio stations that everyone listens to every single solitary morning, Monday through Friday, you know, 730 to 9. And that’s where everyone gathers all their information.

David Martin: So how should the people, those very engaged in those not so engaged, how should they hold you accountable?

Michelle Lincoln: By doing what I say I’m going to do, by making decisions that benefit the residents, the county, you know, it’s we are such a tourist driven economy that it’s so important for us to have, quote unquote, a product that makes a tourist want to come back year in and year out and at the same time balance that with the needs of those worker bees that provide that quality of service, that tourist one and to make sure the quality of life of our residents is.

But that’s.

David Martin: A hard balance because you’ve got economically a.

Michelle Lincoln: True.

David Martin: Balance. And as well as, you know, the people who are living there. How do you how do you how do you work with that?

Michelle Lincoln: I make sure that our parks and beaches and recreational facilities that we have for our residents are tiptop. Okay. You know, you you make sure you have for your residents what you would want.

David Martin: I used to camp up here. Honda.

Michelle Lincoln: There you go. Yeah. Gorgeous.

David Martin: It was. Yes, it still is.

Michelle Lincoln: Yes, it is. And just fighting for like workforce housing just to make sure that we’re always providing what we can for our our workforce.

David Martin: You have a very diverse region in Monroe, like you said, from Largo down to Key West. What would you like people to know about how government works in Monroe?

Michelle Lincoln: I would want people to know that the majority of their elected officials are all doing this for the right reasons. That that I get up in the morning and I do my homework and I go out and I meet with my constituents and I hold meetings and and are held accountable by the decisions that I make. Yeah. And that I’m doing this because I love my community and want it to be a fabulous place for the next generations to come.

David Martin: Well, it is the fabulous Florida Keys.

Michelle Lincoln: For a reason.

David Martin: There’s a little pressure to keep the fabulous Florida Keys, Dave, right? Yes. Okay. So who is your political hero?

Michelle Lincoln: Who is my political hero? Yes. You mean other than my namesake, Abraham Lincoln?

David Martin: You go with that. Are you any relation to the Lincoln family? Yes. Are you really?

Michelle Lincoln: Yes. My great great great grandfather and Abraham Lincoln’s dad were brothers.

David Martin: Really? Yes. So you are true, Lincoln. True?

Michelle Lincoln: Yes.

David Martin: All right, all right. You’re out of here. But you’re not from Illinois, so.

Michelle Lincoln: Well, Kentucky, Kentucky, Kentucky.

David Martin: That’s right. Yes. Where he was from. Yes. Well, so are we going to stay with Lincoln as your political hero?

Michelle Lincoln: Yes.

David Martin: Okay. Yes. Not not I can’t think of a better. Was it that I know? Good. I know. Now you’re down to the Florida Keys. Some of the best fishing.

Michelle Lincoln: Yes.

David Martin: What is your what is your favorite dish? Dover. Hmm? You. Somebody is coming out of the keys. What do you said? Make sure you have.

Michelle Lincoln: Oh, that I’m going to fix myself would be snapper, fresh snapper. Slade.

David Martin: All right.

Michelle Lincoln: Lightly Pencoed. Okay. And then I just quickly saute it, and then I get some white wine and some key lime. Squeeze that in the skillet swirling around. Add some, some. Oh, where does it starts with those little round peppers? What are they? Why am I blanking on capers? Okay, some capers. Get a nice sauce. Go.

David Martin: I think. I think my partner, David Snyder, was saying this is this is his go to dish salad visiting.

Michelle Lincoln: Only his head.

David Martin: Snapper.

Michelle Lincoln: No, it had onion rings.

David Martin: All right. You know, you guys, I’m going to.

Michelle Lincoln: Have to I’m going to have to find that.

David Martin: So hopefully snapper. That’s it. That’s the.

Michelle Lincoln: Dish. That’s it.

David Martin: And for dessert.

Michelle Lincoln: Key lime pie.

David Martin: Thank you. All right. Was getting into politics something you always thought of in the back of your mind? Were you, like, in school, in the student council? Were you, you know, knocking on doors? Are you watching presidential debates?

Michelle Lincoln: You know, I would I would have to say yes and no. I never saw it as an adult that I would have this career pass. However, when I was in high school, I was the vice president of my school community youth group. I was in Girl Scouts all the way through my senior year. I was on a Girl Scout cookie box.

David Martin: We really I.

Michelle Lincoln: Was.

David Martin: Which one?

Michelle Lincoln: Summer was.

David Martin: All right. Okay.

Michelle Lincoln: It’s a year and I know, I know. But the year it debuted, I was on the box for two years.

David Martin: No kidding?

Michelle Lincoln: No.

David Martin: Wow.

Michelle Lincoln: I still had the box freeze.

David Martin: I was going to ask, do you still have a couple of boxes?

Michelle Lincoln: Absolutely.

David Martin: But do you get Samoas every year?

Michelle Lincoln: Of course I do.

David Martin: Is that your favorite Girl Scout cookie?

Michelle Lincoln: It is. It is.

David Martin: Is it.

Michelle Lincoln: Really? It truly is. But I like the peanut butter patties and I also like the Thin Mints. And I just haven’t met a Girl Scout cookie I don’t like.

David Martin: And that’s it. That’s yes, Yes. All right. We talked a little bit about the Canal Restoration project. Yes. What else is going on down in the Keys? What’s what’s a great, good government project that’s going on right now?

Michelle Lincoln: We’re all about resilience right now. And we have just completed our entire mapping of every road in Monroe County. And where are they in the vulnerability of sea level rise, of storm surge of king tides and what.

David Martin: Isn’t half of the keys like below sea level.

Michelle Lincoln: At or about crack? Right. You know, so we know during any king tide we have some streets that are already inundated with storm water or with ocean water. And so we’ve just completed three pilot studies of road ways of and of elevating the roads, pumping out the water. But we have to do it in such a way that that that runoff of that water doesn’t go back into our beautiful ocean that we’re doing so much to protect.

David Martin: How do you learn about something like that? Because that’s not something you study.

Michelle Lincoln: I know, right?

David Martin: It’s how do you how do you pick that up.

Michelle Lincoln: From a lot of of conference calls and meetings with Rhonda Haeg?

David Martin: Well, there are worse people to talk to that right ahead. This has been a great conversation. Again, thank you for stopping by.

Michelle Lincoln: My pleasure.

David Martin: Show, Lincoln, great conversation with you. And please give our best to Rhonda and say hello to the keys for I will.

Michelle Lincoln: Come back and see us again.

David Martin: You bet.

Michelle Lincoln: I will see some key lime pie together.

David Martin: You bet. Thank you. Thank you. Kutztown University is a smart choice for Pennsylvania students or students from anywhere looking for an outstanding college experience close to home and in the heart of Pennsylvania, with over 130 majors, CU has endless academic opportunities. Kutztown also offers plenty of on campus housing 24 seven dining options, comprehensive support services to ensure our students success and so much more.

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And by the way, a freshwater cock at someone has lived in the Florida Keys for at least seven years. Lifelong residents, as their saltwater tanks are just conks. So glad to hear the canal cleanup continues. We’d like to hear updates on past stories we report about here on the Good government show. And it’s also great to hear that environmental issues are still a primary issue as they plan the future of the Florida Keys.

Sam has a great conversation with some of one of the best spots on Earth, Monroe County, the fabulous Florida Keys. So join me again on the good Government show for another conversation with another government leader and we’ll talk about their ideas of what makes for good government. I’m Dave Martin. Thanks for listening to the Good Government show and a conversation with is produced by Valley Park Productions.

Jim Ludlow, David Martin and David Snyder are the executive producers. Our editor and producer is Jason Stershic. This is a good government show. Thanks for listening.

**This transcription was created using digital tools and has not been edited by a live person. We apologize for any discrepancies or errors.