In or about 1998, the Frances Street Neighbors met on a monthly basis to discuss voter issues, improvements in the neighborhood and other matters of common community interest. The meetings were well attended but sporadic and were mostly held at the residences of Jane and Thomas Vetter, Celeste and Bob Schettig and John Padget. In addition to their immediate neighbors on Frances Street, residents throughout Old Town and the Meadows were invited to attend, have a glass of wine or two, and discuss current issues of mutual concern.
These relatively informal gatherings continued to and including 2003 and often constituted a mix of 40-60 voters and city commissioners. As attendance grew, the issues were broadened to encompass citywide concerns and other matters aimed at improving the quality of all Key Westers.
From this informal group, the KW Neighborhood Association was formed, with major input from John Merts, John Padget, the Vetters, the Schettigs, and Perry Johnston and Annette Liggett. In or about 2004, this same group met at the Schettigs’ residence to form the Hometown PAC. Attorneys Robert Goldman and Sheldon Davidson worked with the informal steering committee of Padget, Johnston, and Schettig to set up the Hometown PAC in April 2004.
Hometown will always be grateful to the many other Key West citizens –including, among others too numerous to mention– Ed Block, John Correa, Jimmy Weekley, Carol Wightman, Todd German, Alex Arnold, Mark Bailey, Tom Lavender, Michael Blades, and Erica Biddle—who over the early years lent their organizational skills as Board members and advisors, and gave generous financial support to the fledgling PAC.
The purpose of Hometown PAC was to broaden the base of active citizens in Key West by holding forums and Q&A events, and in the course thereof, introduce new candidates, recruit additional candidates to seek public office, and provide a level playing field for candidates to debate and respond to tough questions from political mavens and voters. At that time, Hometown PAC endorsed candidates and gave a check for $500 to those so endorsed.
The first meeting of Hometown was at Monty’s (now Dante’s) in April 2005. It was a sort of combination of the Frances Street crowd and the still rather new KW Neighborhood Association, with an invitation to other groups to join under the Hometown PAC Banner. Jane Vetter and Carol Wightman presided and by late summer, Hometown held its first Q&A Candidate forum at the Tropic Cinema.
The steering committee grew into a governing board of directors whose members interviewed candidates, drafted memos of endorsement and took out ads in The Citizen announcing the names of the endorsed candidates. The Board members worked tirelessly doing this work.
There was a strong feeling among voters and Board members, however, that Hometown PAC’s greatest strength was its organization and support of open-to-the-public political forums before every election. The Key West Citizen wrote, “Such events give candidates an opportunity to speak– and voters the opportunity to actually meet the candidates, hear their ideas, pick up their campaign literature, and to ask them questions face-to-face.”
Accordingly, the Board decided to change part of its operations and not endorse candidates or take sides in referendums. The result was the termination of the Political Action Committee and the formation of a not-for profit Florida Corporation; thereafter, the newly formed entity qualified as a 501 (c) (3) organization, contributions to which are tax deductible.