The end of the commission running around the ballot box for a big raise is a mistake

Written by Michael Lewis on September 13, 2022


The end of the commission running around the ballot box for a big raise is a mistake

For decades, Miami Today has argued that unfairly underpaid Miami-Dade commissioners should ask voters for a raise. The commission has now chosen the absolute worst tactic, trying to squeeze in a big raise without the required election.

For years, voters refused to change a $6,000 commission salary for a full-time job. Some said they couldn’t trust the commissioners to be decent, so why pay them decent. The commission’s stealth offer in the next budget for a raise that has never been publicized will reinforce this lack of trust.

Today, one commissioner works full time. As we noted last week, the most recent committee agenda included more than 200 items, each with backup documents. Simply asking the right questions and voting correctly requires solid training. As taxpayers, we cannot afford to have commissioners who are not fully aware of what they are voting on. With a control of more than 10 billion dollars, it is too expensive.

Then add committee meetings, briefings, public events and visits with the public. This work, done well, fully fills five days a week or more.

In 1957, Miami-Dade, as the state’s metropolis, was granted the right to decide what the state decides for the other 66 counties. Our own Self-Reliance Charter provides this power. The state sets the salaries of civil servants in the other counties. We established our own, paying what were then part-time commissioners $6,000. Inflation alone would put the value at $57,000 today – not to mention the increased liability in a much larger and more complex community. Yet we only pay $6,000.

Our last count was 13 separate efforts to get voters to change the charter and raise commission pay, if only to allow people who aren’t independently wealthy, employer-subsidized, or retired to be able to do the job full time.

We have repeatedly asked commissioners to have the courage to ask voters again to raise the charter pay level. While it’s not obvious that paying a real wage can make the job better, not paying a fair wage can lead to cutting corners and circumventing decency.

Instead of confronting the issue squarely, however, the commissioners simply tried through the back door. They budgeted without public discussion for a $60,000 annual increase in benefits, including raising pre-retirement contributions from $11,500 to $61,000. It’s an end of the race around the ballot box.

In the end, the commissioners reportedly paid salaries of $6,000, but pocketed salaries and benefits totaling $138,000.

The total isn’t unreasonable, but the way they’re trying to get it is wrong, never releasing it in public or respecting the charter provision that only voters can give raises. The only vote on this would be 13 commissioners raising their own pay.

It’s pretty sweet when you can more than double the pay without asking the boss. But that’s not fair.

Look at the other 66 counties. Commission pay there is set by a formula in state laws based solely on population—the more residents, the more commissioners get.

This year in Liberty County, Florida’s smallest with 8,575 residents, commissioners are receiving $28,973 for very part-time work. In the four largest counties, the state sets commission salaries at $106,176.

One of those big four, however, is Miami-Dade, and per charter we opt out and pay $6,000. It is not fair.

In fact, the $138,000 that the commissioners quietly slipped into the budget without debate is about right, but it’s the wrong way to go. It’s almost like a store clerk who feels underpaid and pockets cash at the till to compensate. It is criminal.

What commissioners are doing is not criminal. It’s perfectly legal. They’ve found a loophole – if their tax-paying bosses don’t pay them what they think they deserve, they’ll just take it without asking the bosses.

This budget is coming for another hearing. We hope that enough taxpayer bosses will come forward to complain that the commissioners will rescind their offers to slip money out the side door. That hearing is at 5 p.m. September 20 in the commission rooms at the Stephen P. Clark Center, 111 NW First St. Throwing Rotten Tomatoes is not permitted.

We asked the commissioners to ask the public for a fair wage, not only because it’s good for them, but because it’s also good for the taxpayers. We get what we pay for.

Underpaid restaurant workers shouldn’t compensate for this by taking food out the back door, and underpaid commissars shouldn’t compensate for this by trying to slip a raise out the back door into outsized perks they give themselves. Both are simply wrong.

If you want a raise, have the courage and decency to ask your bosses for it, don’t just pocket it.

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