This group isn't worth $90,000 — so give 'em a big raise
By Michael Lewis
When Miami-Dade commissioners spat in our eyes by refusing to let us vote on vital county reforms and then asked us for a huge raise, they did us a favor. Honest, they did.
They buried most of 18 reforms crafted by a charter review team that they'd appointed themselves, showing utter disdain for the public's right to decide how we'll be governed.
But then they twisted one recommendation to raise commission pay and limit commissioners to two terms, deleting the term limit and telling us to vote Nov. 4 to raise their own salaries from $6,000 to $91,995, coupled with automatic increases.
Ironically, that was the best thing they could have done.
Today, few can afford to seek what is, or should be, a fulltime role as commissioner. But if voters in November approve a fulltime requirement at decent pay, we'll open the doors far wider to candidates who might actually do what's right. Not that we mightn't still elect duds, but at least we'd have a fighting chance. Today we don't.
Unfortunately, it's not obvious to some that higher pay is vital, even if the raise would cost us $1,117,935 a year more than commissioners get today.
"This group isn't worth 90,000 bucks," a Herald column that rejected a raise was headed.
Well, that's precisely the point, isn't it? Many of the 13 commissioners we have aren't worth 90,000 bucks, but commissioners we desperately need would be worth every penny.
Voters eight times have rejected a raise because they don't think incumbents are worth it. Unfortunately, if we wait to raise pay until we get topnotch commissioners, we'll wait until hell freezes over. We won't get them because we won't pay them.
We pay our commissioners less than do Florida's smallest rural counties. We're bottom in the state, because all 66 other counties follow a state scale based on population. We have the most people, the biggest spending and the lowest salary.
That's what the charter review team wanted to change.
When in 1957 we engraved the $6,000 into our new charter — equivalent to a constitution — this county had 700,000 residents. The pay, adjusting for inflation, was equal to $42,000 today. Commissioners were truly part time. And many services the county still provides were due to shift to city governments, which were to span the county (that's one of the many reforms our commission rejected last month without giving us a chance to vote).
But look at Miami-Dade today. It's center stage globally. Our 2,387,170 population is eighth largest in the US and larger than those of 97 entire nations. With 1,946 square miles, we're larger than 60 nations.
We're in the big time. We need big-time governance. And you still don't get any more than you pay for.
Today we pay commissioners $3 an hour, less than half the US minimum wage of $6.55 or Florida's $6.79. And next year the federal minimum rises to $7.25. Those are burger-flipping wages, lower than we pay any of the county's 30,000 fulltime employees.
But our $3-an-hour commissioners spend a budget of $7.408 billion.
It's pennywise and billion foolish not to pay a living wage so we can get a chance to elect commissioners who aren't forced to either misspend to pad their pockets or else hold outside jobs that frequently conflict with public interest.
Sure, a few commissioners are scrupulously honest, avoid conflicts of interest and have outside means of support that don't conflict with county responsibilities, but counting on that is like counting on paying your bills using lottery winnings.
This county commission is no lottery winner.
That's why a Nov. 4 vote to raise the pay of a commission that wins little public praise — for good reason — is a very wise investment.
A raise won't be a reward for good work. It will be an investment in better work in the future by a lot of new faces on the dais who might actually respect the public's intelligence, its rights and its pocketbook.