Skip ballot trickery — facts fully justify commission raise
By Michael Lewis
When Miami-Dade commissioners vote Tuesday to seek a long-overdue raise, they must clean up a mess they made last week.
In seeking to hike $6,000 pay unconscionably frozen in time for 53 years, commissioners muddied the issue so badly that they could doom the upgrade.
In concocting an Aug. 24 ballot question to ask for the raise, they specified that their job is full time, as it should be. That, they reasoned, justified a raise.
Unfortunately, they also decided that they wouldn't truly make the job full time. They'd just tell voters it is.
That would allow some of them to keep very lucrative full-time outside work while being paid full time for county work as well.
It's a good illustration of why we need to replace some commissioners. They're happy to tell us one thing and do something else.
Unfortunately, we cannot punish them by voting no on a raise without punishing ourselves more.
Current $6,000 compensation for what should by rights be a full-time role bars most able persons. Thus, weak incumbents get no opponents and we keep them forever.
The best way to get better commissioners is to make it possible for far more qualified people to seek office. That requires paying for what, properly done, takes far more than 40 hours a week.
We know, however, that current commissioners would never ask voters for a raise based on yielding outside jobs. Too many make too much on the side.
The logical alternative is to simply remove a gimmick that commissioners had county attorneys contrive telling voters "Whereas the members of the Board of County Commissioners devote full-time service to the office...," which is untrue today and would be untrue in the future as no such requirement was added.
As Mayor Carlos Alvarez logically stated at last week's vote, if commissioners aren't prevented from working outside jobs "why can't you just leave it alone?"
He's absolutely right. The raise question could stay the same minus the phrase inserted just to trick voters into thinking commissioners could have no outside jobs. Maybe such trickery is legal — the lawyers said they could get away with it — but it's unfair to voters.
A raise, after all, is absolutely justified. A formula used in most of Florida's 67 counties bases commission pay on population.
That formula pays commissioners in Liberty County, population 8,158, exactly $23,428 this fiscal year. As population rises they get more. Liberty's pay would be lowest in Florida if it weren't for Miami-Dade, population 2,477,289.
Because we're the biggest and we have a home rule charter, the state doesn't set pay here: our voters do. We pay our commissioners barely a quarter of Liberty's level.
If we used the state formula, as the ballot question would permit, we'd pay $92,097 this year.
As it is we pay 13 commissioners $115 a week to spend $7 billion a year. If commissioners really work full time in the role, as they should, that's $2.88 an hour — far below legal minimum wage.
We pay that pittance and then complain that the best and brightest won't serve.
Pay more, get better, add just one money-saving decision and we'd cover the total $1.2 million raise many times over.
Or, keep the present pay and commission intact, waste on things like a $3 billion baseball stadium without a penny due back to taxpayers, and feel good about all we saved by not upgrading the commission.
That's the choice voters will get Aug. 24 — unless the commission insists on what some realized last week might be illegal trickery in saying a job is full time when it isn't. Insist on that wording and a judge might prohibit the vote.
In setting the ballot question, the issue shouldn't be how to trick voters into thinking commissioners will work full time when most now in office have no intent to do so.
No sleight of hand is needed to justify a raise from $6,000 set in 1957 in a much smaller county for a part-time role that since has grown to full time. Adjusted for inflation alone, that pay would top $45,000 today. Adjust for responsibility and $92,097 is still low.
Forget the con job, commissioners, and stress how much your job should be worth if you were doing it well. And, if you can't or won't do it well, someone else should.
Unfortunately, without the pay increase no one ever will.