For nearly a decade, Charlie Dodge of Pembroke Pines has enjoyed one of the most lucrative arrangements for a city manager in South Florida — an unusual private contract that has paid him and his top lieutenant, Martin Gayeski, about $700,000 a year since 2003.
Now all that’s about to change, sort of.
This summer, under pressure from a newly elected city commissioner, Dodge announced that he will not request a renewal of the city’s contract with his company, Charles F. Dodge, LLC, when the agreement expires in February.
But Dodge isn’t going anywhere.
Instead, he will revert to “full-time employee’’ status, but with a heavy pay cut that is yet to be determined and likely will be negotiated at a public budget hearing on Sept. 5.
Because Dodge already “retired” in 2002 before transitioning to private contractor status in 2003, he cannot increase his annual $75,000 pension benefit, which he will continue to collect for life, along with free health insurance, another post-employment perk.
Gayeski collects a $104,000 annual pension, and free health insurance. New employees are no longer eligible for either benefit.
Dodge said he decided not to seek renewal of his and Gayeski’s employment contract because the issue had become a distraction.
“I think there has been a lot of controversy, with pros and cons both ways,’’ he said. “You know what? At this point, it’s probably in everybody’s best interest to put that behind us and just move on and just continue in a traditional mode.’’
In fact, Dodge’s hand was forced by Commissioner Jay Schwartz, who was elected to office in January and had made a campaign promise to reign in the city manager’s lucrative contract.
“It’s too much money,’’ Schwartz said. “We’ve paid over $3.5 million over five years for two people.’’
Indeed, President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden were paid a combined salary of about $630,000 in 2011.
Schwartz had scheduled a discussion of Dodge’s contract for a commission meeting in June.
About one week before the meeting, though, Dodge issued a memo announcing his intention to revert to full-time status, as stipulated in the contract.
Schwartz held the discussion anyway, and stated that Dodge should be paid between $198,000 and $250,000 a year. He said he based those figures on the city manager’s salary when Dodge transitioned to contractor status in 2003 — which was about $163,000 a year — and factoring annual increases of 2 percent to 4 percent since then.
“When you compare other city managers’ salaries,’’ Schwartz said, “they are between $175,000 to … I think I saw as much as $215,000 of just Broward County cities of similar size.’’
But Dodge has proposed his own annual salary: $285,000 a year.
He said the figure is based on pay ranges for other city managers in the area, as well as years of experience, number of employees managed, municipal population, and programs and services offered.
“Most city managers here in Broward probably don’t have more than five or six years of service, on average,’’ said Dodge, who has been Pembroke Pines’ top administrator for 23 years.
Dodge said he also operates a more efficient City Hall, with fewer managers and employees than comparable cities but more responsibilities for himself and others.
“If you look at total administrative salaries and number of personnel we have in Pembroke Pines, it’s much fewer than other cities,’’ he said.
One elected city official who supports Dodge’s salary proposal is Mayor Frank Ortis, who said he has been pleased with the job his city manager is doing.
“He’s always there, no matter what time of day I call,’’ Ortis said.
The mayor said he was “OK’’ with Dodge’s old contract, and believes a lot of the criticism he hears about it stems from people’s belief that all of the $700,000 a year goes to Dodge alone when it actually pays for Dodge and Gayeski.
“People still don’t understand,’’ he said. “They think it’s just his salary, but it’s not.’’
Whatever the public perception of Dodge’s contract may be, commissioners will have a chance to shed light on the issue at the first public budget hearing in September.
“I’m looking forward to Sept. 5,’’ said Schwartz, “so we can have an open and honest discussion about the direction our city needs to go in. I’m pleased with the direction that we’re going so far, and that’s not renewing this contract. But we still have work to do.’’