MIRAMAR

Long-time Miramar city manager leaves with $2.4 million payout

 

calfonso@MiamiHerald.com

Robert Payton, 54, has worked for only one employer his adult life: the city of Miramar, where Payton began as a garbage collector in 1977 and rose through the ranks to become city manager, a job he held since 2001 but resigned suddenly on Monday night.

In return for his years of service, Payton will collect $2.4 million, mostly in deferred pension and retirement benefits, and a small amount of accrued sick and vacation time. He also gets 21 years of dental and health insurance, which will cost Miramar about $25,800 annually. On top of that, he will receive an annual pension of $110,593.

Explaining his resignation on Tuesday, Payton said, “The decision wasn’t rational. It was emotional.’’

Payton said he had been considering retirement for several years now, but he couldn’t settle on the right time to leave because of pressing city issues, such as the economic downturn or a municipal project.

“I would always say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the Hotel California,’” he said, referring to the popular song about a fictional inn where guests can check in but they can never leave.

Payton said he began to lay the groundwork for retirement in October 2011, when he hired Wazir A. Ishmael, a city employee, as deputy city manager. Payton said Ishmael, who was appointed interim city manager on Monday, shadowed him on the job and participated in executive decisions.

Ishmael said Tuesday that “Mr. Payton has been talking about retirement to me for at least four years.’’

Still, Payton’s announcement of the decision was sudden.

According to his employment contract, Payton was supposed to give the city 60 days advance notice of his voluntary resignation.

He announced his intent to resign Monday, according to his separation agreement.

“It felt strange having to pick a [retirement] date,’’ he said. “I wanted to work up until the last bit.”

Payton’s last day was a tough one.

On Monday, local TV station WPLG-Channel 10 reported that Payton’s brother, Chris Payton, 52, had been rehired by Miramar’s parks and recreation department in 2007 after retiring from the city’s utilities department earlier the same year.

Chris Payton is paid $50,000 a year for a part-time job renting parks facilities and helping with programs. He also receives an annual pension benefit of about $50,000 a year.

As a part-time employee, though, Chris Payton receives no benefits, holidays or vacation — just his salary, said Natasha Hampton, human resources director.

A full-time employee in the same job would start at an annual pay rate of about $31,000 plus benefits, which could bring the total compensation cost for the employee to about $60,000 a year or more.

Hampton denied that nepotism played a role in Chris Payton’s rehiring.

“Nepotism is when you have a relative who directly supervises the employee,’’ she said.

Hampton said Miramar sometimes rehires retired employees in order to retain “experience and knowledge that’s priceless.’’ She said Miramar retirees who are rehired do not receive any benefits, only a salary.

Robert Payton denied paying any role in his brother’s rehiring, and said he kept an arm’s length from the process.

“I did not get involved with anything regarding my brother whatsoever,” he said.

Payton said he was aware of his brother’s rehiring, but that he disclosed that fact and deferred any decision about it to the city’s former director of human resources, Phil Rosenberg, who retired in 2010 but remained as a $10,000-a-month consultant under contract for about one year afterward.

Rosenberg, who is no longer a paid consultant to Miramar, said Tuesday that Chris Payton was rehired on a part-time basis in 2007 as part of an informal settlement to correct a wrong that had occurred when he first retired.

Rosenberg said actuaries gave Chris Payton the wrong information about his pension benefit prior to retirement, leading Chris Payton to believe he would receive more than he actually did.

After retiring and realizing the error, Rosenberg said, Chris Payton approached his brother with the problem. Rosenberg said Robert Payton immediately disclosed the conversation, then deferred any decision on the matter to a two-person panel made up of Rosenberg and James Hunt, who was Miramar’s fire chief at the time.

Rosenberg said he felt “a duty to not walk by a problem, but to go in and deal with it honestly, openly and fix it.’’

The agreed upon solution, Rosenberg said, was to rehire Chris Payton at a salary of $50,000 a year until he was “made whole,’’ though Rosenberg could not recall exactly how much it would take to recompense Chris Payton.

Robert Payton’s compensation, however, appears to be settled.

Like many Miramar residents, Sherron Durham, 69, said she likes Payton and thinks he’s done a good job managing the once-rural municipality through its greatest period of growth over the last decade, when the city’s population nearly doubled to about 125,000.

But Durham, who has lived in Miramar since 1964 and serves on the city’s budget committee, also was taken aback by Payton’s generous payout.

“Wow,’’ she said. “It used to be, years ago, you worked for the city and you got good benefits, but you didn’t make as much money. That used to be. Now you make a lot of money and you benefit.’’

Still, Durham added: “I do like the man. He’s done our city very well.’’

Troy Samuels, a two-term city commissioner who lost reelection last week, said Payton had spoken of retirement several years ago.

“His dilemma was timing,’’ Samuels said, explaining that Payton did not want to appear as though he was abandoning the commission after last week’s election.

Samuels credited Payton with having the “vision” and administrative acumen to steer Miramar through rapid growth by helping to plan for and fund infrastructure and facilities to serve an exploding population, and managing development so the city has a uniform look.

But not all of the city’s commissioners were supporters of Payton.

Alexandra Davis, who was elected to the commission in 2010, said she and Payton spoke about his retirement shortly after the March 12 municipal election in which voters chose a new member to the dais, Yvette Colbourne over Samuels.

“This topic came up, and I told him that I would not have a problem if he resigned,’’ Davis said of Payton. “Whereas we did not always agree, I do believe he did the best job he knew how.’’

To prepare for a new era of administrative leadership, Miramar commissioners will host a public workshop on April 17 to discuss the process of selecting its first city manager since 2001.

Payton, who has called Miramar home since he was 5 years old, said he’s ready for a change of scenery — though he’s not necessarily retiring from public administration.

“I want to go to another place,’’ he said, “where I can contribute with my skill set of vision, planning and building.”

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