Miami-Dade County

How the mayor of Miami-Dade might end up earning more than the mayor of New York

Mayor Carlos Gimenez, photographed at a budget presentation in July 2015, could get a significant raise after asking county commissioners to decide how much he should make.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez, photographed at a budget presentation in July 2015, could get a significant raise after asking county commissioners to decide how much he should make. el Nuevo Herald

The mayor of New York, America’s largest and most expensive city to run, earns about $225,000 a year to serve as the municipal government’s top administrative officer. A proposal to give Miami-Dade’s mayor a raise would have Carlos Gimenez earning up to $324,000 a year, nearly 50 percent more than Bill de Blasio makes running NYC.

In fact, a proposal narrowly approved by a county committee this week and endorsed through a spokesman for Gimenez could make Miami-Dade’s chief executive one of the highest paid big-city mayors in the country. Research by Gimenez’s office and a 2017 survey by the American City Business Journals found that San Francisco’s mayor, the late Edwin Lee, earned the most of the nation’s large-city mayors. The Miami-Dade survey said Lee earned $365,200 in salary and fringe benefits.

On Tuesday, a committee of the Miami-Dade County Commission endorsed Gimenez’s earning the $324,000 that his predecessor, Carlos Alvarez, made in salary and benefits before being tossed from office in a 2011 recall. Gimenez promised to cut his salary when he first ran for mayor that year, and has voluntarily declined all but $150,000 of the post’s compensation.

That’s set to change if the full commission on Tuesday approves a proposal to formally activate the Alvarez-level compensation package and endorse Gimenez’s receiving it.

bill de blasio
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio during a conference of mayors in Miami Beach in June 2017. He runs the largest city in the United States, but could end up earning less than the mayor of Miami-Dade County. MATIAS J. OCNER For the Miami Herald

The raise would kick in immediately, and allow Gimenez to significantly boost pension payments as he prepares to leave the mayor’s office under the county’s term-limit rules in 2020. Miami-Dade pension payments are based on the highest years of compensation, and retired employees receive a portion of that average pay each year. The years are based on budget cycles, so Gimenez would receive a raise within the 12 months that began Oct. 1.

A survey of mayor compensation totals released by Gimenez’s office on Wednesday showed Gimenez would be making more than the mayors of Chicago ($216,000), Philadelphia ($218,000), Los Angeles ($238,000), Houston ($235,000) and California’s Orange County ($154,000). The survey by the mayor’s budget office found that only San Francisco paid its mayor a compensation package topping $300,000.

It’s still not clear what Gimenez would ultimately earn if the proposal by Commissioner Rebeca Sosa is approved. In proposing that Gimenez earn the same compensation as Alvarez did in 2011, Sosa said that would include at least one cash benefit that a spokesman said Gimenez will continue to decline.

Michael Hernández, Gimenez’s communications director, said Wednesday that the mayor would continue to forgo a car allowance, which a county handbook lists as a $6,500-a-year perk for executives. He also would be free to continue declining portions of his pay, as he has in each year since 2011.

Sosa noted that the proposal would back Gimenez’s earning what the job paid six years ago. “We’re paying him what Mayor Alvarez was making in the year 2011,” she said. Sosa also noted that the commission would be endorsing a compensation package of just under $323,959 for Gimenez “at his request.”

The quick-moving process to more than double Gimenez’s current compensation would retire a signature plank of his pitch to Miami-Dade voters when he ran for a seat left vacant by the 2011 recall of Alvarez.

One cause of Alvarez’s demise was a secret set of raises slipped to top aides in the midst of property-tax increases and budget cuts for a county government ravaged by plunging home values. Gimenez, previously a county commissioner and the city manager of Miami, pledged to cut tax rates, tame spending and set a frugal tone by slashing the $324,000 compensation package the commission paid Alvarez.

carlos alvarez
Former Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez was ousted in a recall in part because of backlash over his role in the negotiations of a deal to publicly finance Marlins Park. Emily Michot Miami Herald Staff

Fresh from his 2011 win, Gimenez secured pay and benefit cuts from county unions in part to fund rolling back Alvarez’s increase in property-tax rates. The reduced 2012 property-tax rates remain mostly intact, and property values have risen enough to allow unions to regain lost benefits and receive new raises.

As mayor, Gimenez presides over the largest local government in Florida, with a 27,000-person workforce, a $7.4 billion budget and the No. 2 source of employment in Miami-Dade behind the school system.

Gimenez won his final four-year term in 2016. In September, he secured passage of a 2018 budget with some cuts to the county’s bus system, a hiring freeze on most departments, and long-range deficits.

On Dec. 4, Gimenez began a delicate push for the commission to endorse giving him a raise. He first released a memo asking commissioners to establish a process for deciding how much he should make. At a commission meeting the next day, Gimenez told commissioners he wanted a decision by Jan. 1.

“I kind of pushed for this because I think a process is necessary,” Gimenez told commissioners Dec. 5. “I have voluntarily, I guess, not accepted a million dollars over the last six years. I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do. Because it was an example I had to set. But times are different.”

Gimenez stopped short of explicitly asking for a raise, or floating a number. Hernández, the spokesman, said after the Dec. 4 memo was released that Gimenez would accept a pay boost. On Wednesday, Hernández said Gimenez “welcomed a restoring of the salary his predecessor was paid.”

Members of the commission’s Government Operations Committee expressed unease at having to tackle the mayor’s compensation issue during Tuesday’s meeting. “We need to have this uncomfortable discussion one time,” said Commissioner Dennis Moss, a top Gimenez ally on the 13-member board, “and get through with it.”

Commissioner Joe Martinez, who challenged Gimenez in the 2012 mayoral election and said he would have accepted Alvarez’s compensation, questioned why the board had to get involved at all. The commission never voted to approve Gimenez’s current compensation of $150,000.

Jennifer Moon, the mayor’s budget director, said the county’s $7.4 billion budget this year contained the needed $324,000 to cover the full compensation that Alvarez earned, and that the mayor each year requests a waiver to let the excess $174,000 flow back into county coffers.

Martinez and other commissioners asked why Gimenez couldn’t just set his own compensation at a different level by adjusting what he declines each year. Otherwise, he said, the mayor gets credit for turning tax dollars down while the commission gets blamed for a generous raise. “If I cut my salary, and I ask you to increase it, I look really good and you don’t,” Martinez told fellow commissioners. “His salary is at $150,000 by his choice. The board didn’t set it.”

Martinez joined Xavier Suarez in voting against the motion. Moss, Jean Monestime and Rebeca Sosa voted for it. Gimenez did not attend the committee meeting. His deputy mayor for finance, Ed Marquez, asked Moss, the chairman, to waive commission rules in order to get the compensation item on Tuesday’s agenda, rather than having to wait until 2018 for the full board to consider it. Moss agreed.

Hernández, who earns about $30,000 more than the mayor, noted that Gimenez is the first to lead Miami-Dade without the assistance of a county manager, a post voters opted to phase out after deciding to give Alvarez and his successors full administrative powers. Hernández also noted that Gimenez, who earns less than nearly 200 other county employees, lacks the driver, security detail and other trappings of office enjoyed by Alvarez as well as big-city mayors across the country.

“De Blasio,” he said of New York’s mayor, “has Gracie Mansion.”

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