Miami-Dade County

Plan to double Miami-Dade mayor’s compensation hits a roadblock with commissioners

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez addressed reporters outside his County Hall office in this 2016 file photo. He presides over Florida’s largest local government, with a budget topping $7 billion.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez addressed reporters outside his County Hall office in this 2016 file photo. He presides over Florida’s largest local government, with a budget topping $7 billion. DOUGLAS HANKS

Miami-Dade commissioners on Tuesday balked at Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s proposal to double his pay to just over $300,000, saying they needed more time to weigh the sensitive task of undoing the mayor’s own decision to slash his compensation when he first won office six years ago in the midst of a budget crisis.

“One lesson is: No good deed goes unpunished,” Gimenez said as commissioners prepared a vote to defer the decision on a new compensation formula that would have paid the two-term mayor far more than the $150,000 he currently makes as the county’s top executive officer. “The perception has been created by the media that somehow I’m going to get a raise. When, in fact, I’ve taken a reduction.”

By opting to indefinitely defer a vote that Gimenez said he wanted Tuesday, commissioners rejected the mayor’s request for a speedy resolution to a process that he launched earlier this month when he asked the board to endorse a new pay level for his position.

“I think we should take a little more time on this,” said Commissioner Jean Monestime. “We should punt this a little further.”

In the two weeks since Gimenez asked for his new compensation to be voted on by year’s end, commissioners publicly expressed their uneasiness at having to endorse a large raise for the mayor. Gimenez won praise in 2011 for cutting in half the $324,000 compensation package that earlier commissions had granted his unpopular predecessor, Carlos Alvarez.

“It’s very uncomfortable for us,” said Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, who had made a motion allowing a $324,000 compensation package for Gimenez to pass out of a committee last week. Sosa said Tuesday the motion was just designed to let the full board consider the issue. “I wanted to make it very clear it was not my idea,” she said. Sosa also announced she could not stay for the final commission vote Tuesday, saying she had to attend holiday parties at senior centers in her district.

“The big mistake was the reduction that we didn’t approve,” Sosa said before leaving the chambers. “But now we have to approve what is perceived by many as an increase.”

Gimenez never publicly asked for a raise, but a spokesman said several times that the mayor would accept one. The proposal to pay Gimenez $302,000 a year that was briefly set for a vote Tuesday came from Commissioner Dennis Moss. Moss told commissioners he offered the last-minute proposal “as requested by the mayor,” and said in an interview that Gimenez shared the compensation formula in a conversation between the two of them.

The proposed amount was 50 percent more than the recommended compensation for a county sheriff in a jurisdiction as large as Miami-Dade, based on a state formula. Miami-Dade is the only county in Florida that doesn’t elect a sheriff, granting its mayor the power to oversee a countywide police force.

Gimenez said his budget office recommended the sheriff-based compensation calculation to him, and that he endorsed it.

“I said, ‘Okay, fine. That sounds like a good idea,’ ” Gimenez said.

Alvarez and Gimenez are the only mayors to serve as the county’s full-time administrator, with voters over the last decade reshaping Miami-Dade government to eliminate a system where a professional county manager reported directly to commissioners. Gimenez is the only mayor to serve without a county manager under him, presiding over Florida’s largest local government, with a $7.4 billion budget and a layer of deputy mayors to help administer the bureaucracy.

Sosa and others asked why Gimenez, who ordered his own pay cut in the days after he took office in 2011, didn’t just reverse the process and set a new compensation level. Gimenez said he didn’t feel comfortable approving new compensation for himself and wanted commissioners to do it.

A raise would boost Gimenez’s paycheck for his final two years in office before leaving under county term-limit rules, and give him a higher pension payment once he exits the Miami-Dade payroll. A former fire chief and top administrator for Miami, Gimenez already earns about $134,000 a year from his city pension.

“The mayor is my friend. He’s probably the best mayor we have ever had here,” said Commissioner Javier Souto. But he warned that approving a raise as proposed would reflect poorly on Gimenez and the commission. “In politics, perception becomes reality.”

The commission’s Government Operations committee last week in a 3-2 vote approved a proposal to endorse Gimenez earning $324,000 in salary and benefits — matching the compensation available to Gimenez when he first took office. But that plan proved problematic when Gimenez said he would not accept cash benefits and only wanted the commission to set a flat salary for him. Alvarez earned just $233,000 in salary during his last year in office, with the rest coming from cash benefits like a car allowance and pay boosts awarded top county executives at the time.

The Moss proposal for a $302,000 salary would be enough to make Gimenez one of the best-paid employees in Miami-Dade government. It would also land him in the top tier of mayoral pay among the nation’s big cities. A survey by Gimenez’s office found only the mayor of San Francisco earned more than $300,000 a year, with the mayors of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles paid less than $250,000.

Alvarez took heat for his hefty compensation before voters recalled him amid a furor over property-tax increases, the 2009 Marlins Park financing deal and raises to top executives that Alvarez quietly enacted during a budget crisis. Gimenez promised in the 2011 campaign to slash his own compensation while demanding pay concessions from unions in the midst of a housing crash that left the county with a sharp drop in property-tax revenues.

With the county’s property-tax base back to record levels, budget pressures have eased and unions enjoyed raises and the return of cash perks in recent years. For the 2018 fiscal year that began Oct. 1, Gimenez also revived suspended merit increases for department heads, according to his budget office. With other employees enjoying raises, Gimenez said it was appropriate for commissioners to consider a new compensation level for him.

“I felt it was important for me to set an example, so I cut the mayor’s salary by 50 percent. I kept my promise for six years,” he told commissioners Tuesday. “Now that employees have for the most part gotten back their benefits and gotten raises, et cetera, I feel the mayor’s salary should be reestablished.

“I know this is a difficult discussion,” Gimenez said, “and I am sorry to have brought this on to you.”