Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade commissioners question raise awarded to PortMiami executive

Some Miami-Dade commissioners on Monday questioned Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s decision earlier this year to give a hefty raise to a promoted PortMiami deputy director who now makes a higher salary than his boss.

Commissioner Barbara Jordan criticized that Juan Kuryla, following his May promotion, now makes $290,000 a year — nearly $30,000 more than Bill Johnson, the seaport chief, whose salary is $263,000. Commissioner Audrey Edmonson wanted to know more about the two generous salaries.

“Do we have two employees over at the port who make over $600,000 a year?” Edmonson asked, slightly exaggerating the two men’s combined yearly pay.

Gimenez said he approved a $120,000 raise for Kuryla, who was promoted to “seaport director designee” from deputy, to keep him from taking a job he had been offered heading Jacksonville’s port.

“I, frankly, don’t want to compete with him. I don’t want him to go to Jacksonville,” Gimenez said. “I think it was a wise investment to keep him.”

With Kuryla waiting in the wings, he added, the county won’t have to search for Johnson’s replacement when he retires, bringing stability to the seaport at a time when it will have a new tunnel and will handle increased traffic from a deeper Panama Canal.

But while Johnson has committed to retire, he does not have to do so until June 2015, though he could leaver earlier at his choosing.

That’s a long time for two seaport executives to receive sizable salaries, said Jordan and Edmonson, who were careful to note that they do not want to push Johnson out. Both commissioners also said they were glad to keep Kuryla on staff.

“I’m happy that you’re here with us and that Juan is the designate,” Jordan said, looking at Johnson, who was seated in the commission chambers for the awkward exchange. “But I am concerned about the two massive salaries.”

The discussion came at a public meeting convened for commissioners to informally ask questions about the proposed 2013-14 budget, which will require unpopular service cuts.

At the time of Kuryla’s promotion, Johnson had been seen as the leading candidate to head the Beacon Council, the independent nonprofit economic development agency largely funded by the county. Two weeks ago, that job went to Larry Williams of Atlanta.

As part of an early retirement program called DROP, or deferred retirement option program, Johnson has been accruing his pension in a tax-deferred account for three years.

If he remains at the county until his June 2015 retirement date, Johnson will have accumulated nearly $915,000 in that account, according to the Florida Retirement System that manages county employees’ pensions. Beginning in July 2015, his retirement benefit would be more than $14,000 a month.

Gimenez emphasized that the seaport, like the airport, is a self-funded county department — meaning that pays for its operations out of the fees it generates — so neither Johnson’s nor Kuryla’s salaries are paid for by the general fund that pays for most services. Three commissioners — Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, Vice Chairwoman Lynda Bell and Jose “Pepe” Diaz — praised Gimenez for keeping Kuryla from jumping to Jacksonville.

But handing Kuryla such a generous promotion, at the same time county employees face another year of having to contribute 5 percent of their base pay toward group healthcare costs, hurts morale, argued Edmonson, who also suggested the administration approved the promotion “under the rug,” without informing commissioners.

Jordan said she disagreed with paying the number-two seaport executive more than his boss.

“That’s not fair to the director,” she said.

Gimenez, who cut his salary when he took office in 2011, said that he makes less than some of his deputies and department chiefs.

“I make a heck of a lot less than most directors in this town,” he said, smiling. “I am their boss!”

Responded Jordan: “They are not elected. You are.”

Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.

A previous version of this report suggested Edmonson took issue with Kuryla making a higher salary than Johnson. Her concern was with the combination of the salaries.

Related stories from Miami Herald