As soccer flub proves, we cheat ourselves by being cheap
Written by Michael Lewis on August 4, 2015
It’s no surprise that elected officials were caught unawares when Miami Today revealed last week that a contract among Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami and the owners of the Miami Marlins gives those baseball owners significant control over a soccer stadium next door.
It’s no surprise because despite a soccer stadium being top-level news and the baseball contract being the most controversial here in memory, few elected officials have ever read the document.
It’s not that elected officials are derelict or unable to understand a contract. The fact is, these officials get mountains of paperwork, attend multiple monthly meetings and get paid peanuts for it all. It’s a rare Miami-Dade commissioner who can live on the $6,000 they get yearly and have the luxury to devote full time to county service.
Those in the press who pore through the documents that commissioners get and who try to view their meetings can attest that the job is a heavy load. It took us nine hours to read and annotate the massive 2009 baseball contract, plus added hours on subsequent reviews. We can’t expect that kind of time on major issues for $6,000 a year.
Unfortunately, if we want elected officials to make major decisions on our behalf with a county budget of more than $6.76 billion this year and the future of our quality of life and our economy in the balance, some of that time from commissioners is vital even if aides help. After all, we didn’t elect the aides to make decisions – we elected those $6,000-a-year executives.
It’s no wonder that elected officials didn’t inform Miami Beckham United about the baseball contract’s strictures on any soccer team, or that one of the key investors, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, would tweet out a total denial of Miami Today’s report that the restrictions exist – which they most certainly do.
Soccer executives probably relied on public officials to tell them what they must know about their use of public property – and our elected officials didn’t know what the contract said.
That’s not only highly embarrassing but can undermine soccer talks. The outcome is still up in the air.
What is not up in the air is the need to pay elected officials enough that they can devote full time to knowing what they need to know and doing what they need to do.
Most commissioners totally missed this county’s transportation crisis until it got too bad to ignore. Most totally missed the need to update water and sewer infrastructure until we were told that we need more than $13 billion (that’s billion with a B) just to catch up with where we should have been years ago.
What else are we missing? And are we focusing on any of it?
We’d all feel better about attention to what’s coming down the road – both big problems and big opportunities – if we thought that our elected officials were paying total attention.
Again, how can they at $6,000 unless we elect only multimillionaires?
As we have noted before, Miami-Dade has more population than do 102 nations. Show us even the poorest nations paying their top officials just $6,000.
We are by far Florida’s largest county, yet we pay our commissioners by far the least. The state sets commission pay for the other 66 counties, but as a special charter county we get to set our own.
The result? The five large counties including Miami-Dade are capped at paying commissioners $95,782 this year, up $259 from last year and due to rise Oct. 1 everywhere but here. We still pay the $6,000 to govern 2.6 million people that we paid in 1957 to govern a third that many; it has never been raised.
Florida’s smallest county, Liberty with 8,483 residents, pays commissioners $24,573 – least in Florida other than here but four times what Miami-Dade spends. Lafayette County at 8,618 residents pays the state scale of $24,659, again more than four times what we pay.
Nobody pays less than four-plus times what we do. Why are we surprised that our commissioners don’t dig into issues? If they worked full time for $6,000 they’d get only about 36% of Florida’s minimum wage of $8.05 per hour, so what should we expect?
Commissioners themselves are unlikely to seek a raise. They’d need voter approval, and if voters did raise the pay to the state level of about $96,000 next year commissioners would find competitors at the next election who now can’t afford to run. Why add competitors?
No, the only ones who would seek to pay commissioners fairly would be business leaders who realize how underserved we are by $6,000-a-year work. It would take a publically initiated referendum to change our charter and raise commission pay to where it should be.
We save about $1.17 million a year in salary by paying $6,000, but how much more could we save if just one commissioner with a bit more time studied just more vital document or dug into one more important issue?
What if one of them had effectively pushed better transportation systems and funding a decade or so ago?
Or had looked at the water and sewer system before it became a crisis?
Or if anyone had mentioned to David Beckham’s group that they’d better examine the contract with the Marlins before a key soccer team investor got egg on his face by telling the public that the document didn’t exist?