Support bid to save money by paying commissioners more
Written by Michael Lewis on October 24, 2017
A team studying Miami-Dade’s charter has wisely voted for fair commission pay.
What should be an easy step to join Florida’s other 66 counties that use a state pay scale has failed many times, with voters and commissioners alike rejecting efforts to pay fairly.
Voters have long felt commissioners are so bad that they don’t deserve a raise. Commissioners have been reluctant to ask for one, fearful either of voter ire or of more election competitors if pay were fair.
The result is that full-time commissioners who spend $7 billion yearly in a county of 2.7 million people in 1,946 square miles are paid exactly what their part-time predecessors got 60 years ago when the current charter – equivalent to a constitution – was set up: $6,000 a year, $78,000 for all 13.
How many honest, intelligent, capable people will work full time – often more than full time – for $6,000 a year?
For whatever reasons, we have 13 people who do. If we want to treat them fairly, pay them fairly. If we think they’re bad, pay fairly to get people you like better or trust more to run for office.
Honestly, how many top-level candidates can afford a $6,000 full-time job?
Those who can have lots in the bank or a well-paid spouse, a no-show outside job (do we really want commissioners beholden to some business for “free” income?) or somehow pocket lots of money just by being a commissioner (we sure don’t want that kind).
A fair salary can make it possible for solid people capable of earning good pay but without outside funds to do public service. Maybe some could make more in private jobs, but they need at minimum a salary that allows them time to actually deliberate as they spend billions, actually read laws before they vote, and actually dig into the key issues that are often neglected until it’s too late.
If we’d had more thinking commissioners decades ago, we wouldn’t find ourselves owing more than $2.5 billion today for a baseball stadium or $16 billion behind in water and sewer work. We might have unscrambled transportation. Maybe we’d have acted on climate change.
Instead, we cheaped out at $6,000 and got what we paid for. Are we going to keep doing that?
Appointees who must review our charter every five years last week voted to join the other counties on a state pay scale that we’ve opted out of. We’d join the big counties that pay commissioners $99,997 a year. That’s what Broward, at two-thirds our land area and two-thirds our population, pays. So does smaller Palm Beach.
Instead, we pay less than a quarter of what Florida’s smallest counties pay. Lafayette, the tiniest with 2,142 households, pays $25,747. Liberty, with 2,222 households, pays $25,823. Each has a population less than a sixth that of Coral Gables or Doral or Homestead.
Lafayette and Liberty commissioners yearly deal with budgets just over $14 million. Miami-Dade’s is 500 times that – in fact, larger than the budgets of 130 nations.
Do we really want to badly underpay people who have to live while they’re spending our billions? Avoiding a single bad contract to a “friend” could save us far more than underpaying commissioners for years.
The charter task force was appointed primarily by commissioners. A suspicious mind could think the team is doing commissioners a favor by seeking higher pay.
Even if that were true, it would also be a service to taxpayers, who would benefit more than commissioners. Again, think of a broader pool of candidates and the likelihood that all commissioners, present and future, could devote more time and brainpower to service because their outside work pressures would decrease.
We encourage the charter team to stand firm in its final report and seek proper pay. We encourage commissioners to be fair to all by making sure that the question goes on the ballot for voters to decide. And we encourage voters to do the right thing and pay fairly. Everyone will benefit.
We also urge the charter task force and every civic organization to tell voters why paying commissioners more is actually far less costly as well as far more equitable. Past votes on commission raises have failed when organizations like the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and their brethren didn’t mount a sophisticated campaign for better government with a yes vote.
Frankly, we’re very lucky to get the commission quality that we have at $6,000 apiece. Fair pay, however, can increase the odds of improving that quality – and our quality of life.