Doral officials may vote to give themselves pay for life
Anyone who has held Doral elected office eight years or more could soon become eligible for an elected officials retirement plan.
The first reading of an ordinance establishing lifetime retirement payments for Doral elected officials was approved 4-1 during the city’s Jan. 13 council meeting.
Initially, the proposed ordinance read that those who have reached a retirement age of 55 and no longer serve as an elected official would be entitled during the remainder of their life to an annual pension equal to 50% of the elected official’s compensation and 50% of the cost of health insurance premium for themselves and their immediate families. Compensations would be based on the highest wages of the last three years of their term and the retirement benefit would increase by 12.5% for each year of additional service to a maximum of 100%.
“I do believe that something is necessary to compensate for the time and efforts, just not only elected officials sitting here today, but the elected officials who will come in the future and elected officials who have already dedicated a lot of time and effort into making this city the wonderful city it is today,” said Councilwoman Claudia Mariaca, who voted against the retirement measure. “The way how this was brought up and written at this moment, I cannot be supportive.”
After agreeing with Councilwoman Digna Cabral to raise the retirement age to 60, Ms. Mariaca said she had an issue with the 12.5% increase that states that any elected official that serves for 12 years will get a 100% of their compensation annually.
“It’s based on the highest amount of the three last years of service. I suggest that it’s the average of the last three years of service because of the way it’s written right now,” she said, “if someone serves 12 years as a council member and one year as a mayor within the last three years, they will be compensated in that last year as a mayor, and I think we need to be financially fair.”
Doral’s mayor was being paid $68,365 a year in January 2018 when the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust surveyed municipal pay in the county. Commissioners at the time received $16,399, not including a $30,000 non-accountable stipend to cover expenses and $15,000 for travel.
Salaries of the commissioners and mayor in the 58,000-population city rise annually based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index.
By comparison, Miami-Dade County commissioners have been paid a flat $6,000 per year since the 1950s. In Cutler Bay, population 45,000, the mayor in 2017 was paid $15,375 and the council members $7,688 each.
Doral Vice Mayor Pete Cabrera said it was a relief when he saw the ordinance come forward.
“The price and toll it has taken on every dimension of our lives, financial, family time, pressure, lawsuits, political and emotional has been amazing, and I’ve done it with great honor and great pride,” he said. “I can show you my tax returns before I got into this and financially, it took a toll on me; it was devastating and it took me a long time to recover and every time there’s been a campaign, I’ll take another impact. I’m talking about 70% to 80% drop of income.”
It has been a long time coming not only for himself but the entire council from the past, present and those who are starting to serve, Mr. Cabrera said.
“In reality, the thought that came to my mind was that this is reflected on the current council and prior councils this community has been blessed to have, who always put the interest of the city, our employees and staff and making this city run best before their own interest, like a parent always putting ourselves last,” he added.
Agreeing with Ms. Cabral and Ms. Mariaca’s suggested changes, Mr. Cabrera said the most important part is that the retirement plan is long overdue. “I think everything here is very consistent with other cities and I think it’s fair.”
“There’s a really big price to pay when you are sitting up here and people just don’t understand and there’s no way you can communicate it until you walk in these shoes and understand it,” he said.
Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez said he would withhold comment until the second reading, but said he wanted to point out that the city already funds a sufficient amount of pensions for not only police officers but also charter officials.
“I certainly will be bringing back analysis of where we can, in comparison to other cities, where maybe the expenses are a little more unnecessary because we need to look at things from A to Z,” the mayor said.
Saying he was making sure research was properly done to back this ordinance, Mayor Bermudez questioned City Attorney Luis Figueredo whether the city went through a process including the perspective of other municipalities.
Mr. Figueredo assured the mayor that his office looked at other cities and pension programs, but also took into account the uniqueness of Doral.
“We didn’t copy and paste what most of the other cities did,” he said, “we crafted our own ordinance.”