Friday May 19, 2006

There’s been so much grumbling about the raise that county commissioners are asking for that I’ve been waiting for someone to come up with a clear and persuasive argument for the raise. Michael Lewis to the rescue.

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  1. Tere    Fri May 19, 08:35 AM #  

    Damn, I missed Rick’s post on it, and I’d been hoping someone would bring this up!

    You know, I get the argument about the raise, but my problem is the amount they want. Everyone cites $46K as the median income or fair-living wage – so why are they asking for almost twice that? PLUS the expenses they already get? If they really had the County’s best interest in mind and only wanted what was fair, they would drastically reduce this amount.

    Also, I would most likely approve a raise if it was a whole different set of commissioners up there (give or take a couple). I personally don’t want to give that kind of money to some of the already-wealthy, ethically-challenged fools up on the dais. You’d think that the fact that citizens repeatedly refuse the raise would send a message about the quality of their work not being worth over $80K, but I guess not.



  2. alesh    Fri May 19, 10:06 AM #  

    Read Michael’s essay, Tere. The point is that the county’s budget is 6.8 billion, and part of how you attract good people to run is by paying them something that’s at least within a couple of orders of magnitude of what they would make in the public sector. Heads of major corporations often have salaries in the millions, and even the guy who just resigned as the head of the Coconut Grove Playhouse was getting $220,000.



  3. Roger    Fri May 19, 11:08 AM #  

    Here’s the abstract: “You pay peanuts, you get monkeys”

    I just moved to Miami (from Broward) this year so I never had access to City of Miami TV (Channel 9). It’s so embarrassing to watch these commissioners with small brains and huge egos running our city. Give them a raise. It will help bring decent people into politics but it won’t happen overnight.

    P.S. Michael Lewis is my hero



  4. NicFitKid    Fri May 19, 12:06 PM #  

    While I’m normally the first to shout, yell, and throw food at public figures, I’ll agree with Lewis and Alesh on this one. The county commission has been a joke for so long, with it’s various members heavily beholden to outside interests for blatant financial gain (Joe Martinez comes to mind) or to plain old thievery (the ghost employees of Reboredo), that it couldn’t make things worse to sweeten the pot and hope someone half-way decent, competent (or even, maybe, both!) would run in the next cycle. For $1.1 million, it’s worth the risk (seriously, in a multi-billion dollar budget, one mil isn’t going to make much of a difference), and if it doesn’t work, well, we’ll have even better funded political high-jinks to throw food at.



  5. Rebecca Carter    Fri May 19, 03:20 PM #  

    I agree with the raise. If you want someone to run the county as a full time job, pay them a full time salary. There is no reason that these jobs should be like “volunteer work”. We expect them to work, therefore they should be paid. Other qualified candidates that couldn’t afford to live on $6k would be able to consider running. I’m all for it.



  6. R.    Fri May 19, 10:08 PM #  

    Ana Menendez wrote a piece in favor of it a couple of days ago, and I think she’s got a point. I also a gradual increase would’ve been a better idea.



  7. John    Sat May 20, 07:11 AM #  

    Municipalities vary in their approach to pay for elected officials. Sometimes the reasoning behind the varying approaches is not immediately clear. In municipalities that pay executive level market rate, their legislators are suppose to work full time schedules. In many cases this means that the legislator cannot have other employment.

    In Dade our elected officials have full time jobs. Despite meetings mostly held in off hours there are conflicts. Those who follow the news will recall that recently retired Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler signed time sheets that said she was at was at her plumb Miami Dade Public Schools job doing office work in her “consultant” position while she was in fact in county government meetings. (More on Ms. Carey Shuler later.)

    Many municipalities forbid legislators from doing business with the entities they serve such as having public contracts. Such restrictions may apply to the spouse or immediate family of the politician. They may also forbid bidding for contracts directly – as business owners or even lobbyists – for a period of time after leaving office. (This may have saved us from the misdeeds of former Mayor Stephan Clark who continued to ply his contract manipulation years after leaving office. Even his brother got in on the action, stealing minority contracts for Mariott Airport Services. Miami public office- “the graft that keeps grafting.”)

    As presently constituted many of our board members actually work as governmental affairs and relations consultants, aka lobbyists, WHILE IN OFFICE including my own esteemed commissioner, Carlos Jimenez. Others rely upon the largesse of their commission colleagues for six figure salary jobs that they barely tend to, like Commissioner Dorrin Rolle as head of CBO James E. Scott Community Association.

    Mayor Penelas, Mayor Alvarez’s predecessor, contemplated using his support or possible veto of a salary increase as a bargaining chip with the ever greedy and corrupt commissioners to get them to relinquish some powers so that we can have a strong, accountable mayor; and to get the commissioners to agree to an independent airport authority.

    (For those of you new to Miami and its comically Third World levels of corruption, MIA has a multi-billion dollar expansion fund that has been turned into the Dade Commissioners’ piggy bank/patronage well. Former Commissioner Carey-Shuler recently resigned after helping a former cop turn multiple felon get a job at the airport where he set up a massive fuel theft ring. He reportedly gave kickbacks to said commissioner. The Herald and New Times reported on all this almost obsessively, calling on an independent Airport Authority until a year or so ago when there was a management change at both papers.)

    A couple of months ago Chris Cipriani, the editor at the excellent Biscayne Boulevard Times, wrote about how the requested salary increases (at both the city and the county) are excessive relative to municipalities of the same size.

    I also covered the whole issue of salary increases, several weeks ago in Miamista. My suggestion was and is that there be a reasonable, phased-in increase with the proviso that the commissioners work full time and that they and their spouses be restricted from directly receiving city contracts for a period of five years following their departure from office. I also suggested that their pensions be increased. (I also happen to support a strong mayor.)

    What truly concerns me about this issue is the lack of information the public has and how some news outlets are deliberately misinforming. (Newer residents seem most impacted by this.) The perfect example of this is Miami Today’s editor/writer Michael “The Turtle of News” Lewis (named such because of his remarkable resemblance to said amphibians and his habit of pulling his head in whenever contentious news comes up.)



  8. alesh    Sat May 20, 08:30 AM #  

    Thanks for the background, John. Though, if you think Lewis’ article is an example of deliberate misinformation, I’d love to hear how that is, precisely.

    I think it comes down to exactly what Roger said: “You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” I question the premise that commissioners’ salaries should track the population/budget they manage, though. We don’t do that for city employees, and sometimes not even for private sector executives.

    For Rick, and those who said the raise should be phased in gradually: maybe they are phasing it in gradually!



  9. NicFitKid    Sat May 20, 12:45 PM #  

    John’s got a point. The ideal situation would be to allow a salary increase AND firewall commissioners from outside interests by prohibiting outside jobs, contracts, or lobbying by sitting commissioners, while registering all county lobbyists and scrutinizing their interactions with individual commissioners to protect against non-public, backroom deals. This would probably require massive changes to the county charter, and would most likely never happen. Say, does anyone know if the county charter can be modified by signature drives/ballot referendums?



  10. John    Sat May 20, 06:56 PM #  

    Alesh-

    Michael Lewis has been around this debate long enough not to know the difference between the full time, executive salaried officials and part time officials. He knows that Miami Dade commissioners did not want to relinquish their full time jobs which as a rule pay far in excess of the the proposed commission salaries.

    Penelas, despite his shortcomings, was good at getting monied interests to back him on reform. That meant that commissioners decidied to bide their time. Now they are trying to foist this have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too pay raise. Michael Lewis did not call them on it once. This is far from the first time that he has engaged in highly biased, selectively sharing of facts surrounding an issue. There is a reason why his anemic sheet has lasted as the downtown business paper and loal corporate sponsorship keeps coming.

    Nic Fit- the proposal for full time, executive level salary is no major shift, at least no more major than paying fulltime wages with benefits that will cost the equivalent of hiring a couple of dozen new department heads. I mean, it would be just following procedures that most other major municipal governments follow when choosing to pay full time, executive salaries.

    On the other hand, we would become one of a relatively number of governments that have both the the executive- mayor, and legislators -commissioners, being paid presidential level (and that’s what these payraise/expense allowance/car allowance packages amount to.)

    If you are paying that much it should at least come with term limits as the mayor’s office does or we will have such highly insulated fat-cats our present levels of corruption will pale in comparison.

    As for the backroom deals and registering of lobbyists, we have the state Sunshine laws that allegedly prohibit backroom conversations on policy between commissioners (which the MNT used to report on/watch out for but now). There has been some creative interpretation about how lobbyists contact and disclosure has to be performed, if at all here in Daden to meet the Sunshine law’s requirements. Mayor Alvarez, in all fairness, has cleaned this up in his office and suggested the same for the commissioners who just laughed and laughed while drinking $200 bottles of Scotch with their lobbyists (who were having a sleepover).

    As much as it pains me to say this, they have been better at it in Broward, but only because the county specified the procedure after a few minor scandals.



  11. Tere    Sat May 20, 10:49 PM #  

    One of the arguments I’ve heard commissioners themselves make for the raise (or read quotes) is that the work they do is really a full-time job (Ana Menendez reference it in her column when she used the example of the commissioner who works so long that it comes down to $3/hour).

    Which is why I feel, like others here, that if they claim this is a fulltime job, then they should in fact give up their other jobs and focus just on this one. They can’t claim that managing a $6 billion budget merits fulltime work and the kind of salary they want and then retain their other cushy jobs that basically pay them for doing nothing.

    And yes, they should have term limits. And spouses and children and siblings and parents should not be allowed to have jobs or contracts or lobby them.

    I’m going to remain against this raise unless they make the whole proposal more fair or new commissioners are in place, whichever comes first.



  12. John    Sat May 20, 11:12 PM #  

    I’m with Tere!



  13. NicFitKid    Sun May 21, 11:58 PM #  

    Right on, Tere.



  14. Rebecca Carter    Mon May 22, 10:22 AM #  

    I guess I would say that I agree with a raise, conditional on the fact that commissioners can not hold other jobs. Current commissioners could be grandfathered in, because otherwise it may cause too many problems.

    And I would agree with Tere’s comments: “And yes, they should have term limits. And spouses and children and siblings and parents should not be allowed to have jobs or contracts or lobby them.”



  15. Steve    Mon May 22, 10:37 AM #  

    With all due respect and affection, I heartily dissent. People with adequate, even excessive salaries are just as likely to rape and pillage the public as Attila the Hun (who by the way, ran a damn tight and honest plant). Look at Enron’s Kenny Boy Lay. Look at the United Way, ferchrissake.

    The problem is the people, you and me. Some people are lowlife criminals and some aren’t. In Miami, we have the former running things, and they tend to breed and attract their own evil ilk.

    Take the phone book and randomly select 9 names. Those are your new commissioners for one year. Pay them nothing. It’s like the draft. They would do no worse, and they’d spend a minimal amount of time governing. Less government is good government. Repeat this process annually.

    Does this solve every problem? Hell, no. But it’s a viable beginning. Let’s roll.



  16. Miami Harold    Mon May 22, 03:24 PM #  

    Indeed.
    “You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”
    No doubt.
    You pay anything, you get monkeys.
    It’s the nature of the beast.
    Save your money.
    At least monkeys entertain us.



  17. Fairness and Truth    Fri May 26, 10:26 AM #  

    John,

    You don’t know much about your Commissioner. First, it is Commissioner Gimenez, not Jimenez. Second, he does not work as a lobbyist and has never worked as a lobbyist. He worked as a government efficiency consultant while at Steel Hector, for a few months before deciding to run for office. Essentially, he was hired by local municipalities to review programs, expenditures, etc., lending his expertise in running govermental operations. People have to be reminded that he left the City in better financial shape than Joe will, and he was one of the major players who really helped to save the City from its economic and structural flaws. Manny Diaz inherited a fully recovered City, and a $255 GO Bond that Commissioner Gimenez pushed through sheer will while the then City Commission and politicians wouldn’t touch the issue, since they thought the electorate wouldn’t trust City government. Well, apparently, they trusted Commissioner Gimenez while City Manager.

    Today, his only employment is being a full time Commissioner. He has a full pension from the City of Miami, and has no pressing reason to work. You really shouldn’t make allegations of the sort you made above unless you know the facts. Your comments approach libel. Govern yourself accordingly!



  18. NicFitKid    Fri May 26, 12:18 PM #  

    Um, WTF, weren’t we talking about the county commissioners? City of Miami commission, that’s a whole other barrel of monkeys…



  19. Fairness and Truth    Fri May 26, 01:37 PM #  

    Um, I am not sure if you commenting as a response to my post NicFitKid, but I am talking about the County Commission… Apologies if you were talking to someone else…



  20. John    Sat May 27, 05:44 PM #  

    On his own site he mentions that he had worked for Steel Hector and Davis not simply prior to but WHILE he was active in government service, which he has since stopped (much to his own credit.) So YOU might want to clear that up.

    I said EXACTLY what his position was and I expressed that it is in essence lobbying as it is clearly conflict of interest. The law firm he worked for does business with government. It also represents clients doing some profit sensitive work with the government. For a time it was paying him to consider issues directly related to local government while he was making decisions on the same. For God sakes if that does not represent something akin to lobbying and a conflict of interest I don’t know what does.

    Don’t try to clean up that this man has been the most pro-developer voter this side of Seijas and has the same supporters for his campaigns. I mean, this guy has his tounge so far up developers ass his whole district tastes shit. If anyone want to go over to the internet available info they will probably find Hector Steel and Davis and/or some of the partners as supporters of his run. I mean, let’s get real real here. The man has a BA from Barry (fine in itself but…) and attended the literally open to anyone Kennedy Insitute two week program on governement certificate program. When one looks at the qualifications of other employees of that firm we know they normally shoot for more qualified “consultants” than that…

    I have always like Carlos Gimenez (note the use of “G” and note that people who don’t have anything valid to say concentrate on inconsequebtial minutiae), if only because those of the City of Miami commision so disliked him. I think he was worlds more competent than Arriola. Having said that we all know that it was the state bailout, and earlier Mr. Ego Stierheim, not Carlos that was responisble for putting Miami’s finances sort of afloat (I’m not forgetting the Fire Fee issue people.)

    If I’m a Gimenez supporter I would just lay low and hope that in comparison people would forget what a creep I am. It’s worked up til now.



  21. Fairness & Truth    Sat May 27, 07:13 PM #  

    Your argument makes sense, only if you totally ignore all the facts, which apparently you do. His website says, “most recently,” he is no longer employed by SHD, or its current form, Squire Sanders. He did not lobby while he was working for SHD. He took a leave of absence before he actively started campaigning and resigned effectively before he took office. His only employer is Miami-Dade County. The facts!!

    Taking your “logic” to its extension, it would seem that you would prefer candidates who have no idea what the governmental process looks like. He spent the much greater portion of his career as a public servant, and he excelled in that position. The proof as they say is in the pudding. Look at what he left the City with. The facts!!!

    Now to your, developer-friendly comments. Please visit the Hold the Line webpage. You will see that he was named one of the saviors of the everglades, as he voted against 5 of 6 UDB applications. Furthermore, you obviously have no idea what happens from meeting to meeting, because he is consistently fair in dealing with land use issues. The facts!!!

    To your elitist commentary regarding his education, I would caution you. He garnered an amazing reputation of stability and common sense while City Manager. His life experience while at the City cannot be replaced by a degree from any institution of higher learning. In addition, that “open to anyone” program at Harvard, I suggest you look at it. Thousands of applicants a year are rejected to the program. The Facts!!!

    As to your comments that Merrit saved the City, now I know you have no idea what you are talking about, because the facts, again, do not support your conclusion. Merrit set the wheels in motion, yes, but ask Merrit, he will tell you who he had as his right hand during that process. It wasn’t Warshaw. You can probably list the following names as those most responsible for the City turn around: (1) Gimenez, (2) Merrit, (3) Marquez, and, to his credit while he wasn’t stealing money from a charity (4) Donald Warshaw, and even to a much lesser extent(5) Garcia-Pedrosa. The oversight board did help, but remember, they did not effectuate or create policy, they only reviewed proposed policies. The Facts!!!

    Furthermore, I urge you to get to know the Commissioner a little better before you continue to bash him. I think you would be very surprized, and you might as well become one of those “Gimenez supporters,” with the difference being that you not lay low, and take pride that you support a candidate who truly makes decisions based on one central tenant, “the best interest of his district and his county.” Honestly, the FACTS!! (But you will have to take the time to find this out for yourself, and if you are a fair person, I urge you to do so.)



  22. John    Sun May 28, 06:02 PM #  

    Fairness and Truth,

    It is my full intention here on in to rid myself of preconceived or unfair notions regarding Commissioner Gimenez. I have to take your eloquent and seemingly sincere expression as caution. Please permit me this final response.

    From what I understand there was overlap of duties but not any that would merit a conflict of interest. He resigned six months or so after his election. (That is what I got from his office by what I must say was a very polite and obliging assistant.) It was also stated that he used that time to conclude his affairs. You may note that I was one of the people that signed a letter addressed to Commissioner Gimenez asking that he resign from governmental work. I find that a very admirable thing to do. The last thing I would want is to write something to discourage this. Please let me say now clearly and unequivocally that I am EXTREMELY IMPRESSED BY THIS ACTION.

    Obviously, as you mentioned, the overlap isn’t the only problem here, it is the revolving door btw elected office and lobbying. I believe that it is a systemic problem, not something that anyone would be justified for calling Mr. Gimenez out on. In all honesty I could not hold myself above reproach. Just as importantly, Mr. Gimenez was an EMPLOYEE as opposed to an elected official and employees should not be restricted in assuming new employment.

    I cannot say however, that it would be fair or honest to credit Mr. Gimenez with the “turn around” at Miami City government (which seems an exagerrated description considering recent events). During Mr. Steinheim’s tenure there were ENTIRELY new policies and safeguards put into place and several new hires, especially in accounting and inspection. The infusion of money from the state, the shift of certain responsibilities to the county and the new policies meant that it was Merritt Steirheim that was responsible for the “turn around”. More to the point, there had been safeguards in check prior to Merritt that were ignored b/c city government was a den of theives. It might be said that the new pack of theives chaffed at Mr. Gimenez’ oversight thus prompting his departure. Following Mr. Gimenez’ departure, Miami City Hall has went into an orgy of poor decision making especially, from the position formerly held by Mr. Gimenez. That is more than adequate reason to praise Mr. Gimenez, at the very least for good timing (and probably much more).

    But since we are discussing misdeeds, I would point out that their was as much crony hiring of incredibly incompetent and underqualified people during Gimenez’ tenure at City Government BUT I have never laid the blame on him b/c, as noted in a Sun Post report, the commissioners pushed for the hires. I would also state that some of the awful dealing with HUD money occurred while Mr. Gimenez was City Manager, but again, this seems to have been the fault of elected officials who continued to throw money to their co-conspiring swindlers posing as executives of Community Based Organizations. I have heard more than once that Mr. Gimenez stood opposed to both the interference in hiring and questionable awarding of afordable housing monies.

    Believe it or not, I deeply, deeply want to support Mr. Gimenez. God knows I have given my vote, vocal support and money to several people by mistake. Having voted for Mr. Gimenez as the best qualified and known entity running I would like to believe that my vote was well served. I also temper my judgements in the realization that politicians are bound by reality.

    Ah reality. The characterization of savior of the Everglades is not only one of your own making and quite an ambitious one at that, it would also mean that the rest of the commissioners who also eventually voted against all but a single expansion were “Saviors of the Everglades”. I’m sorry, I’m just rolling in laughter at the idea of the Joe Martinez as a savior of the Everglades. This whole notion seems to stretch reality.

    The state made it clear that they would not like to see ANY of the six applications forwarded to them for review, approved. That meant to county commissioners that they could override all but one. Good greif.

    The fact that Commissioner Gimenez went along with that vote for Armando Codina doesn’t make him a villain. In practical terms it would have been him joining a protest vote of two (with Katy Sorenson). Let’s see if we can choose another much discussed environmental vote. What about where his vote would have been more decisive, say for instance the Florida City Annexation? I cannot remember Mr. Gimenez’ vote. Alright, I do recall but my intended tone here is one objectivity and reevaluation; I would only taint the waters by rehashing this.

    I neither want to be overly judgemental nor an elitist. What I said does hold true about the Harvard program (I am all too familiar with the program’s administation) but I take accusations of elitism to heart so I apologize. I would never, ever insinuate that Mr. Gimenez is anything but intelligent. (He and perhaps Commissioner Regalado were the only two partcipants on the City government dais that did not cause me to wince or laugh with embarrassment when they spoke.)

    Furthermore, Mr. Gimenez did a stint as Fire Cheif (and no I won’t bring up the racism scandal regarding Black recruits in the MFD b/c I have it on good authority that it was mostly mid level folk who were responsible and that it continued long after he was gone. It is my deepest hope that he tried to right this during his watch.)

    My point was that at such “white shoe” firms as SHD, “governmental affairs” consultants are usually holders of advance degrees from certain schools or they are hired b/c of their relationships.

    Let me conclude by saying that it has been my opinion that Mr. Gimenez has a mixed record. A Savior of our environment- resoundingly not. The commissioner with the greatest potential to be leader and positive force in county government- clearly so. It IS possible for me to see that had Mr. Gimenez voted against Mr. Condina’s land deal and against the Florida City annexation, it would have only made him both a target and halted any possibility of him doing other good things for his constituency. And that may mean he is a very smart politician. I will withold any criticism from here to see what becomes of that political capital and good will- two rare commodities. I suspect that many in the district are doing the same.

    Note: I am not saying these folk at HTL are God or anything. Commissioner Gimenez may have very good reason to have voted in such a way not to be on “Hold The Line” list. HOWEVER, here is the list sent to me yesterday, excerpted from their website: “Nearly 140 Organizations, Businesses, Homeowner Groups, and Municipalities currently support the Hold the Line Campaign!

    Elected Officials that support the campaign:(Send a thank you!)

    Mayor Carlos Alvarez, Miami-Dade County
    Commissioner Katy Sorenson, Miami-Dade County
    Councilman Scott Galvin, North Miami
    Councilwoman Millie Herrera, Community Council 12
    Paul Vrooman Vice Mayor, Town of Cutler Bay”