Commission Compensation Sparks Heated Debate in Coral Gables Budget Hearing

Javier Baños

Baños is the Editor of Gables Insider

As the Coral Gables Budget Hearing unfolded on September 13, 2023, one issue emerged as the lightning rod for controversy – commission compensation. The proposed ordinance, unveiled to the public, ignited a fiery debate within the community.

The proposed ordinance, in its current form, states: “WHEREAS, for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2023, the annual compensation (inclusive of the annual CPI adjustment) of the five members of the City Commission shall be $69,000 for the mayor, $67,000 for the vice-mayor, and $65,000 for each of the three commissioners; the monthly local expense allowance shall be adjusted to $800 monthly for each member of the City Commission); and a monthly car allowance shall be provided for each member of the City Commission in the amount of $703.84.”

What’s causing a stir is the substantial increase in commission salaries, compared to an average of $38,000 for the prior fiscal year. The controversy reached its zenith during the meeting when Mayor Lago and Vice Mayor Anderson publicly criticized the increase as an underhanded, secretive, and self-serving benefit for the remaining commissioners. Their main point of contention was the lack of prior discussion or input on the matter since the proposed budget was unveiled back in July of 2023.

Admittedly, the salary increase was part of the published budget item for discussion, prominently displayed within the ordinance on the agenda. However, it was not separately identified as a standalone topic for debate, nor was it publicly discussed during the previous two commission meetings held since the budget’s publication in July of 2023. While it was acknowledged that salary increases were generally discussed within the budget advisory board, they were not specifically debated concerning the Commission.

Critics, including Mayor Lago, various members of the public, and other publications, have questioned the wisdom of such a significant pay raise. Commissioner Fernandez offered his own justification for the increase in a publication known as Commissioner Digest, focusing on the many hours dedicated to meetings and preparations for Commission work, evolving into an almost full-time position.

In the grand scheme of public service, the debate over commission compensation invariably entangles itself in the delicate balance between offering fair remuneration for public servants’ time and avoiding the perception of creating a class of privileged officials. It is the age-old struggle between duty and personal enrichment, where politicians often find themselves criticized for using their positions for personal gain, whether through corruption or self-interest. Our American ethos, after all, champions the notion of public servants over monarchs.

To delve into the matter further, I, the undersigned, a Certified Public Accountant and former member of the Budget Advisory Board, requested various budget items to inform the debate. Upon checking with the City, it became apparent that significant increases in commission compensation had not occurred in decades, aside from yearly cost-of-living adjustments, many of which were foregone during lean budget years. Interestingly, Mayor Lago enjoys the exclusive services of two full-time staffers with combined salaries exceeding $100,000, in addition to various interns. In contrast, the Commission must share one executive assistant and a part-time assistant. Furthermore, the Mayor’s office expenditures have surged, including the construction of a secure key-access dividing wall leading to his office, with actual costs still pending disclosure from the city. Since the fiscal year 2020-2021, expenses under Mayor Lago’s purview have nearly doubled.

It’s worth noting that Mayor Lago, who vehemently opposed salary increases for his colleagues, has seen his personal wealth grow substantially during his ten years on the Commission. He openly boasts of his involvement in over six businesses and dismisses inquiries regarding real estate commissions he may have received from politically connected friends and associates. While there have been allegations of possible corruption in other publications, this publication, has no concrete evidence of any proven acts of corruption by the Mayor. Nevertheless, it is hard to ignore the political implications behind his efforts to control the salaries of the Commission.

Mayor Lago appears to aspire to outwork his fellow commissioners, treating the Commission as if it were a full-time job, while simultaneously advocating for meager salaries. This formula may inadvertently create opportunities for special interests to exploit the situation and find ways to compensate the Commissioners to gain favor. Perhaps it is time for residents to consider compensating the Commission with a living wage, a practice already established in neighboring municipalities like the City of Doral and the City of Miami. Recent events have shown that there are no guarantees against corruption, but adequate compensation ensures that those working in our best interest are not forced to seek supplementary income elsewhere.

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45 thoughts on “Commission Compensation Sparks Heated Debate in Coral Gables Budget Hearing

  1. Mr Jay De La Riva, you think $69,000 is “inadequate” pay? Where have you and your ignorance been for the past few years about the cost of living and salaries not matching? The majority of full time jobs do NOT even cross the $50,000 salary line. Give me a break with your ignorance entitlement/privilege. *eye roll*
    Commissioners have to be residents in the City in order to run. What that means is that OF COURSE they have salaries and full-time jobs already to be an elected official. Do not tell me they need MORE in the supplemental income category. *another eye roll*

  2. The Commissioners are each asking for only $27K increases for what is really a full time job. The amounts were in black and white on the budget and open for discussion. It’s laughable Lago with his Emmy Award winning performance accused them of “corruption” for such a modest amount of money. The fact they asked for these increases to be paid above board with public knowledge indicates they are not bought by developers. We need to pay our public officials reasonably. Otherwise average residents can’t afford to serve. Otherwise only the wealthy and those bought and paid for by developers will be able to serve. Lets not be penny wise and pound foolish. Lets get residents elected who are really looking out for the good of the community, not the developers.

  3. Dear Mr. Galex, you make an excellent point, one that appears to have struck a chord. My comment is now in the thread. Just conveniently tucked into the middle. Have a look and tell me why it was “moderated” for almost 48 hours.

  4. Dear “Took the Red Pill”:

    I know from personal experience that Mr. Banos has not published certain comments to articles, as he has done so with me. Unfortunately, we are at the mercy of the blog’s publisher. I even e-mailed him about it and he never responded to my e-mail.

    This may not seem like a big deal, but it does erode trust in the blog and its publisher.

  5. As to the compensation, as I understand it the commissioners’ positions are part time jobs. This should be done out of honorable service to the community, especially since all of them have other careers and hold other jobs with compensations of their own. This is like holding a Board position or volunteer position at a charitable institution. It should be done at no or minimal cost.

    As to the budget and millage, you should view the actual hearing on these issues. The prior write up does not adequately describe what happened. To me only Lagos and Anderson made thoughtful comments and were on the residents’ side. When it came time to discuss whether the property tax rate should be reduced because it results in overinflated taxes due to recent value hikes, Lagos and Anderson were in favor of reducing the taxes on residents, while the others wanted to sock it to the residents and keep the taxes at the highest rate so they can pay for their pet projects, none of which are essential or urgent. Nobody addressed the large bulk of residents who are the struggling professional middle class who bought homes in the recent past and are saddled with high home prices, huge taxes, plus high insurance rates plus inflation. These are not disabled nor at the poverty line but still need help, not an added burden. Castro, Fernandez and Menendez did not say anything that made me think they are looking to save my tax dollars. It felt like they were tossing around millions of dollars like if it was nothing to them because it would come out of the residents’ shared pockets. Commissioners should be fiscally responsible and stewards of the community. Even the Dade County appraiser is in favor of lowering the millage rate to reduce the high tax burden. But, so far neither Castro, Fernandez or Menendez want to reduce our tax burden; they wanted our taxes to be increased to the highest amount on the notice; not even wanting to reduce something. That is not helping residents. Please reconsider your stance and vote to reduce the millage rate and reduce the budget even more. If Castro, Fernandez and Menendez tossed in a 70% increase for themselves without a proper procedure, is the rest of the budget overinflated by 70% as well? Cut expenses even more, cut the budget. We don’t need to spend millions of dollars on more parks or pickle balls courts. Salvadore, the Youth Center all have plenty of good thigs to offer. The parks I see are usually empty. The only one I see that has more activity is Salvadore. Did the city switch from pension to 401Ks? If I don’t have a pension, why should I pay more taxes to fund city employees’ pensions for their lifetimes?

    I will continue to see how the current elected officials save dollars and act for the residents. I will vote next time. I see nothing wrong with wanting greater voter participation in general elections. The Gables Insider’s reporting is turning into someone’s editorial, not factual reporting. It should be concise and factual.

  6. Listen to “None of your business” on whats going on inside city hall with the heavily underpaid employees-yeah the ones doing the actual work. Take care of this group first then if there’s anything left consider the higher paids those looking out for themselves first always.

  7. Use that money to pay for another staffer or two to assist the commissioners. The combined money is more than enough to make the part-time assistant full time, increase the salary of the full time assistant, and hire a new full time assistant.

  8. Javier Baños the one kid that everyone picked on in school who ran for office and lost, has a dead end job and now hates on those who didn’t support him. Interesting that you would support this outrageous increase and also support it for future commissioner’s 👏. Looking to run again Mr Bath?America’s national debt has topped $33T for the first time, according to the latest figures from the Treasury Department. The record amount of red ink and gloomy fiscal milestone but its ok.to get a 79% raise for being a city commissioner? Gezzz

  9. If anyone follows Fernandez on social media, it appears he lives quite well with a high upper middle class income based on vehicles, private schools and vacations. Fernandez also gave push back to the retirement board regarding COLAs for city retirees who have not had one since 2012 and only got that upon winning a lawsuit against the city. They are eager for more money and so is every city retiree struggling to make ends meet as prices soar and incomes remain stagnant. But no, they want to take care of themselves and to hell with those that served the city faithfully for more years than some of them may be old.

  10. I can’t fully trust the self-interest of the Mayor, Vice Mayor, or the commissioners, but Javier should attack or defend each with facts, not speculation.
    Did Kirk vote for a zoning upgrade to the area where he owns/owned homes, and is that considered a raise? Do commissioners know when they should be ethically bound to abstain?
    I recommend that if raises are authorized through a registered vote, they be for the future incoming electees, and if an elected Coral Gables official reruns for commissioner, vice mayor, or mayor, the approved raises do not apply to them. I am sure everyone running for office was aware of the benefits. This would be one way to eliminate self-interest from the power they hold.

  11. Totally agree that $69K for a full time job is inadequate. However, from the Mayor to the commissioners they all knew what the compensation was like and ran for office anyway….

    Underpaid people will spend most of their time trying to figure out how to make more money. That is why salaries should me equal to the effort and time put into them so that their focus can be on making the City better not on how they can get a raise.

  12. QUE ESCONDIDITO SE LO TENIAN. BRAVO COMM MENENDEZ, CASTRO AND FERNANDEZ. RESIDENTS FIRST? NOW THATS HYSTERICAL.

  13. Like you stated: “but adequate compensation ensures that those working in our best interest are not forced to seek supplementary income elsewhere.”

    So will the city employees. Byeeeeeee!

  14. As a full-time city employee running around doing THREE jobs because of employees quitting or incompetence, I don’t even make it at $50,000 and I currently live OUTSIDE the Gables AS A RENTER. A RENTER. And I do more paperwork and research than these dimwits any day. I can assure so do many more of my colleagues. THEY BETTER give us raises before THESE POLITICAL SERVANTS that have TERMS get theirs because I can assure you, the city will have more to deal in their hands with more service employees leaving. I CAN ASSURE YOU!

  15. Well, I might have been longish, but you won’t find profanity, obscenity, or links to other webpages. Let’s see if your note from the editor is truthful.

  16. $65K/ YR for commissioners is $32.50/ hour working a 40 hr week. Not much considering skilled construction workers now make this or more in Miami. Sometimes better to have very wealthy politicians who have no need of a salary. I believe Gov Rockefeller would donate his to charity. However, the majority, including the multimillionaire presidential contenders from the red & blue parties have been looking after their kid’s patrimony before the nation’s. So giving the posts to the wealthy doesn’t always solve the graft issue. I, however, do think Miami was better when Maurice Ferre was mayor and there was better leadership at the Dade Teacher’s Union. The union leader lived on Brickell across the street from Madonna & Stallone, but he probably helped build the bay front building for the retired teachers, which now belongs to the Related Group.

  17. The issue of lack of transparency in achieving objectives, even if justified, is a big concern. There is no question that salaries and perks should have been identified and openly discussed at the Commission meeting.
    In reading other comments and previous statements, I am of the opinion that salaries should be adjusted somewhat to reflect the efforts required by the Commissioners to do their Jobs, however paying car allowances, on top of upgraded salaries, is not justified. After all the business of Coral Gables should be mostly done in downtown Coral Gables and commissioners should be encouraged to either walk or take the Freebee. Required trips outside Coral Gables should be reimbursed by submitting expense reports, as is done in the private sector.

  18. Note from the Editor: Comments that include profanity, obscenity, that have links to other webpages, or that are very long are automatically submitted by the page for review to the Editor prior to posting by the host. No other comments are reviewed.

    This publication will not limit comments of anyone, as it is meant to expand the public discourse. Just be mindful that there might be a lag in posting as the author will look at those comments for review after working-hours or during a work break in his day job as a CPA. The host has limited only one comment to this article as the length of the post goes beyond the parameters allowed by the page.

  19. So, the publisher has “moderated” my comment. I must have hit a nerve. I took a screenshot. I’ll get it out there. I know it’s inconvenient, but you could rebut rather than censor. That would be the right thing to do. You will probably “moderate” this, as well.

  20. I read this on the CGNA Interact WhatsApp chat right before it was spontaneously shut down by one of the administrators. Something told me to grab a screenshot. The author identified themselves as “T.D.”.

    “For those that complain of the ‘Miamization’ of Gables politics, it is now fully present. To slip this in the budget in this manner and at this late hour is deplorable. A pay hike may be in order, but this needs to be discussed in the sunshine. The fact that there is a number, almost $300K, and there are components such as a car stipend included proves that there was ample discussion behind the scenes by the majority. This reeks of a backroom deal brought to us by the same people who we elected to “restore” transparency. The irony cannot be overstated. We should all be demanding an investigation. It appears that we have elected a number of corrupt narcissists driven by greed and self-interest. They insult our intelligence. Absolutely sickening.”

    The last commission hearing cannot be separated from the subsequent budget hearing. The votes on critical items were all connected. I watched the hearings on line and noticed that the organization that claims to represent the residents of Coral Gables, the CGNA, was conspicuously underrepresented. For an organization that sees the change in election dates from April to November as an existential threat, one would expect a packed hall. Either the CGNA knew how the vote would go, or they are not as strong as they claim to be. Personally, even though I think the CGNA’s claims are hyperbole, I lean to the former not the latter.

    Ladies and gentlemen, this was amateur hour. Clearly, the new majority (Menendez, Fernandez, and Castro) cut a shady backroom deal. “Kirk, we will give you cover on the compensation raise and in exchange you will vote with us on the change in election dates; the charter review committee in a way that we can stack it; and on the Fire contract.” Also, during the budget hearing, “Kirk, you will vote with us on the millage.” Totally gin clear and transparent, no?

    So many questions here. Think about who benefits. The CGNA, the Fire Union, Menendez, Fernandez, and Castro. Not sure how the community benefits from these out of the sunshine dealings. We should demand better.

    One thing is certain, Menendez has committed political suicide.

    Red pill or, blue pill. It’s your choice.

  21. One important point to highlight in this discussion is that there was no public input in the process despite the increase appearing in the budget. It would seem to me the interested parties were trying to hide something and squelch a discussion on the matter.

  22. The supplementary income search this author mentions will continue regardless of the commission receiving a large pay raise. I firmly believe there should be NO monthly car allowance or expense stipend if this pay raise has gone thru or not.

  23. Messrs. Santos and Nimoy(?) – you should also attack other publications, including The Miami Herald (see https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/coral-gables/article277472343.html – updated August 16, 2023), BisNow (https://www.bisnow.com/south-florida/news/capital-markets/location-ventures-and-rishi-kapoor-face-new-allegations-as-firm-enters-liquidation-120108 – article dated August 4, 2023), and Political Cortadito (https://www.politicalcortadito.com/2023/09/14/coral-gables-vince-lago-accused-money-launderer-bill-reily/ – article dated September 14, 2023). I do not know if the articles or claims made against Mayor Lago or Rishi Kapoor are accurate. Mr. Kapoor is the former executive of Location Ventures that is a developer that purchased 1505 Ponce de Leon Boulevard and purportedly paid a $640,000 real estate brokerage commission in 2022 to a firm that Mayor Lago recently left. Per the Miami Herald article, I do note that Mayor Lago did recuse himself from voting on matters before the Coral Gables Commission involving Location Ventures in 2022, noting that he had a potential conflict at the Commissioner meeting on June 28, 2022. The Miami Herald article also referenced monthly rent of approximately $12,400 paid to 1425 Ponce, LLC by Location Ventures for a sales office across from the 1505 Ponce de Leon Boulevard project. 1425 Ponce, LLC purchased the leased property for $1,930,000 on May 25, 2022 (see https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/coral-gables/article275983441.html). Per the Miami Herald, Mayor Lago owned a membership interest in 1425 Ponce, LLC.

    I have not seen any articles alleging that Commissioners Anderson, Fernandez, Menendez or Castro have received this type of compensation.

    In comments to Political Cortadito, Mr. Santos alleged that the articles as to alleged payments made to Mayor Lago serve as a distraction to “President Biden and his son Hunter sold political favors in Ukraine in exchange for money.” I do not see how alleged payments to Mayor Lago serve as a distraction. But I would prefer to keep political partisan allegations out of a discussion involving local government. And if we are going to have a discussion as to compensation paid to Coral Gables Commissioners, I would prefer to know what those payments.

  24. Ok the increase was mishandled; but, the Commission seems very underpaid for the job they are taxed to do even at the proposed $69k. It’s not a decorative job; it seems like a 24/7 job to me. There must be effective models out there we can study and learn from to come up with a reasonable salary.

  25. I see many of the deluded sycophants believe that commissioners are better compensated surreptitiously.

  26. Concerning moving the Coral Gables elections from April to November, I believe the citizens of Coral Gables should decide that issue.It should not be decided by the commissioners. Therefore, it should be placed in the November ballot. Let the majority of Coral Gables voters decide.

  27. During the last 6 months I have written twice to the mayor and all the commissioners. Both times Commissioner Anderson and Mayor Lago replied to my email, addressed, and resolved the issues. I’m still waiting to hear from the other three commissioners.

  28. Compare Coral Gables salaries to those of Key Biscayne and Pinecrest.

    Key Biscayne
    The Village Charter specifies that elected officials receive no salary. They don’t receive car or mobile phone allowances either and do not have Village-issued credit cards or any retirement benefits. The Village Manager makes a salary of $199,335

    Pinecrest
    The Village Charter prohibits any compensation for elected officials and they receive no allowance for cars or cell phones. They are reimbursed for travel related to their official duties out of an account budgeted at $20,000. In FY 2016, approximately $14,000 was spent, with total reimbursements ranging from $120 to Council Member Doug Kraft to $7,226 to Council Member James E. McDonald. They are not issued credit cards and receive no retirement benefits.
    The Village Manager makes an annual salary $201,650.

  29. I am for spending our tax money wisely, but in all fairness the Commissioner’s salaries were way too low. They need to be raised as their job is fully time consuming. Lago & Anderson will do anything to discredit the new group that we placed there to turn this City around. Kirk is just riding on who is the popular ones at the moment, and just needs to get out of there. Lastly proper avenues need to be used when increases like this are proposed. So give them an increase but they need to handle these issues properly going forward, and Lago / Anderson need to clean their houses as they had done things that are not acceptable either.

  30. Albertico Santos trolling again for Uncle Vinny and his sidekick, Rhonda. Your time is up, crooks. You took advantage of your public positions long enough. We the residents are fed up with you and anyone who supports you, including web trolls like you.

  31. The Insider is right to acknowledge Lago’s false outrage on the pay increase when considered in the context of: 1) Lago spending city money on his own publicity, 2) Lago spending city money on an unneeded promotion wall, 3) Lago spending city money on his assistants and interns, 4) Lago pushing city staff to spend city money on his favorite contractors, 5) Lago pushing the city manager to hire staff loyal to himself. Not to mention the overflowing conflicts of interest related to campaign donations, a 600k PAC, and association with convicted money launderers. Lago’s false outrage and righteousness is laughable, and why Rhonda would associate herself with the Mayor is concerning.

  32. WOW!!!, the Insider has lost it’s purpose! That so called “Privacy Wall” was installed to protect the Mayor Staff after a Security Breach and the Mayor was Not in the office at the time. And how do I know this? Because I asked when I visit the Mayor’s office during his Much needed Open Door hours on Friday’s afternoon, where residents can bring neighborhood issues to the Mayor. My experience, him and his Chief of Staff listen and take action to resolve. I have called the office to let them know I am running late and have graciously wait for me. That is a Mayor than listen, cares for the residents and takes action!!
    Our City government is not perfect, needs improvement in some areas but still, we are lucky we live in the City Beautiful and have a Mayor that listens and cares about our City!

  33. KM has always been righteous, now he wants to get compensated. Quick get rich scheme, go into polítics. Whether you like Lago or not, he’s right on this one.

  34. Our activist commissioners, Ariel. Kirk and Melissa are showing their true teeth. It is all about the personal gains. Lots of rhetoric and big thoughts. But at the end of the day, it is how much they benefit themselves. Shame on those who voted for them.

  35. I’m not sure anyone dislikes Lago more than I do. How can you turn this on him? He’s guilty of a lot of things but this is not one of them.

    I’m going to keep further thoughts on this matter to myself until I speak on it at next Commission. I’m still shocked by the compensation move followed by shutting down the platform where engaged residents spoke on important topics impacting our community.

  36. I didn’t see “editorial” stamped anywhere on the above essay. Is this an opinion piece, or is it supposed to be a factual story? It appears to be the former, so you should clearly mark it as such.

  37. Once again, Mr. Baños, you have utilized this platform to tell people what to think and you continue to forget the purpose of being a “trustworthy” news source.

    Tell it like it is… Fernandez, Castro, and Menendez are unable to support themselves financially and have sought to utilize their positions of office to increase their own salaries. You have somehow turned this into an attack on Mayor Lago for his dedication and commitment to the City Beautiful. How is that even in question? How are you able to justify the actions of Fernandez, Menendez, and Castro and defend them for their lack of ethics, honesty, and transparency?

    Perhaps it’s because you, a Certified Public Accountant, are the registered agent for both Gables Insider and the Coral Gables Neighborhood Association (CGNA). The same CGNA that conducted a purge of their CGNA Interact WhatsApp chat just this past Friday morning, stating they would be transitioning to a new communications platform but failed to inform members what that new platform would be. Is this because CGNA realizes how many residents are starting to see the true colors of Fernandez, Castro, and Menendez? The same residents who were utilizing that platform to express their concerns regarding this issue? That is truly a question to ponder. That sounds a lot like censorship.

    For those who wish to challenge my Vulcan authority on the matter of Mr. Baños involvement in the CGNA entity, just do a quick Sunbiz search for TAX & CERTIFIED PUBLIC ACCOUNTING SERVICES P.L.L.C. This entity has Mr. Baños as the registered agent. Both CGNA and Gables Insider have the same TAX & CERTIFIED PUBLIC ACCOUNTING SERVICES P.L.L.C. entity as the registered agent. A perfect example of Mr. Baños utilizing a platform to tell people how to think in order to maintain authority and faith among his constituents in the CGNA. After all, if he doesn’t take the time to recreate the story, his supporters and those of Fernandez, Castro, and Menendez will start thinking for themselves. Wow… that’s a scary thought, isn’t it? Residents who think for themselves instead of allowing a partial, biased, and might I say partisan “news” platform to tell them what to think.

    Commissioners are not administrative assistants, despite Fernandez attempting to justify the salary as equivalent to such a position. Commissioners are representatives of the people. This is not your career. This is not your job, whether full time or part time. This is a commitment that comes with honor and dignity. Mayor Lago and Vice-Mayor Anderson understand this and uphold it. Menendez did for a fleeting moment. Fernandez and Castro do not.

    Spock signing off.

  38. Commissioner Fernandez should be removed from office. Using his publication to direct attack after attack on our Mayor and Vice Mayor. Shameful.

  39. The Mayor and Vice Mayor are correct. It should have been discussed in the open commission meeting. Smells fishy when things are thrown in like this.

  40. All the journalism on Gables Insider has now turned into clear attacks on Mayor Lago. Let me guess whose PAC is funding this blog? Well none other than Ariel Fernandez of course! Gables Insider’s “alleged” editor is now Javier Banos, an old commissioner candidate who lost and holds a serious vendetta against the mayor. His sore lost has allowed him to unleash his inner bully.

    I’m willing to bet Ariel Fernandez (creator of Gables Insider) is using this to advance his political career by stirring up chaos and false information. Shame on the new Commissioners that are using residents as an excuse to lead and only care about their own agendas.

  41. Interesting photo you used for this article, Javier. Can you tell us how much was spent by the mayor on his privacy wall?

  42. Police and public servants should be compensated reasonably to avoid corruption.
    Further more if the compensation is too low, only the independently well off can afford to serve the public.

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