Cover Up? City Administration Attempts To Come Up With Excuses For Fiscal Mismanagement In Response To Gables Insider Article

Ariel Fernandez

Founder & Editor
[email protected]


The City Manager and his Administration were sent scrambling on Thursday of last week, when Gables Insider published “Raises, Executive Benefits & More: Senior Staff Compensation Rises At Taxpayer Expense.”

The data used to put together the article took months to sift through and organize, in order to publish an article that could easily be understood by all.

Math is simple. Its formulas ensure that, when done correctly, a number is added to another and the end result is always the same. However, when it comes to the Coral Gables City Budget, the Administration uses a different kind of Math.

As explained in our prior article, the City Administration used the Commission approved 2022-2023 Budget to pad their salaries with raises as high as 43.77%. In addition to a healthy Executive Benefits Package, which was created five years ago without Commission approval, and representing between $8,000 and $25,000 per year for senior level positions.

The Memo

On the evening of Monday, October 10th, the night before a few City Commissioners have stated they will be addressing the community’s concerns, Finance Director Diana M. Gomez and Human Resources Director Karla Green, sent a memo City Manager Peter J. Iglesias with the subject line: “Gables Insider Article dated October 6, 2022.

Numerous excuses/explanations were given for the pay raises.

Perhaps the most alarming is the first paragraph of the response. In it, the Directors state that “salaries indicated in the City’s budget are projections made to cover anticipated expenditures for the applicable fiscal year. A position’s salary does not determine the actual salary an incumbent will earn.” It poses all sorts of new questions. For example, where does the money go when it is not used for these positions?

Ability to Respond

The memo explains that the article would have been better written, if staff had been allowed to present their reasoning. The fact is, unlike other members of the media who have unfettered access to City staff, Gables Insider has been forbidden, by the City Manager, from contacting staff with any questions.

Just last week, Gables Insider reached out to Coral Gables Fire Chief for a quote about members of his department going to Fort Myers to help in Hurricane Ian relief. The Chief said the Communications Director would have to respond for him. The quote was not received until the following weekend, two days after the article was published, without an opportunity for the Chief to showcase what his team was able to do. A missed opportunity.

Gables Insider‘s Ariel Fernandez has called the Finance Director on three prior occasions, the calls were never returned.

Unfounded Claims/Budget Discrepancies

The Directors explain that “if the salaries of all the employee groups had been pulled, it would have revealed the same level of average increases across each group of employees.”

A simple breakdown of the entire budget’s salary allocation estimate shows a 4.18% in salary increases from prior years. This accounts for 25 new positions created at the average salary rate, as presented to the Commission in the Budget presentation. It reduces to 2.20% if you remove the Executive Benefit package recipients who averaged an 8.06% raise, in addition to their Executive Benefits.

Staff’s memo brought Gables Insider to look into the funding for these positions. What it showed was that staff lied to the Commission.

On October 3rd, when the Commission voted to approve the 2022-2023 budget, they were presented with one set of numbers.

The Finance Director’s presentation to the Commission showed $77,984,556 for salaries. It also stated that there would be 25 new positions created in the budget. Three in Development Services, three in Public Works, two in Information Technology, two for the Country Club, eight in the Police Department with five being Uniform Division Police Officers, and nine for the Fire Department with five of them being Fire Fighters. This is a Department that has been deficient for several years.

However, a look at the Budget estimate the Commission voted to approve shows a completely different set of numbers. Salaries account for $76,956,460, while only creating eleven new positions. The kicker, no new Uniform Division Police Officers and no new Fire Fighters.

Budget estimate on the left and Commission presentation on the right.

So was the Commission lied to? Were they aware what they were actually voting on?

The Budget leaves a lot to ask. Salaries are not compared to prior years. It requires looking back at prior years to compare what raises are being issued.

Disparity In Police And Fire Raises

On the topic of Police and Fire, the numbers show a glaring disparity between the top levels and the rank and file.

The Chief of Police received a 9.20% raise ($19,360.00) and the Fire Chief a 12.92% raise ($22,977.00). Police Majors averaged a 9.55% raise ($14,684.20). The Deputy Fire Chief and Division Chiefs averaged a 14.65% raise ($23,220.00).

As for the rank and file who are on the front lines protecting residents, the 146 Police Officers averaged a 4.01% raise ($3,401.37), while the 91 Fire Fighters averaged an 0.75% raise ($634.33).

New Hire Salaries Below Predecessors

The Human Resources Director writes that “retaining current talent, as well as filling vacancies with top quality candidates, is a challenge.” She explains that her office conducts regular studies on compensation. She adds that “within the past two years, the position reviews conducted by Human Resources have found, and continue to find, many City classifications below market value in comparison to other public entities.”

However, a look at the 2021-2022 Budget in comparison with the 2022-2023 Budget as approved by the Commission, shows the Human Resources Director lowered the salary of her Assistant Human Resources Director’s position for a new hire by $20,731, while raising her own salary by $20,779. If the issue is hiring new talent to fill positions, the focus should not be to clear funding to grant the hirer a pay raise.

A review of the budget shows several positions that went through similar budget cuts for hiring. The Administration would argue it is due to a lack of experience. However, the Assistant City Manager (ACM) position was reduced by $13,005 while the Manager’s was raised by $18,624. The Manager is paid over $100,000 more than the much better qualified ACM.

Competitive Pay

That brings us to their assertion that these raises are necessary for competitive appeal and to keep incumbents in their positions. In the case of the City Manager, where would he go? His current salary of $286,318 is more than double what the Governor of the State of Florida makes ($141,400.20), and over $60,000 more than the Cabinet level Secretaries of US Government Agencies ($226,300).

Similar arguments can be made for the Chief of Police ($229,857) and the City Attorney ($243,675). Both make more than the highest ranking law enforcement/legal officer in the United States, the Attorney General ($226,300) who oversees 115,000 employees.

Staff Departures

The Director adds that staff departures are an issue. She explains that they are projecting 170 employee departures by year’s end. However, this is not related to the pay of supervisors.

In fact, Gables Insider is working on an investigation into staff issues and departures. Issues that have been reported to Gables Insider include issues with management, poor morale, department culture issues, lack of hybrid work options for administrative positions, work conditions, and lack of motivation due to management.

There is also the issue of retirement. As of August 1, 2021, there were 77 staff members on the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which according to the City’s Retirement System Administrative Manager, “provides an eligible employee the election to defer retirement and remain employed by the City for up to a specific amount of time.  Currently it is 8 years for Police and Fire and 5 years for General employees.”

Three of those positions are in the Executive Benefits Package, the Chief of Police (DROP enacted July 1, 2019), the Parking Director (DROP enacted January 1, 2021) and Community Recreation Director (DROP enacted August 1, 2021).

21 Positions

The Director also adds that “over the past calendar year, the City lost at least 21 upper management employees.” Most of these have been individuals who the Manager intended to terminate. Their replacements have all come in under the salary of their predecessors.

Lower Level Employee Salaries

The Memo explains that across the board all employees received an average of 4.04%. A search of lower level positions showed that some full timers, are not even making a living wage. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Living Wage calculator for Miami-Dade County shows a living wage to be equivalent to $37,876.80 for a single person living alone. They define a living wage as “the hourly rate that an individual in a household must earn to support his or herself.”

A position like an Equipment Operator I in Public Works is only making $35,382. The raise for this position? A 2.63%. Similarly the Maintenance Repair Worker responsible for Irrigation, who is making the same $35,382. That position was actually reduced from $39,487 last year (-11.60%), helping to clear money for higher level raises.

These positions are making less than our City Commission. The Mayor and Commission received a 6.96% raise for salaries of $46,655 for the Mayor, $40,816 for the Vice Mayor and $37,910 for the Commissioners. All five are part-time positions.

Salary Caps

Employees at lower levels are subject to salary caps defined by their pay scales. What this represents for lower level employees and is outlined in the union member employees’ agreement, is that merit and other pay increases “will continue until the maximum of the pay range (not including loyalty increases) is attained. It is understood that the final increase may be less than two and one-half percent (2.5%) as no merit increase may be above the maximum of the established pay range.”

However, no such cap exists for Executive Benefit package level recipients.

Compensation Study

The Memo also confirmed that a compensation study is being conducted to “address any market deficiencies, external competitiveness and internal inequities.”

Five Year Raises

Since the Executive Benefits Package was created, 29 positions receiving the benefits have seen a large bump in salaries averaging 28.13%. Using salary budget totals, the average salary rose by 11.92% during that time frame.

Among them are the four individuals who are behind the final budget, the City Manager ($66,174 or 30.06%), the Budget Director (38,921 or 28.63%), the Human Resources Director ($34,991 or 21.72%) and the Finance Director ($24,247 or 14.36%).

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37 thoughts on “Cover Up? City Administration Attempts To Come Up With Excuses For Fiscal Mismanagement In Response To Gables Insider Article

  1. Thank you for your journalism and making the community aware of the issues. Seems like the CG top brass just lines up for their own pockets and they have gotten so careless, or trust we will remain apathetic.

  2. Please ask the Coral Gables Human Resource Department to prepare and publish spread sheet of employees’ current salaries, to compare with other cities in Florida similar to ours by categories and salaries paid. That way, we, the paying tax payers, can see if we are over or under paying our employees.

  3. I retired in 2007. Since then I have received 5-6% in increases from the City. That’s approximately 1/3 of one percent per year. Of those increases, it took the FOP to sue the City to live up to its COLA (which is a joke, in and of itself!!!). It’s obvious that the City is trying to enrich the employees from the top down. First and second line employees and retirees are the ones that need the money the most. The newest employees are struggling with rising costs and the age old dilemma of trying to work and raise a family, maybe even going to school to better themselves? Retirees on the other hand, don’t have the option of making overtime and physically (in many cases) can’t go out and get another job to supplement their income. The City of Coral Gables was the premier place to go to work when I started my employment in 1974. Since 1988, conditions and retirement have been all but forgotten by the City Fathers in favor of their own pockets. I’m embarrassed when I talk to my retiree friends from other agencies. In a caring way, they laugh at my retirement situation. We can’t even get the City to live up to their own COLA. Shame on the City that I spent 33 years protectiing and my father who spent 38 years doing the same.

  4. Very informative article. This is information that all citizens of Coral Gables need to know. Thanks for getting it out.

    Plainly many salaries are way out of wack with the private sector. Starting with the City Attorney who was recently severely criticized by a judge in connection with the WaWa debacle. Her staff are similarly over paid while they effectively do nothing. And what is the budget for outside counsel? It should be going down with so many attorneys on staff. But with the poor judgment exercised by the present City Attorney it’s likely increasing. Our citizens are over paying for the City Attorney and her department for the sole benefit of the politicians she serves rather than the citizens of the city.

    And there are many others who are overpaid and under performing except in their role as political lackies. Much of the money wasted should be used to support the police and firefighters. The stats on losing uniformed police are scary. Coral Gables is presently experiencing an increase in crime but it could be far worse.

    The citizens of Coral Gables need to wake up and take action to reduce the overall budget including the ridiculous salaries paid to too many. If we don’t, in the not too distant we risk becoming an overt banana republic with poor services and a mountain of debt.

  5. Coral Gables wants to expand because it sees tremendous opportunities for redevelopment in Little Gables. The neglected trailer park will be some type of high-intensity mixed-use project. Perhaps change zoning along Lejuene Road and SW 8 Street. It is currently an eyesore so anything but what it is would be an improvement in my opinion. In addition to my property taxes, I also pay fees for services, like fire and trash. I thought those services were included in my property taxes.

  6. Re: Annexation- Is it possible the strategy is to take the “run down” little gables first as a show of good will and then go for High Pines? I thought he mentioned his brother bought in High Pines in one of the commission meetings and that’s why he brought it up only a short time after the last attempt failed. Ariel, correct me if I’m wrong about the neighborhood his brother lives. You know and I’d rather not spread misinformation.

  7. @Brian McCaffery – you’ve hit upon an important point. CGFD is 100% reliant upon the goodwill of other area fire departments to provide the minimum levels of necessary fire protection via mutual aid agreements. CGFD is at least 11 firefighters short everyday pursuant to the national guidelines and at least 28 firefighters short everyday if you benchmark against the County standard for fires in any building over 75 ft.

    Mayor Lago has been well-educated on how important proper staffing is to protecting Coral Gables residents and business owners. Fixing those shortages is a heavy lift however, so he instead will talk about CGFD’s Class One designation and it’s CFAI Accreditation…what he doesn’t mention is both of those glossy stickers he waves about were only obtained by securing agreements from other area departments to provide the staffing he refuses to add. It’s smoke and mirrors.

    So your question is a great one. Why would Mayor Lago focus upon annexation and further stretch public safety resources to their breaking points, which obviously places Coral Gables residents in danger? What would motivate an intelligent man to advocate expansion of muni boundaries when inadequate service is already already dependent upon the goodwill of others within the current boundaries?

    Perhaps it’s easier to understand the Mayor’s myopic focus on annexation and his blindness to these current dangers if you take a step back. Examine this from his perspective while working in his full time job in the construction industry…the answer may lay in the dozens of properties along 8 St and 42 Ave waiting for demolition and re-development…

  8. How can the city be pushing to expand its borders, via annexation, yet not keep up with the growth within its current city boundaries? The youtube video was eye-opening as it relates to police staffing. As if the increased population (and calls for service) were not enough, now the city is going to an impasse with its labor groups. So, fight to keep them so you can fight them. Give your top staff pay raises so they do not leave but offer your workers crumbs because you do not care if they stay or go. Still, the worker will provide outstanding service to the residents because they do it for the love of the job, not the employer. All the while keeping an eye open for vacancies in other systems that value them.

  9. What are the actual results for The Coral Gables Country Club and Gym for the last three years (before the pandemic; 2017, 2018, 2019 ) compared to the 2022-2023 Budget

  10. Firefighters are on the front lines no matter WHAT is happening in the world. Hurricanes? They’re on duty for DAYS away from their families clearing roads, running calls, assisting people who have no help whatsoever. COVID-19 pandemic? They’re out there running every single call, exposing not only themselves but their families who they come home to no matter what. Champlain tower collapse? They’re out there in the rubble, pulling up human remains, and digging through thousands of pounds of concrete for a community outside their jurisdiction. Mansion fires, car fires, dumpster fires, car accidents you never hear of, suicides, and everything in between. These men and women are out there every single day for CG residents and beyond. In this economy, with high inflation and a rising COL – the city of coral gables has the audacity to give these people a less than 1% raise?? Shame on these people. Vote them out. Show up for the men and women who will show up for you on the worst day of your life.

  11. Everyone is an expert and all City Employees are overpaid. Please post your Name and employers name so I can tell them you are probably overpaid if you can afford a sweet home in the Gables. BTW if you need a job the City has 200 openings and counting. Let’s see who will pick up your garbage now.

  12. If Coral Gables police officers and dispatchers, as well as members of the Fire Department are leaving Coral Gables.. all the more reason to loudly object to the Annexation of Little Gables on which your mayor and commissioners seem so intent. Residents of Coral Gables: please protest the terrible intention to annex my sweet neighborhood. Coral Gables residents will not benefit from annexation. Especially now…with all your current issues. Do you have a voice or vote on this annexation issue? If yes, please raise your voice and vote for NO ANNEXATION. If you don’t get to vote…. Raise your voice even louder.

  13. The link (see below) posted by Mr. Weller is a telltale sign why police officers and dispatchers have left and are looking to leave the police department at an alarming rate. Looks like their chief of police is out of touch with reality. This needs to be addressed so our safety is not at risk.

    https://youtu.be/5skFNOSVrlw

  14. Coral Gables Fire Department is woefully understaffed. In order to meet national standards, CGFD – in its own accreditation documents – is required to document its dependency on other area FDs to meet minimum staffing levels for emergency response.

    To match the standard upheld by all other Fire departments in Miami, a responsible budget would hire at least 35 firefighters IMMEDIATELY in order to staff three more units. CGFD hasn’t increased staffing in 30 years and this budget has no plans to fix this glaring deficiency.

    Mayor Lago betrays residents’ trust when he equates new stations and trucks with life-saving service provided by firefighters. He endangers all CG residents and visitors by continuing to ignore this serious public safety issue, instead focusing on his future personal interests in higher-density redevelopment along 8th St and 42nd Ave.

  15. All Federal Government Departments and agencies like FEMA have an OIG Office of Inspector General empowered to enforce the Codified Federal Regulations (CFR) enacted by congress for the department.
    OIGs are empowered to borrow temporarily from the department experts on the subject matter been audited or investigated by the OIG. This practice makes the OIGs very cost effective and very reliable. I suggest that concerned coral gables residents familiar with OIGs to consider the feasibility of designing an OIG specific for the City of Coral Gables. The CGOIG will borrow, as needed, from the city employees, personnel qualified on the subject matters been audited or investigated, such as Inspectors, Sworn Law Officers, PEs, Arch, Atty, CPAs, Fire and Rescue specialists, IT specialists, etc. This may be the CONSTRUCTIVE SOLUTION all residents are praying for. And will cost the City a fraction of the cost of hiring highly qualified Consulting Firms like McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, etc.

  16. After watching the YouTube video posted by Mr. Weller (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5skFNOSVrlw&feature=youtu.be), it’s no surprise police officers have left and/or are looking to go to other police departments that offer competitive retirement systems.

    It would be interesting to know how many police officers and general employees, who weren’t eligible for retirement, have left the police department during this chief’s tenure.

  17. I have never seen such a downfall of one City over so many issues. Everyday it is another mess. Mayor Lago and Commissioners, you all were SUPPOSED to oversee our City and keep us out of all these controversies, but instead you are adding to them or not doing your job. What a rude awakening you all will be getting in the next few elections. You all are am embarrassment to your jobs and responsibilities. I would never ever vote for any of you again and will push to remove the horrid City Manager and Attorney.

  18. This is what journalism used to be. Thank you for your thorough reporting…..most of us have no clue how much work it takes for this kind of reporting. I truly appreciate it.

  19. They all need to go, clean the entire commission, finance, budget, and anyone that’s in bed with them.
    Police and Fire Chiefs are in place to protect their rank in file not to turn the or cheek.
    We have great department’s Police,Fire, city employees that work to make the City Beautiful what it is. And these people that we trust to have our backs are crooks or just look away and allow other to take from them.
    Shame on all of them.
    Time to clean house!

  20. Well, Well, Well…..looks like mayor vinnie’s electric car is running out of juice…. There was a time when officials took kick-backs for influence, now they just openly give themselves huge pay increases for creating bureaucracy. It’s just so much more environmentally sensitive…it saves all that paper created when they get prosecuted. Best way to rob a bank is to own one!!! Way to go management!!!! Bravo

  21. The house of cards is collapsing before our eyes. Coral Gables is a desirable place because of it’s Public Service Workers, Fire Department, and Police Department. You look past them and only reward Senior Staff and Executives, you will lose employees…fact.

    Check out this recently posted video at a Coral Gables Town Hall featuring Mayor Lago and Chief Hudak. If the link doesn’t work just go to YouTube and search:

    Coral Gables Town Hall – Mayor Lago & Chief Hudak
    https://youtu.be/5skFNOSVrlw

  22. I am in total agreement with the comments posted by Alan Morris. The residents need an explanation and a plan to correct this situation.

    Kudos to Ariel for another useful report.

    We need to clean house and throw the crooks out!

  23. This does not even give light to how the City took the COLA away from retirees. Retirees have not had a COLA since 2013. The Retirement ordinance lays out a performance based system for granting COLA. The commission has denied numerous COLAs since 2013. Yet here again we see the Top Dogs receiving disgusting increases. Firefighters do not receive Social Security and the City saves by not having to pay their side. This is not a City that cares about employees. If you are thinking of coming to “The City Beautiful “ to work…DON’T. There are many great places to work and Coral Gables under the current regime is not it.

  24. Thanks Ariel for your hard work!
    But….how the corruption can be corrected?, and also who is the last person responsible to correct the problem?
    Thanks,
    Mica

  25. Firefighters were on the FRONTLINE of COVID while these people either worked remotely or inside a bubble. Now they dole out obscene raises. This is sickening but not expected. The ones who do the least get the most.

  26. Residents take notice! These are our tax dollars being misused! We need an independent audit and permanent over site now! Full transparency! Make your voices heard!

  27. If the City cut its non-fire and non-police staff by ten percent, we residents would never know the difference. There s a presumption of the Commission that they can just keep raising our property taxes again and again. They should lower taxes but that is never discussed.

  28. How gables does things: Study the study that did the study that started the study about the study on the study. To review the analyzation and make an assessment on the data that shows the stats about the approach to see the results about the study. Wait we didn’t hire a consultant? Start over.

  29. Time for an independent City Staff Watchdog that overseas budget, contracts where conflicts may exist, and outside consulting. There have been too many issues surface this year alone and there is an old saying for leadership positions, “even the appearance of inappropriateness is inappropriate”. Tax dollars matter!

  30. A BIG SCANDAL!

    The City Manager, Budget Director, Human Resource Director, and Finance Director stuffed plenty of cash into their pockets, from the hard working taxpayers.

    The Commissioners are either very stupid or very incompetent to have let this happen.

    If they worked in my company, they would all be fired immediately.

    So, what do we do? An INDEPENDENT audit from a national accounting firm is a good idea, to cut the excess salaries. Bring it up at the next commission meeting. But don’t expect much. The crooks are in charge of the other crooks.

    An election to throw them all out is the only, final answer. In the meanwhile, an ethics complaint and a criminal indictment might get their attention.

  31. There’s a lot to digest here. I’m sympathetic to staff at all levels who feel they can’t take a better paying job with better culture with work from home benefits in private or public sectors. You can name your price people! Everyone is hiring. The only thing you might miss is leave. Leave is unmatched.

    It’s like they have Stockholm Syndrome.

  32. Wow, the Executive salaries appear to be completely out of the realm, Salaries of all positions should be in line with compensation at other like sized municipalities , not industry or other non-governmental entities. Given the economic times, increases based on these very high base salaries seems out of line, while lower compensated employees receive next to nothing, remember – a low percentage of nothing equals nothing. A budget that does not include a 1 year and 5 year look back comparison does not allow for reasonable line item review and oversight. By not providing this “at a glance” detail it is very difficult for those reviewing to spot those line items that are producing a high variance, when aggregated these variances get diffused in the total numbers. I agree a third party unrelated and currently un-contracvged accounting firm needs to come in, review the budgeting process, and then focus on Executive compensation, the leadership salaries are out of the realm of reasonablness. While I am sure many of these positions are filled by competent and dedicated staff, so are many of the mid-management and front line employees who are the face Coral Gables to the residents – no wonder one often questions their attitude and moral knowing that their leadership earns many multiples of their salaries (including a very rich benefits package). Appears it is time for reform.

  33. The City MUST hire an outside independent auditor to discover the financial waste going on. This is both predictable and shocking when you have a sloppy Commission.

    Beyond that the refusal to communicate with Gables Insider cries out for an Ethics Commission Complaint.

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