Founder & Editor
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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%).