City Commission votes 3-2 to look at allowing citizens to vote on their salaries

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By: Monica Casey | WCTV Eyewitness News
February 13, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The City Commission passed a motion at Wednesday night's meeting that has the potential to allow voters to give their elected officials a pay raise.

The Tallahassee City Commission voted 3-2 to instruct City staff to come back with research on the creation of a ballot item allowing voters to give them a pay raise.

Leon County Commissioners make $80,289; that number is based on population in a formula created by the state.

According to City Charter, City Commissioners make half of County Commissioners' salary; for 2020, that number is listed as $40,145.

The charter states that "The Mayor shall be paid an annual salary which shall be the same as that set by state law for the Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners of Leon County, Florida."

The City of Tallahassee's documents show that commission salaries are paid from the City's general fund; the positions are not specifically listed as part-time or full-time.

Some commissioners say they're working long hours and would like a discussion about the compensation.

"When we look at what our colleagues on the County Commission are being paid for their service, which is not anywhere near as taxing as we're putting in, we think there should be more equity in terms of the pay," said Commissioner Curtis Richardson. "We are putting in an inordinate amount of time now in our duties as City Commissioners and the Mayor."

Commissioner Elaine Bryant said holding office is a big time commitment.

"I just left my full time employment because this job is a full time job," said Bryant.

It's important to note that commissioners did not vote to give themselves a raise; they are only gathering research about what a ballot initiative
would look like, and then allowing citizens to decide.

"Obviously the community has input, and I would expect it to, because that's kind of been our tenor the entire time that I've been here," said Bryant.

The 3-2 vote was split on the discussion of the revision of the charter; Mayor John Dailey and Commissioner Curtis Richardson voted against the motion; both would like a full review of the charter, done by a citizen committee.

"I would not be opposed to bringing in a citizens committee, representative of the community and have them take a look at the charter," said Richardson.

"By just simply going straight to the ballot with no understanding on any issue, I don't think is the appropriate route to go," said Mayor Dailey.

Dailey and Richardson say they do not want the charter edited piece by piece; it hasn't had a full scale review in more than 10 years.

Commissioners Dianne Williams-Cox and Bryant voted in favor of Commissioner Jeremy Matlow's motion.

In a series of tweets, Commissioner Matlow explained his motion.

"Commission pay may seem like a trivial item, but in fact it's a major barrier access to government for everyday working people. Generally, folks with means run for and hold these offices, because they have a separate income that allows them to serve the public for little pay," he wrote.

Matlow also pointed to the salary issue as an explanation for past corruption issues in City Hall.

"The low salary local of elected officials has also contributed significantly to ethical conflicts which has gotten the City in major legal trouble that has made the national news in recent years," he wrote.

Commissioners Richardson and Bryant pushed back on that correlation.

"There's no relationship," said Richardson. "If you're paid $6,000 you can be unethical. If you're paid $80,000 you can perform unethically."

"We have values by which we live. It really shouldn't be linked to in any way, our compensation," said Bryant.

Leon County Republican Chair Evan Power released a statement on the vote as well.

“I was shocked to learn that while three commissioners thought we should not have citizens review our charter to discuss important issues such as districts, an independent Airport authority and other issues long discussed by the public, but they had no problem solely proposing their own massive raise. One commissioner said, the city is 'busier doing the work that the community really, really, needs.' It’s hard to believe that work would be a
40,000 plus dollar raise more than doubling their salary. The citizens need public servants who want to work for the good of all citizens not look for personal windfalls," Power wrote.

Commissioners had a lengthy discussion about editing the charter during the Commission meeting.

"Government is not run like a business," said Dailey. "You can have a full charter revision that does not impact aspects of the government."

Richardson questioned whether there would be time to put something on the ballot during this election cycle, and City Attorney Cassandra Jackson said she believes the City has until June.

County Commissioner salaries vary widely based on population; according to state documents, Broward County has a population of 1,897,976, with Commissioners earning $101,006. At the other end of the spectrum, Calhoun County has a population of 15,093, with Commissioners getting paid $28,650.

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