Coral Gables Commissioners give themselves big pay raises
Image via Coral Gables.

Coral Gables Commission
Altogether, Commissioner compensation is set to more than double. The Mayor and Vice Mayor said they’ll refuse the raises.

In a 3-2 vote following a lengthy and sometimes accusatory discussion of the issue, Coral Gables Commissions approved sizable salary increases for themselves, the Mayor and Vice Mayor.

Proponents touted the raises as decades overdue and a shift that will empower less well-to-do residents to seek public office.

Critics slammed the move as too abrupt and lacking transparency, arguing most residents weren’t informed of the change and that those who were overwhelmingly opposed it.

“Do I believe that a compensation increase was merited? Potentially. I just don’t like how this was handled,” said Mayor Vince Lago, who voted alongside Vice Mayor Rhonda Anderson against the raises. “(This) paints the city with a pretty bad brushstroke.”

Coral Gables’ ordinances mandate annual salary adjustments for elected officials based on the consumer price index (CPI). By that metric, the Mayor, Vice Mayor and three Commissioners — all of whom are considered part-time officials and vote on the City Commission — would receive 2.63% pay upticks.

Instead, Commissioners Melissa Castro, Ariel Fernandez and Kirk Menendez approved Tuesday:

— A 53.6% raise for the Mayor from $44,905 to $69,000, plus a 60% expense allowance increase from $6,000 to $9,600.

— A 70.5% raise for the Vice Mayor from $39,285 to $67,000, plus a 100% expense allowance increase from $4,800 to $9,600.

— A 78% raise for Commissioners from $36,588 to $65,000, plus a 100% expense allowance increase from $48,000 to $9,600.

All five members of the City Commission will also receive a new, $800-per-month car stipend, which amounts to $8,446 per person yearly.

Altogether, Castro, Fernandez and Menendez’s annual compensation is set to more than double beginning Oct. 1.

Lago and Anderson, who respectively stand to receive 71% and 93% pay increases, said they will refuse anything more than their existing, CPI-adjusted pay.

Castro and Fernandez, local business owners who won their Commission seats in April, said the raises fairly represent the work and time each person on the dais spends on city manners weekly.

The last major change in Commissioner compensation was in the 1980s, according to Fernandez, who noted that the Commission salaries in the city’s new, $263 million budget are still lower than what they would have been if a 1% annual increase had been implemented since the last pay overhaul.

Every member of the Commission puts in 30 hours a week at City Hall and many more while working in the community, he said, and that work should be properly compensated.

“All five of us up here devote full-time hours to this job,” he said. “And based on the response that I’ve gotten in the community, I don’t think we’re taking a step in the wrong direction. I think we’re taking a step in the right direction and setting the city up to have residents sitting up here who are committed to the city as much as all five of us are.”

Menendez agreed. Like Fernandez, he said he’d gotten mostly positive feedback about the raises from residents for whom serving in office and earning enough to live in the city had before been mutually exclusive.

“People other than the affluent can (now) run for office and do this full-time, like we are doing, and be able to earn a living and serve the community with balance,” he said. “A lot of people said that they were sort of financially prohibited from running in the past.”

That’s beside the point, said Anderson, who sponsored a resolution Wednesday that would have allowed the budget to pass without the salary increases, which would then have been decided separately after a meeting with residents.

Lago voted for the measure. Castro, Fernandez and Menendez shot it down.

“These numbers were not provided to the public,” Anderson said. “The process was not done right. It wasn’t in a draft budget. It wasn’t done by ordinance. There was no discussion item on it, and … this is not what I want to do. I want it in daylight. I want it to be transparent.”

Anderson pointed out that Fernandez had criticized comparatively smaller salary increases for more than 55 city executives and senior staff — including the City Attorney, City Clerk, the City Manager, Police Chief, Fire Chief and Finance Director — in the October 2022 issue of his locally focused media outlet, Gables Insider. None of those raises exceeded 31%. They collectively amounted to $637,000 in raises.

A breakdown of the Coral Gables Commission pay raises that Vice Mayor Rhonda Anderson put together for the Sept. 26 meeting. Image via Coral Gables.

In the initial 2023-24 budget estimate Coral Gables staff published online and made available for public viewing at two city locales in July, proposed salary increases for the five Commission members, not counting the expense allowances, totaled $199,465.

The raises approved Wednesday during the second and final budget hearing, including the new car stipend but not the expense allowance, totaled $379,000 — a more than 90% increase.

Several residents advocated for and against the raises during the Commission’s more than eight-hour meeting.

Nicolas Cabrera, a local farmer’s market organizer and the son of former Coral Gables Commissioner Rafael Cabrera, said he and many others in the community believe the raises work counter to the purpose of public service.

He attributed most support for them to the Coral Gables Neighbors Association, a large resident activist group that backed Castro and Fernandez in the city’s election this year.

“For me, the position of Commissioner comes with a set of responsibilities, and I don’t think it’s about the money (or) because you need to pay bills,” he said. “You do it because you have a dedication and a passion for this community … and I think the way the salaries were proposed is wrong. I think that it should have been held, as Vice Mayor Anderson proposed today, on the floor rather than in the (budget).”

Ed Santamaria, a former assistant city manager for Coral Gables, said the City Commission should have more actively informed and solicited input from the public before taking a final vote.

“This doesn’t really look good to a lot of people,” he said. “I don’t think that this was deliberated enough (or) handled the way that it should have been, in the sunshine.”

Dentist Gordon Sokoloff, an active member of the community who previously chaired the city’s Transportation Advisory Board, contended the information was available to those interested. He added that the budget is prepared by Coral Gables staff, not elected officials, and the raises reflect the city’s prosperity.

“It was not some conniving rip-off by any of the Commissioners. Like many of the things in this city, things get left behind,” he said.

“The city has grown enormously since 1980 (and) can afford these modicum raises (that help) incentivize prospective citizens to consider running for office. I’d much rather have people that are making money and looking forward to coming to work each day and serving the residents because they make a manageable salary.”

Sue Kawalerski, a media consultant and President of the Coral Gables Neighbors Association, said City Manager Peter Iglesias should be “very offended” by any suggestion the raises were secretly slipped into the budget and then hidden from public view.

She bashed Lago and Anderson for not speaking out against the salary adjustments until Wednesday — a move, she said, that appeared to be politically motivated.

“Where were you a month ago? Were you not debriefed?” she said. “We have two leaders here, the Mayor and the Vice Mayor. Neither of you raised the issue of a sunshine meeting, a referendum, opening this up to the public, let alone putting it on a Commission agenda, (and) it sure looks like hanky-panky. It looks like a plot to get the three (Commissioners) that are not with you.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at Jess[email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


  • Papi.chulo

    September 28, 2023 at 9:50 am

    Here is what happens when you elect a bad representative of the people. How is it that these 3 newbies elected in April can justify giving themselves a raise when they have done NOTHING OF VALUE during thier short tenure?? How.can they tell the residents of zcoral Gables they are worth MORE when they have done NOTHING foe the City Beautiful? RECALL THESE Dishonest people and start.over.

  • Earl Pitts "Earl Knows Stuff" Americsn

    September 28, 2023 at 10:04 am

    Relax your sphincters America,
    These commissioners are egredgious 3rd world Dook 4 Brains Lefty’s typical to the 3rd world Bananna Republic AKA Miami/Dade.
    I just advised FL’s Atty. General which Florida Statutes and Administrative Code these rouge Commissioners violated and she is heading down to Miami/Dade to shut this foolishness down.
    Another Great Florida Day Saved By Me, Earl Pitts American, EPA

  • My Take

    September 28, 2023 at 11:03 pm

    Miami more and more becomes Caribbean.
    Though more the Caribbean of old.

  • Jose Amezaga

    September 29, 2023 at 8:28 am

    The increase in compensation for the commissioners was handled poorly and I expected Commissioners Fernandez and Castro to handle it differently, particularly because they recently were elected as the true representatives of the CG residents. Commissioner Menendez is a different matter as he votes according to what is convenient to him.
    I for one believe the present compensation was too low considering the hours you all put into this. However there are ways to do this properly and this was not one of those ways. I am very disappointed in how they handled this and I am concerned that the newly elected commissioners are fast becoming no different than the previous.
    Shame on all. Don’t accept this compensation proposal and do it the right way. And get the right compensation considering this job as your only job full time.

  • Carlos Azar

    September 29, 2023 at 8:36 am

    We need a TAX reduction in order for middle class, older and retire people be able to live in Coral Gables…….

  • Jorge

    October 9, 2023 at 11:38 pm

    Es una verguenza y cara dura por dos razones. Una porque no es un trabajo fijo y el otro porque no hacen nada por los residentes. Lo mejor es no votarlos que de hecho no los vota nadie porque en esta ciudad solo votan 4000 personas de las 40000 que residen.

Comments are closed.


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