Coral Gables group submits petitions to curb self-given City Hall pay raises
Image via Coral Gables.

Coral Gables Commission
City Commissioners gave themselves big salary hikes in September. This group wants voter approval for all future pay pumps.

A political action committee focused on getting three charter amendments on the Coral Gables ballot just turned in its first batch of petition signatures from voters who want a say in whether elected city officials get raises.

Accountable Coral Gables, a self-described citizens’ advocacy group, announced its submission of about 2,000 signatures supporting a proposed city charter amendment requiring voter approval for all future Mayor, Vice Mayor or Commission salary increases.

State law provides that petition gatherers must collect 10% the number of registered voters in a municipality per proposed charter amendment for a question to make the next election ballot. In the case of Coral Gables, which had 32,157 voters as of April 1, the threshold is 3,215.

Coral Gables Clerk Billy Urquia told Political Cortadito Friday, when the PAC announced its first haul of signatures, that his office received 2,078 signed petitions for the proposed pay raise referendum. That leaves 1,137 signatures to go.

The PAC is also collecting signatures supporting charter amendments to require a four-fifths vote by the Coral Gables Commission to tap the city’s reserve fund and to move its municipal elections from April in odd years to November in even years to align with the General Election

Accountable Coral Gables Chair Alex Bucelo, who ran twice unsuccessfully for the City Commission and now sits on Mayor Vince Lago’s advisory council, said the signatures collected so far speak to how unpopular recently self-given City Hall raises are with voters.

“We are humbled by the level of support we have received from our neighbors as we have crisscrossed the city explaining the need for this charter reform,” he said in a statement. “The salary increases of over 100% approved by the city commission last year have galvanized public opinion and energized our residents to actively participate in this crucial matter.”

City Commissioners voted 3-2 in September to award themselves massive salary hikes, including a 53.6% raise for the Mayor, 70.5% raise for the Vice Mayor and 78% raise for Commissioners. They also increased their expense allowances to $9,600, a doubling of the prior rate for all but the Mayor, and added a new $8,446-per-year stipend for each member.

Newly elected Commissioners Melissa Castro and Ariel Fernandez spearheaded the pay raise push with support from Kirk Menendez, who became the five-member panel’s de facto swing vote after two Lago-backed candidates lost in upsets last year.

Castro and Fernandez, both local business owners, contended the raises fairly represent the “full-time” work each person on the dais spends on city matters. Menendez said he’d received mostly positive community feedback about the change, which would also empower less well-to-do residents to participate in and run for seats in their local government.

Lago and Vice Mayor Rhonda Anderson disagreed. Anderson noted the raises were not included in the city’s draft budget and called for more time and resident input on the matter. She proffered a resolution that would have delayed a vote on the salary increases. Lago voted for the measure, but Castro, Fernandez and Menendez shot it down.

Lago said that while raises may have been merited, the way the trio went about awarding them looked bad.

“(This) paints the city with a pretty bad brushstroke,” he said.

Per its filings, Accountable Coral Gables formed Feb. 15 and raised just over $50,000 through March 31, the last date for which campaign finance reporting is required under Florida’s relatively new quarterly fundraising mandates.

An overwhelming share of the money came from real estate development interests in Miami-Dade County.

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 [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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