Gainesville city commissioners confirmed December’s ordinance to change the formula that calculates their salaries, resulting in a 91% annual salary increase.
The salary item returned to the city’s agenda through new Commissioner Ed Book. He proposed returning to the city’s formular used since the early 2000s. Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker seconded, but the motion failed after the other five commissioners dissented.
Book said he disagrees with the December decision because of timing, community perception and the fiscal budget.
The new salary formula, set to begin in October 2023, will increase the annual salary for commissioners from around $37,000 to an estimated $71,000. The population-based formula would adjust each year and was created by the Florida Legislature as the default for county commissioners.
But Book pointed to backup documents that show Gainesville’s commissioner salaries already exceed the average in Florida. He said the commission has also seen a diversity of professions represented on the commission.
“Timing is critical, and this is very, very bad timing,” Book said.
Inflation rose 8.38% last year, triple the amount of any raise negotiated by the bargaining units for city workers. The previous formula for commissioner salaries changed based on inflation—the Consumer Price Index—resulting in a raise equal to inflation.
However, the dissenting commissioners countered.
Commissioner Reina Saco said the city commission needs to mirror Gainesville with more than just occupations. She said the candidate pool from the past election cycle didn’t match the city’s demographics.
Commissioner Casey Willits added that most of the jobs held by past commissioners were professional/managerial class workers without many of the most common careers like nurses or office clerks.
Willits said the 2.5% increase negotiated by the local city workers union falls short. He said the city needs to tackle the issue and bring raises to employees, but the commissioner raises will bring benefit to the city as well.
The commissioner position is listed as a part-time job. But members of the current and former commissions said the job requires full-time attention to do right.
And Commissioner Bryan Eastman said Gainesville needs a full-time commission—a view expressed by former Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos last year.
“We make decisions on a huge breadth of issues that matter deeply to a lot of people,” Eastman said. “Taking the time to know that, to vote on it, to have background information takes time, and I think we owe it to our constituents to take that time.”
Saco said a resident visited City Hall last week and requested to see a commissioner, but none of the commissioners were in the building. Having a full-time commission would have meant that one of them was likely to have been there to meet with the resident.
When the raises initially passed, supporters argued that having a higher salary would also allow people from a broader range of income levels to serve on the commission.
Several of the commissioners hold part- or full-time jobs apart from the commission work.
Willits said he had to transition from full-time to part-time in order to sit behind the dais. He said it was difficult to juggle two jobs or one full-time job and a commissioner’s duties. Former Commissioner David Arreola said the same in December when voting in support of the salary change.
Citizens and former elected officials have questioned the direction of the city commission, arguing against full-time commissioners.
Former Mayor Ed Braddy said the commission’s responsibilities don’t merit the 91% salary increase. If commissioners work beyond their responsibilities, citizens shouldn’t bear the cost.
Public comment ran along similar lines at Thursday’s meeting.
Duncan-Walker voted with Book to reverse the salary increase. At December’s meeting, she said both sides have merit. However, she said vacancies and the impact of inflation on city workers pushed her to oppose the new formula.
“This work is hard,” Duncan-Walker said on Dec. 1. “Contrary to how it is listed, it is not part time. It is full-time; it is overtime. It is all day, it is all night, it is all consuming.”
Gainesville has a current vacancy rate of 16.7% across the city. Jenn Powell, a union organizer with Communication Workers of America Local 3170, told the commission that the city has an employment crisis. Powell said the commissioners deserve a raise but called a 90% increase insulting compared to the 2.5% received by the CWA’s union members.
“I believe that we are at a crisis mode for the city,” Powell said. “We have some very, very important vacancies that we are having trouble filling.”