Alachua County Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler revisited a proposal she made in 2019 to reward County Manager Michele Lieberman and County Attorney Sylvia Torres with $10,000 raises in an effort to retain them by preventing them from looking for higher paying positions elsewhere.
During a discussion about both Liberman’s and Torres annual evaluations, Commissioner Wheeler said it has been a “tough year working for the County Commission, but it’s been made a lot easier by these two professionals.”
Wheeler moved to give raises to the county manager and county attorney in 2019, but the move was tabled.
Both Torres and Liberman received mostly ratings of 5 (out of 5) across the board in evaluation categories ranging from professional skills, policy execution, and supervision skills. Evaluations for the period of Oct. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30th, 2020 were submitted by Commissioners Wheeler, Charles Chestnut, Ken Cornell and Chair Robert Hutchinson by the Sept. 30th deadline.
The recommended pay increase of 3 percent for Torres and Liberman, which is consistent with other BOCC positions, was included in the FY21 adopted budget.
Commissioners Wheeler and Hutchinson both stated that a disparity exists in the attorney and manager’s pay rate in comparison not only to other county managers and attorneys, but in comparison with the same positions with the City of Gainesville.
After Wheeler moved to provide $10,000 raises for both positions, Commissioner Ken Cornell seconded the motion.
According to Communications Director Mark Sexton, the County Attorney Sylvia Torres earns $169,444 and County Manager Michele Lieberman earns $196,266 with a 3 percent cost of living increase recently applied. The increase of $10,000 means the salaries will be at $179,444 for the attorney and $206,266 for the manager.
Commissioner Byerly said he supports the manager and attorney but did not support an across the board $10,000 pay raise. “It’s not the right kind of message that we want to convey to ALL of our hardworking employees,” he said. He added that the community is in good hands, and a 3 percent raise is enough.
Commissioner Cornell agreed that he had concerns about rewarding all frontline folks but added that the leadership’s ability to adapt to the “new normal” warranted the raise. “When you look at how they are paid in comparison to their peers for the job that they do, it’s well warranted.”
Chair Hutchinson pointed out that, “Last year we totally punted on this,” and reminded the BOCC that Gainesville City Manager Lee Feldman, “across the street was hired at $255,000.”
“Our manager is doing every bit the job that he’s doing across the street for 75 percent of the salary.”
“The way you keep employees from starting to send resumes out is you properly appreciate them. They save us vastly more than this $10,000 because of their wise management of resources.”
Hutchinson also commented that County staff morale is at an alltime high.
The motion passed 4-1 with Commissioner Byerly in dissent.