The Gainesville City Commission held its penultimate meeting Thursday before a new set of commissioners takes the dais at the start of January, but the body showed no signs of slowing down.
With commissioners Harvey Ward and Reina Saco absent, the commission voted 4-1 to approve a switch from the current formula to calculate commissioner salaries to the state’s population-based formula used for county commissioners. The change will almost double the salary, from $37,085.85 to $71,015.09—an increase of more than 91% for each commissioner. The mayor will receive an additional 25% in pay.
The ordinance still needs final approval, which would come at the city’s Dec. 15 meeting, before taking effect Oct. 1, 2023.
Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker, who voted for the change in November, was the lone dissent even though she expressed overall support for a salary increase. She said it wasn’t the right time to pass the increase with other city employees and citizens hurting.
“This is a hard decision for me because I get it,” Duncan-Walker said. “But I have to make a choice tonight, and I have an opportunity to prioritize something else.”
During public comment, members of the CWA Local 3170 union said their slated salary increases won’t even keep up with inflation, which is accounted for with the current formula for raising commissioner salaries.
The other commissioners, along with Duncan-Walker, said the raise is needed to compensate for the responsibility of the post and to allow equal opportunity for citizens to run for office.
"This work is hard,” Duncan-Walker said. “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.”
Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut listed duties of commissioners and said they extend beyond normal working hours.
“The public expects, and we try to deliver on their expectations,” Chestnut said.
She said she looked at the salary increases through the impact it could have on women seeking office—women who, whether married or single, need to provide care for their kids and perhaps older parents or a spouse.
Chestnut also said that the workload will increase as the commission prepares a move toward more subcommittees. For those reasons, she supported the increase but asked that the salary, after using the state formula, be reduced by 25%.
Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who made the motion to approve the ordinance, said he thought the salaries merited the full amount produced by the formula. He suggested a stepped approach: to use 75% of the state formula for the first year before increasing to the full amount. But Chestnut did not agree.
Other cities, including Port St. Lucie and Jacksonville, also use the state formula but with reductions.
This week two former Gainesville mayors spoke out against the proposed raises, saying some commissioner activities are optional and should not be compensated.
Commission business roundup
Also on Thursday, the commission decided to place 6 acres of surplus land up for sale. The item came up after a business next to the land inquired about purchasing it for an expansion.
Gainesville has more than 6 acres at the spot, located at the intersection of NE 39th Avenue and Waldo Road but wanted to keep the rest for other city projects.
The land will open for a period for interested parties to apply to purchase.
The city also approved the use of up to $248,100 for Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) to hire a third-party consultant to help with an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).
The plan looks decades down the line at the changing landscape of utilities, along with consumer needs.
Eric Walters, chief sustainability officer at GRU, said the technical component of the IRP is typically the most expensive, but because GRU is an owner-member of The Energy Authority, the technical component is covered through the authority.
However, Walters said consumers are more invested in where their energy comes from than before. He said 10 years ago, an IRP wouldn’t involve a community input aspect, but now that component is important and an industry best practice.
Because GRU has never conducted an IRP with the community feedback, it plans to hire a third-party to help with the process.
$71+K? A 91% increase in salary? Ridiculous! Next they'll vote for no term limits, much as the House and Senate. In the middle of a recession when people are living in tents and kids are going to school after washing in convenience stores, they complain the housing is too rich for their blood! Duh! Makes me never want to stop throwing up!
Quality, professional leadership requires adequate compensation. I have long thought that the salary for more-than-fulltime job of being a city commissioner is far less than adequate. I agree that the low salary likely dissuades possible candidates. While I support the salary increase, the suggestion of making it staged would have made sense.
I will add that not only do the commissioners have a broad spectrum of topics and decisions to make, they are often the target of personal insults and rudeness. That, also, dissuades possible candidates from the job.
You’re probably running for the next city commission seat.
This is ridiculous! Makes me distrust all of you who voted in favor of. Shame on you.
The City Commission majority's memorable achievements before rewarding itself with a 90% salary increase: (The Short List)
Increasing our debt by three thousand percent.
Hiring city managers with highly questionable or notorious backgrounds.
Spending a fortune on consultants who disclose the failings of management applicants.
Ignoring the above.
Firing managers who tell the truth and disclose misfeasance and malfeasance.
Doing away with family neighborhoods by transferring them to rental businesses
Creating a new skyline of high priced rooms for student tennants and car parks.
Turning public sidewalks over to private developers.
Making major pedestrian thoroughfares into kill zones, then apologizing.
Sharply increasing traffic congestion on the busiest, most dangerous intersections.
Univerally favoring real estate speculators over citizens.
Arresting citizens who reveal misappropriation and/or misspending at public meetings.
Removing citizens by force who reveal misappropriation and/or misspending at public meetings.
Turning virtually all city planning into a private process for special interests.
Traveling on public money for no good reason.
Creating charter amendments to increase their terms.
Supporting each other's elections.
Increasing their personal travel allowances from $1500 to $5000.
Misusing income from taxes.
Repeatedly violating Florida Audit disclosure requirements.
Repeatedly telling false stories about the above.
Encouraging all night boozing in our streets and parks.
Lying about the above.
Planning to waste millions to demolish and replace historic facilities that are perfectly useful.
Promoting the fiction that these actions were conducted in the public interest.
Embarrassing us all.
Mark Kane you are spot on.
These commissioners need to go work in the real world and climb down from your government pedestal.
Citizens must step up and stop this nonsense due to pathetic leadership.
Wake up Gainesville