Miami mayor is given $53,000 pay raise
Miami commissioners boosted Mayor Manny Diaz's salary from $97,000 to $150,000 Thursday. The raise wasn't on the agenda. No members of the public were there to speak.
BY MICHAEL VASQUEZ
Swiftly, with little debate, Miami city commissioners Thursday unanimously voted to boost Miami Mayor Manny Diaz's salary by more than 54 percent, from $97,000 to $150,000.
No angry taxpayer showed up to oppose the raise, probably because virtually no Miami resident knew what city leaders were up to. Thursday's commission meeting agenda -- available to the public well in advance -- included no mention of the mayor's salary, and the issue was raised at the end of the day's business, after any resident who had a reason to be in commission chambers had already left.
Commissioner Johnny Winton, a strong Diaz ally, introduced the resolution awarding the mayor a raise as a ''pocket item'' -- a term for a last-minute, typically time-sensitive city action that is brought up and voted on even though the public was never notified beforehand.
The resolution included reasons for the raise, such as Diaz recently being reelected by an overwhelming margin, and the fact that many other big-city mayors earn comparable amounts.
Winton read much of the resolution aloud to a near-empty commission chambers before voting took place. Afterward, he was steadfast in his decision.
''Manny's done the most remarkable job of any mayor that we can go back and think of,'' Winton said.
What if someone complains that the public should have been included?
''We would be probably rightfully criticized,'' Winton responded. ``But he's still worth the money.''
When asked whether taxpayers might get upset at not being allowed to speak about the pay raise, City Manager Joe Arriola replied: ``That's their problem.
''We always have pocket items,'' he added. ``We did five pocket items [today]. Why don't you ask me about the other ones? C'mon. Be fair.''
Commissioner Tomás Regalado admitted he was ''surprised'' when the proposal came up.
''It wasn't on the agenda, I didn't have the documents . . . it was a stealth item,'' Regalado said. Nevertheless, Regalado, the lone Diaz critic on the commission, went along with the raise because ``I didn't want to look petty. That's all that there is to it.''
''It's a good policy to give him a raise,'' Regalado added. ``It's a bad policy to do it this way.''
Diaz said he had no part in the raise discussions and only learned it was going to happen as he watched City Commission proceedings from his second-floor office.
''I was shocked . . . just sort of speechless,'' Diaz said.
The mayor added he was ''very cognizant'' that some might doubt he could have been so out of the loop. ``I'll swear on a stack of Bibles.''
Diaz declined to say whether the public should have been given warning of the raise, saying, 'that's the commissioners' call. They did what they did.'' Likewise, Diaz declined to offer an opinion on whether the raise was sound policy, saying he has ''never really focused'' on how much he's being paid.
Miami residents have long been skittish about awarding raises to their elected officials. Six times in a row, voters rejected higher salaries for city commissioners. Two years ago, they finally deemed commissioners worthy of an increase from $5,000 to $58,200 annually.
But the mayor doesn't need voter approval for a raise. The commission took control over the mayor's compensation in a 1997 charter change.
Neighborhood activist Horacio Aguirre, contacted by The Herald on Thursday night, was livid, calling the tactics used ``outrageous.''
''Why didn't they just do it normally, advertise it, let people comment?'' Aguirre said. ``Do you really think this just came up spontaneously this morning? . . . They just feel they own the town and can do things the way they want to.''
''I don't respond to anything he says,'' Diaz said when told of Aguirre's comment. ``I don't know what positive contributions he's making to the city.''
The Herald conducted a spot check of similar-sized cities to see if the city's raise resolution is correct when it states that Diaz will simply be brought up to par with his mayoral peers. This largely held true, with Diaz's $150,000 larger than Orlando's $144,351 but lower than Jacksonville's $153,561.
The resolution also states that had Diaz joined the city as a general union employee in 1997 -- when the previous $97,000 mayoral salary began -- union contract-mandated increases would have swelled his pay to about $150,000 now. However, Diaz is not a union employee and he first became mayor in 2001, not 1997.
Ironically, Diaz has often criticized the same union contracts used to justify his raise. The mayor has repeatedly said the contracts contain pensions so large they jeopardize Miami's fiscal health, and his administration has worked to downsize them.
''It's almost pathetic,'' said Charlie Cox, head of the Miami General Employees Association. ``How can they complain that the employees are making the city broke and then compare what he got by using our contract?''
Diaz declined to address the wording of the resolution, saying he didn't write it and in fact hadn't even read the entire document at that point.
Elected four years ago to a City Hall that had previously been wracked by absentee ballot fraud, infighting and near-bankruptcy, Diaz as mayor has brought an air of stability to city government. The mayor has won the support of most city commissioners, and because of this has been able to achieve his goals mostly through the art of persuasion -- never once employing his veto power.
Under Diaz's guidance, Miami has also experienced an unprecedented building boom, one that has benefited the city's finances but also inspired criticism. Some fear it will overwhelm singlefamily neighborhoods and displace the poor.
Herald researcher Monika Leal contributed to this article.