The investigation and research into the April 13, 2005 vote by the City Commission, which resulted in an approximate increase of $22,000 in City Commissioner compensation, continues to reveal new details and raise troubling questions.
Tallahassee Reports has learned that the elected City Commissioners are the only city employees who receive employer paid deferred compensation. The benefit afforded other appointed officials is consistent with the traditional understanding of deferred compensation. Depending on their age, the appointed officials are allowed to reap the tax benefits of deferring up to $21,999 of their own salary.
Bait and Switch
The fact that the City pays approximately $22,000 into the City Commissioners deferred compensation account is completely inconsistent with the language in the agenda item presented to the City Commissioners on April 13, 2005. The language is listed below:
Item 17: Voted 4-1 (Commissioner Mustian opposed) to approve pay adjustments necessary to bring the salaries of the City Manager, City Attorney, and City Treasurer-Clerk in line with the market, effective September 18, 2004 (Option 1), and to approve extension of the deferred compensation benefit currently provided to the City Manager and City Attorney to all members of the appointed/elected officials group, consistent with the City’s practice of providing a common set of benefits to all members of a compensation category, effective September 18, 2004 (Option 2) (as recommended by Human Resources).
Nowhere in the above language is it written that the elected City Commissioners will receive employer paid deferred compensation. In fact, it clearly states that the benefit will be what is currently provided to the City Manager and City Attorney – which is an employee paid benefit program.
City Charter Violation
Further research has raised the real possibility that the City Commissioners violated the City Charter by voting for an increase in their compensation. The City Charter states the following:
Each member of the city commission, except for the mayor, of the City of Tallahassee shall be paid an annual salary equal to one-half (1/2) of the annual salary set by state law for members of the Board of County Commissioners of Leon County, Florida.The Mayor shall be paid an annual salary which shall be the same as that set by state law for the Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners of Leon County, Florida.
Commissioner Mustian raised the point that the deferred compensation plan should be handled through a Charter amendment. However, the City Attorney, Jim English, told the Commissioners the Charter only restricted salary, not retirement benefits. The final vote was 4-1, with Mustian voting against.
The violation of the City Charter would seem to hinge on the difference between “employer paid deferred compensation” and the term used for appointed officials “deferred compensation.”
It would appear that the language clearly states that the elected Commissioners voted themselves an increase in employer paid compensation, contradicting the language in the Charter. In fact, the vote on the additional compensation was a benefit that no other city employee receives.
Tallahassee Reports requested benefit information for the elected officials and completed an analysis which reveals the financial impact of the change in policy resulting from the implementation of Item 17.
For the period from 2003 to 2009, the cumulative benefits afforded the elected City Commissioners changed from the annual amount of $26,000 in 2003 to $126,000 in 2009. This an increase of approximately 384%.
Due to the vote on Item 17, during the period from 2004-2009, the citizens of Tallahassee have paid approximately $500,000-$600,000 more in benefits to the elected City Commissioners.