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Posted on March 6, 2016
Six years after the City Commission voted to end deferred compensation – the practice of augmenting Commissioner salaries with $20,000 – one former City Commissioner continues to receive financial benefits every month due to the program, even though she retired after the program was voted down.
This is how.
The City of Tallahassee’s Charter says that City Commissioners will make 1/2 of what Leon County Commissioners make, which is approximately $36,000 a year.
However, paperwork obtained by Tallahassee Reports show that former City Commissioner Debbie Lightsey’s monthly retirement benefit was calculated using an average annual salary of approximately $56,000.
When TR inquired, the City staff said that the City Commission approved the approximate $20,000 pension adjustment for those elected officials that retired before the deferred compensation was overturned.
The City staff said the only two City Commissioners that qualified for this benefit were Allan Katz and Debbie Lightsey.
However, unlike Mr. Katz who retired before the vote to end deferred compensation, TR discovered that Ms. Lightsey’s retirement listed on her paperwork is December 1, 2010. See red arrow below.
The retirement date is approximately 10 months after the City Commission voted to end the deferred compensation on January 27, 2010.
Click on image to enlarge.
But City staff told TR that despite the retirement date, Ms. Lightsey was allowed to keep the increased pension benefit.
When asked where in the public record can this directive be found, City staff referred us to the discussion that took place during the vote to kill the deferred compensation.
We tracked down the minutes of the meeting as recorded by the City Clerk. They are listed below.
Item 9 – Was a discussion on the Elected Officials Retirement Benefit. (Brought forward by the Legal
Department) Voted 5-0 to cease deferred compensation contribution for elected officials effective
immediately and also directed staff to look into the legality and circumstances in the computing the
deferred comp as part of the pension obligation which is paid out to the City Commissioners.
Commissioner Lightsey did not return after the break due to illness.
The minutes only show that the elected officials directed staff to look into the legality of pension benefits. Our search revealed no local news reporting or a public vote on increasing the pension benefits after deferred compensation was overturned.
City staff told TR that the decision to give the benefit to Ms. Lightsey was probably done in private.
How much does Ms. Lightsey benefit from the pension adjustment?
With the benefit of the $20,000 pension adjustment, Ms. Lightsey is receiving approximately $1,200 more each month. Over 20 years the additional income would be approximately $280,000.
Ms. Lightsey’s monthly benefit is in addition to the approximately $100,000 she accumulated in deferred compensation while the program was in place.
These retirement benefits were all generated from a part-time City Commissioner position.