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.
This article only supports what I have said for years. The charter needs to be changed to reflect a “full-time” position. We want to hold commissioners accountable, yet they must defer to staff and administration to handle day-to-day operations and *oversight*. We balk at a $36,000 salary, but are taken aback when only affluent individuals with other agendas choose to (can afford to) run for public office.
I agree there needs to be more review of staff work by commissioners. I agree the Commission and Mayor need to be much more “interactive” and work more directly with management, staff and employees. Maybe then they will achieve a greater understanding of what impact their budget decisions have on operations and services.
These things… this work does not come free, or cheap. There is a price tag. For better performance, there is a reasonable expectation that these leaders would / should command a greater, more comprehensive compensation package. I submit this to Mr. Fulford. If you sir, worked for more than two decades, probably putting in far greater hours than the “part-time” status the charter requirement intended, wouldn’t *you* and Mr. Stewart, Mr. Scott, and Ms Herman have a reasonable expectation of compensation greater than $36K?
We cannot have our proverbial cake and eat it too. We must pay for the things we deem important, and get what we pay for! I, for one, am not upset with Ms. Lightsey’s compensation. While I did not always agree with her decisions, I do agree she provided dedicated service to the community with distinction. Her institutional knowledge alone from one transition through another transition again, was invaluable.
I am also very thankful a multimillion dollar surplus was *saved* (dare I say *conserved*) and not refunded. How short memories are. Do you forget the failed infrastructure on Capital Circle Northeast? If reserves weren’t liquid at that time, and City residents were forced to wait on the State to appropriate funds to fix it, can you imagine the elongated mess we would have had? I, for one, remember what damage a Cat1 hurricane can do to Tallahassee. For these reasons along, I strongly encourage the “Budget Hawks” to stop being so short sighted and to take the blinders off! PLEASE tamp down the hard right conservative rhetoric in favor of more moderate, well rounded and balanced solutions?!?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say again, somehow someone needs to be elected to office who will fight to stop this and the many other wastes of money within the City government.
By the way, I do not think this action is against the women in office but, rather, office being referred to.
Take it from her now so she does not get it in the future and reduce future compensation. I do not think the charter indicates that this cannot be done, right?
Comments on “Hope’s” comments:
No matter how you slice it that money was taken illegally and the fact that you feel it is justified somehow because she worked hard wont fly. When she ran for office….every time….she knew what the pay grade was.
In regard to Blairstone Extension there are many, many people in Tallahassee who would disagree with you as to the planning and end product of that road. If you would like the backstory on that EXPENSIVE boondoggle call me.
Think you meant CRA, not CDA and you’re right. A lot of light needs to be shone on the history of that mess and even more on the current incarnation of the new economic development organization.
TR has called the citizens’ attention to the other issues you mention as needing scrutiny. It’s up to the citizens to act on that information.
Two things appear very plain. One, there is a lot of unethical and illegal action being taken by the commission and entrenched staff and, two the majority of Tallahasseans are ok with that.
No, Bob I meant the CDA – the public safety entity – that was so mismanaged it endangered and cost the lives of citizens, yet many said and did nothing. Oh yes, lets pick on the women officials and overlook the good ole boys’ debauchery. The Blairstone Extension was expensive, money well spent, and worth every penny. In fact, I believe it is one of the best projects in the history of Tallahassee! Maybe we should consider renaming the Blairstone Extension “Lightsey Way” to honor the person who worked so hard on this project.
I do not believe that any bad intent was intended when the deferred compensation program was implemented. The commissioners made a modest salary and the deferred compensation was intended to compensate quite frankly for a lot of hard work they did that they were not compensated for. Especially, the work by Debbie Lightsey who was instrumental in the well planned and end product of the Blairstone Extension. She has earned and deserves every penny. If as much energy had been spent on concerns over the mismanagement of the CDA, officials not living in their district, and the usual suspects junkets and sweetheart deals this community would be a lot safer. Ignoring bigger more blatant problems should be the bigger story here.
We had, at least, the last two elections to end the corruption in the City of Tallahassee…and the voters (a majority of those who actually did vote anyway) allowed the status quo to continue. We only have “ourselves” to blame.
“City staff told TR that the decision to give the benefit to Ms. Lightsey was probably done in private.”
So much for the Sunshine Law. What a joke.
Lightsey did so much damage to this City, it is fitting that we continue to pay for it in more ways than one.
At what point does the back door deals become illegal or rather when is something going to be done to stop it? I can not believe that there are not laws being broken by this group of commissioners and the mayor. When you are able to keep pushing the envelope on issues and are not pulled back in line or rather kept in line – you eventually go over the edge to complete corruption. I strongly feel that is what has happened in Tallahassee at the taxpayers expense.
There are other situations like this in a few other communities which the Florida Supreme Court looked into. Is it wrong? Yes, it concluded. The problem? There is no punishment prescribed in the charter for such brazen violations. The Charter needs to be amended to add punishment to such actions. how much more unethical conduct does this community need to see before it elects a completely new board of Commissioners which will replace most all of the senior staff?
There was a public outcry when this trick (deferred compensation) was found out, determined to be illegal and discontinued.
Most of the time Lightsey was on the commission she grumbled about the difference between BOCC and COT compensation and my guess now….and then….was that she and Jim English cobbled together this scheme.
I’ve asked staff….casually….several times if she got the money and none knew (or would say). Good, if disturbing, to know she did.
Bet there’s no way to get it back.