City Manager Rick Fernandez put on the performance of his life last week. And Mayor Gillum and the City Commissioners gave him the equivalent of a “group hug.”
Over the last two weeks, Fernandez has faced criticism in the local media and on the message boards over the 5-digit raises that put some city employees at “breathtaking” levels of annual salaries. However, Fernandez faced no such criticism from the people that hired him a little more than a year ago.
But do not think for a minute this meeting was ever going to be a true question and answer session over a controversial issue. No, this theatrical production was scripted and planned in separate, private meetings between the Commissioners and Mr.Fernandez.
In his presentation, Fernandez disarmed the Commissioners by apologizing for the roll out of raises, not the substance, and then the Commissioners had their say.
The love-fest began with City Commissioner Scott Maddox, who had only days before told the Tallahassee Democrat editorial board he did not agree with the raises and would ask questions at the meeting – he failed to do so. Instead, he said Fernandez gave the raises “based on good information.”
City Commissioner Curtis Richardson, after the City Manager’s presentation, exclaimed “this is good stuff.”
In fact, not one Commissioner asked a probing question. The Commissioners accepted as fact everything the City Manager said, despite obvious inconsistencies.
For example, Fernandez admitted what TR reported last week, the City’s own pay study did not support the $175,000 salary for three assistant City Managers. Despite the numbers, Fernandez told the Commissioners that he gave out the high annual salaries to maintain “organizational equity.”
And the Commissioners offered no resistance.
City Commissioner Ziffer declined any inquiry and stated, “some of our folks were not quite at the level they should have been.”
Commissioner Nancy Miller, who has family on the City’s payroll, provided an incoherent comment that generated laughter among those who understood the insider reference.
Mayor Andrew Gillum said “I support you 1000%!”
In addition to the organizational equity argument, Fernandez talked about the 10 management positions that were “eliminated” and saved $900,000 as support for his decision.
However, earlier reports indicate only four positions were eliminated. Were some of those positions just shifted to other city government jobs? The question was never asked.
Ultimately, this kind of performance – no questions, no concerns – highlights the fact that the City elected officials do not represent the interests of ordinary citizens and have no desire to question the bureaucracy, known as “City staff.”
TR will spend the coming months investigating why City Commissioners so often side with “City staff.”