Sarasota city commissioners should make $40,000 a year, and mayor elected by voters should get $45,000 a year, Charter Review Committee members decide

Salaries would be increased by 2% a year

The Charter Review Committee members sit in session on Dec. 13, with (from left, foreground) City Manager Marlon Brown, Deputy City Auditor and Clerk Lori Rivers and City Attorney Robert Fournier present. Committee member Jeff Jackson is at far right in the foreground. News Leader image

How much money should a Sarasota city commissioner make?

And should a mayor elected by the voters — not the other commissioners — receive a higher salary?

Those were two questions that the City of Sarasota’s Charter Review Committee members tackled during their Dec. 13 meeting.

Following about 30 minutes of discussion, all but one of the committee members supported a motion calling for the city commissioners to receive $40,000 a year, with a 2% annual increase. Then, on a second motion, the vote was 9-1 for the mayor to receive $45,000 a year, with the same 2% annual bump in pay.

The committee members will make their recommendations on changes to the Charter in a report to the City Commission in March 2022. Then the commissioners will decide on issues to place on the November 2022 ballot, so voters can make the final decisions about amendments to the Charter.

The City Commission appoints a Charter Review Committee every 10 years to consider potential updates to the document that serves as the guide to city operations.

As Deputy City Auditor and Clerk Lori Rivers reminded the committee members on Dec. 13, they had deferred the discussion on compensation until they had settled on the type of mayor they wanted to see serving the city. (See the related article in this issue.)

Based on a formula provided by the Florida Statutes, a current Sarasota city commissioner receives $28,149.58 per year, as shown in a document that was among materials in the backup agenda material for the Dec. 13 session.

That does not include benefits, Rivers advised the committee members.

She also noted that the city Charter provides a multiplier for determining the City of Sarasota salary.

Section 3 of the Charter says, “All members of the city commission shall receive, for their services, reasonable annual compensation. Annual compensation shall be the salary authorized by Florida Statutes, Chapter 145.031, for the population group III multiplied by 66.7%.”

This is Chapter 145.031 of the Florida Statutes. Image courtesy State of Florida

In response to a question from committee member Cathy Antunes, City Attorney Robert Fournier pointed out that the members could adjust that multiplier, if they wished.

Moreover, Fournier noted, the salary does not have to be tied to that section of Florida law.

Deputy Auditor and Clerk Rivers stressed that the state formula is tied to the city’s population, so the salary figure changes as the population changes.

Antunes said she was surprised at how stable the city population has been “over the past couple of decades.” She lives in a downtown condominium, she continued. “We’re experiencing growth,” she added, but the condominiums around hers are “always half dark” at night.

Noting that she wanted to aim for a salary of at least $40,000, Antunes made a motion to increase the multiplier from 66.7% to 110%.

Committee member Dan Clermont then asked whether he and his colleagues could pick a number — perhaps $40,000 — and call for “a 2% kicker every year, or something like that? Because, otherwise, in 10 years, 40 grand isn’t what it once was.”

“There’s always the black swan,” Antunes replied. “We could go down in population.”

Following further debate about the multiplier, Antunes finally said, “At 100%, according to the percentages, it would change the salary from $28,149 to $42,013, and that is my intention.”

Committee member Peter Fanning seconded her motion for the 100% multiplier, for discussion purposes.

This is a sampling of municipal salaries, as shown in a document provided to the committee members for their Dec. 13 meeting. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

“It’s a ridiculous number,” Antunes said of the current commissioners’ salary. “I mean, what they’re getting paid is too low, in my estimation.”

Fanning concurred. However, he told his colleagues, “I hate flat-rate salaries with no criteria attached to them. … Just to flat out say every commissioner is equal at $42,000, I think that’s part of the problem.”

Still, he continued, “I see how much effort goes into what they’re doing. I see the big books.” (He was referring to the agenda materials that the board members receive prior to their meetings.) He also said he expects that “some commissioners do [understand the documents], and some commissioners don’t, and they’re all getting paid the same. It’s kind of — I hate to say the word — ‘socialist proposition.’”

In advocating for higher pay for the commissioners, Clermont pointed out, “If nothing else, what does it say about your community as far as what you are paying the leaders of your city?”

Still, he acknowledged, the committee members needed to settle on a figure that “has to be somewhat realistic. Twenty-eight thousand dollars is not drawing a lot of people to the job.”

Some commissioners are “in a position where they don’t really need to be paid,” Clermont pointed out, “or they’re in a position where they’re really stressing,” trying to handle their city work and their regular jobs and perhaps raising families, as well.

The multiplier effect

Clermont also voiced concern that if the committee members agreed to recommend a new multiplier to the City Commission, “Nobody’s going to understand what that means,” if the commissioners agree to put that question to the voters in a November 2022 referendum.

Antunes voiced the view that the referendum language could be written clearly enough so citizens would understand what was before them.

City Attorney Robert Fournier (left) addresses the committee as Deputy City Auditor and Clerk Lori Rivers and City Manager Marlon Brown listen. News Leader image

One other issue, City Manager Marlon Brown noted of a multiplier, is that it is tied to the city population. The 2020 Census showed the number of city residents went down, he added. The city has appealed that to the U.S. Census Bureau, Brown said.

When Antunes asked whether anyone knew the rationale for the link to the population, City Attorney Fournier told her he thinks it resulted from state leaders’ desire “to avoid being arbitrary,” even though the statute that the City Charter cites applies to counties, not municipalities.

Then Antunes said she believes the city commissioners “should earn something better” than their current pay.

Clermont told his colleagues he could not support the motion because of the multiplier effect.

Committee member Crystal Bailey agreed with Clermont, adding that she thinks “the City of Sarasota is relatively built out,” so the board members’ salaries would remain flat “for a long time.”

Fanning said he would support the motion. “I would like to see younger people and people with families that don’t have to have two jobs” campaign for City Commission. In fact, Fanning continued, he believes one reason a number of attorneys end up on the City Commission. “They seem to be able to handle [both jobs] easily …”

“You can never have too many lawyers,” Vice Chair Eileen Normile, an attorney and former prosecutor, said with a laugh, drawing laughter from her colleagues, too.

Then Normile pointed out, “Half the commission is younger people right now, and every single one of them works except for those who don’t have jobs and aren’t looking for them or haven’t kept them.”

(City Commission members’ financial forms, which The Sarasota News Leader requested from the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections, show that all of the current commissioners have income from outside sources except Hagen Brody. His “Form 1” filing lists only his city salary.)

This is the primary portion of the ‘Form 1’ document that City Commissioner Hagen Brody filed for 2020. Image courtesy Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office

Antunes ended up withdrawing her motion, and then Clermont made a motion calling for the City Commission salaries to be set at $40,000 a year with a 2% annual increase.

Committee member Wayne Reuben seconded the motion.

Only Antunes voted against it.

What about the mayor?

Afterward, Clermont suggested the committee members consider a higher salary for the mayor, because that person “would be taking on continual visibility,” as he put it — appearing at grand openings and in parades, for examples. “They will have a little more … interruption into their daily schedule,” Clermont pointed out.

He made a motion for the mayor’s salary to be $52,000 a year, but that died for lack of a second.

Fanning said he agreed with the fact that the mayor should receive higher pay, but perhaps $12,000 extra was too much.

“I think 30% is a little high,” committee member Crystal Bailey added, referring to the extra percentage of salary, compared to what the commissioners would get. Nonetheless, she said she was in favor of a higher figure.

Dan Clermont. News Leader image

“While you have no greater power,” Clermont said of the mayor’s position, as voted on by the committee, “you do have more visibility and implied responsibility, possibly.” The public will not necessarily see the position as a “weak mayor,” he added.

Committee member Reuben ended up making a motion calling for the pay to be $45,000 a year, with a 2% annual increase.

Fanning seconded the motion.

The members voted 9-1 in favor of that. Only Chair Mason opposed it. Her “No” vote, she explained, was in keeping with her decision not to support having a mayor elected by the voters.

Antunes then told her colleagues that she opposed the motion on the city commissioners’ salary because she had not been able to run the numbers before that vote to find out how much they would make after 10 years. It turned out that the figure would be $48,000, she said. For the mayor, she added, the pay would reach $55,000 at the 10-year mark.