Letters to the Editor

From the issue of August 24, 2000

That's Rich
Wanna know how county commissioners earn their keep? Don't bother checking financial disclosure forms.
By Jacob Bernstein and Robbie Guerra

Making the Case for Paying Politicians
Don't worry, Rig's Rules will keep it clean:
Jacob Bernstein and Robbie Guerra's article “That's Rich” (August 10), detailing the increase in net worth of our Miami-Dade County commissioners while in office, is reason enough to consider carefully giving them a real salary. A $6000 salary for a part-time job, which is really a full-time job managing a budget of more than four billion dollars (greater than some states), is kind of absurd. Most of our commissioners, however, are not taking to the streets with tin cups. Some of them depend on a spouse's money; some have legit jobs; some have no jobs; some we wonder about.

Several weeks ago the salary topic, which I believe will be before the public soon, was explored on Michael Putney's Sunday show This Week in South Florida. Left out of that discussion was the $6000 expense account and the extra $6000 in public money the commissioners handed themselves through the back door. The public was not aware of it until after they did it. Somehow or other, while the commissioners see a $6000 salary, like the boy in The Emperor's New Clothes, I see an $18,000 salary.

Let's add a few things to that $18,000 salary. Consider a $10,000 benefit allowance, $600 monthly in travel and expense money, or a leased car not to exceed $600 per month. (Check out local lease rates. That $600 per month is not too shabby.) The commissioners also receive an annual retirement contribution from the county of $1500. Add to all this $440,000 per year for their offices, an average of five aides who earn somewhere in the $30s and an executive assistant or chief of staff earning somewhere in the $70s. And don't forget, as this newspaper reported a couple of years ago, the incredible cell-phone benefits allowing commissioners to call friends and family all over the world -- for advice, of course, on public issues.

Oops, I almost left out travel. Not all commissioners have taken advantage of the wonderful travel benefits their job provides. Some, though, have traveled the globe at public expense.

With all the aforementioned do you really think I want to pay these commissioners real money for real jobs? Actually, yes! With a few caveats, however.

If these people are going to receive a salary of from $70,000 to $90,000 per year, they must not receive money at the same time from a state or local public or private entity unless it is retirement pay. No active employment, no consulting, no creative ways to feed off the public above their commission salaries. Even today commissioners cannot give money from their personal accounts to any agency that employs them. But under Rig's Rules such employment would not be possible.

What will a prospective commissioner do upon election if he or she has investments that could profit from a commission decision? Can you say blind trust? What would a local schoolteacher or administrator do upon election to the commission? Can you say leave of absence? Law firms no longer will pay salaries to partners gone AWOL on the county commission.

Miami-Dade County commissioners don't have it as bad as some would like us to believe. As of now it's not the best-paying job around, but it does pay. Considering the benefits -- the travel, the interesting folks they meet -- it's really a fun way to make a living. I certainly hope the Miami-Dade County electorate won't make it more fun by giving big bucks without changing the status quo. I can just imagine a future New Times piece: “Net Worth Triples While in Office: Previous Investments not Taken into Consideration.”

Recently appointed to a county committee, I had to submit a financial disclosure form. It is a minor committee with a minor task. But Miami-Dade County commissioners manage major money: public money, mine, yours, and a little of theirs. There are incredible temptations. In the not-so-distant past, unethical builders, developers, lobbyists said, “Here is the apple; take a bite.” Some commissioners yielded to temptation. They didn't gain knowledge; they gained fatter bank accounts. Their job is really all about money, so much of it that their financial disclosure forms should be verified and it should be a misdemeanor to give false information. But as you reported, today's disclosure rules are an invitation to lie.

Alan W. Rigerman

The Elian Effect
Sandra Luckow thought the time was right for a documentary about Operation Pedro Pan. Boy was she wrong.
By Gaspar González

Pedro Pan Won't Fly
For some it wasn't a fairy tale:
Regarding Gaspar Gonzalez's article about Operation Pedro Pan (“The Elian Effect,” August 3) and the National Endowment for the Humanities' political sensibilities, as usual New Times doesn't let anything slide. I heard about the Pedro Pan children on National Public Radio news. They even ran a segment in which some women talked about their pretty horrendous experience in the homes of those who took them in. Many of these children were used as maids and not treated very nicely.

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