Miami Commissioner Proposes Rule That Could Conveniently Give Him Early Pension

Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon
Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon Aaron Davidson / Getty Images
Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who represents portions of Overtown, Wynwood, Little Haiti, and other areas of central Miami, will likely resign from his seat early to run for a Miami-Dade County Commission seat in 2020. His current city term ends in 2021, and he's barred from running again due to term limits.

So just before he resigns from office to run, he has conveniently sponsored an ordinance that would let him buy into a city pension program early.

Hardemon proposed an ordinance at the city's June 27 commission meeting that creates three new tiers of city pensions for elected officials. One tier lets elected officials vest into the pension program after seven years if they were elected between October 2009 and October 2018. Another tier also allows anyone elected after October 1, 2018, to vest after seven years.

But a third tier, convenient for Hardemon, would let commissioners "first elected to office on or after October 22, 2009, who are in office on October 1, 2018, and who serve as an elected officer for a period of six (6) or more years on and after October 1, 2018," buy into the pension plan after six years rather than seven. (In other words: the rule applies to current city commissioners elected after the old pension program ended in 2009.) Unlike the other two tiers, current commissioners would have to buy into the plan. But that third tier — in what must be a sheer coincidence — would allow Hardemon to buy into the pension plan even if he resigns early to run for county commission.

Hardemon, who was first elected in 2013 and reelected in 2017, dodged a question from New Times asking if he would apply for a pension early before leaving office.

"I am unwavering in my support of public servants earning just compensation for the work that they provide on the behalf of the residents of the City of Miami," Hardemon emailed New Times last night. "Therefore, I found it necessary to restore the benefits of police, fire, general employee, elected officials, and city attorneys to ensure that we continue to attract and maintain qualified talent in the City of Miami. Additionally, I would have served seven years by the time I would become a county commissioner if the benefit were available to me."

But under Florida law, elected officials must resign from office if they decide to run for a different local, state, or federal position. This past May, New Times columnist Luther Campbell warned that the city would likely have to appoint an interim commissioner once Hardemon officially declared his bid for current county Commissioner Audrey Edmonson's seat in 2020. Hardemon would not complete his sixth year in office until November 2019.

Earlier today, the Miami Herald noted in a story about the proposed pension plan that Hardemon "would stand to benefit from the change soon. He would be able to buy into the pension program in November, guaranteeing a pension worth at least 50 percent of his wages starting when he turns 60 in 2044. He could secure the pension before his expected resignation to run for County Commission next year."

Commissioners already make $58,000 per year. Elected officials previously lost their pension program during a Great Recession budget crunch; under Hardemon's proposal, taxpayers would fund elected officials' pensions. Other city employees, including cops and firefighters, must contribute to their own pension plans. The pension would award former elected officials a minimum of $50,000 per year annually once they reached the age of 55. Serving more than seven years would also give the commissioners an extra 5 percent bump in annual pension payments.

Hardemon did not immediately respond to follow-up questions from New Times asking if he would elect to take a pension after just six years in office. But according to video from the June 27 city commission meeting, the ordinance passed through its first reading with zero public debate whatsoever. That day, city officials breezed through a series of controversial items — including approving the much-criticized Magic City Innovation District development in Hardemon's district — while most reporters were busy covering the 2020 Democratic presidential debates occurring in nearby downtown Miami.

Hardemon and his politically connected relatives have repeatedly faced accusations of ethical lapses in the past. Earlier this year, a local accountant sued the City of Miami and alleged Hardemon's lobbyist uncle and aunt, Billy and Barbara Hardemon, had effectively asked for a $10,000 bribe to "lobby" their nephew on a project in his district. Keon Hardemon called the allegations "completely false."

(After this story was initially published, Hardemon emailed New Times to reiterate that he says the allegations about his aunt and uncle are false. He noted that a county judge struck those allegations from the lawsuit June 14 because they were immaterial to the claims in the case. The judge made no determination as to whether the allegation was true or false, however. Hardemon also did not respond to New Times' follow-up questions about his pension plan.)

The pension ordinance passed through an initial vote 3-1 last month. (Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, who also could buy into the plan early, was absent; Commissioner Manolo Reyes cast the only dissenting vote.) But the measure must pass through the city commission a second time to take effect. That final vote will likely occur later this month.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.