Update: Miami commissioners have deferred the vote regarding the pension program.
City of Miami commissioners since 2016 have tried to revive a pension program for elected officials after the Great Recession forced the city into a financial crunch.
Since then, commissioners have buried the pension item in hundreds of pages of financial documents, then quietly cast initial votes during marathon meetings when all attention was on the Democratic presidential debates in Miami last summer.
Almost a year has passed since Commissioner Keon Hardemon sponsored an ordinance that would allow commissioners — part-time elected officials who already make $58,000 a year — to give themselves generous pensions.
After kicking the proverbial can down the road for months, commissioners are expected to cast a second vote on the pension ordinance during their virtual meeting today at 9:00 a.m. Local blogger Al Crespo pointed out the agenda item and wrote about it earlier this week.
I urge @CityofMiami Commissioners to vote NO on SR-1!— Gary Ressler (@Gazzer) June 10, 2020
As we begin to grapple with the effects of a pandemic, coupled with #recession2020 & exacerbated by civil unrest, this is an inappropriate time to consider lifetime pensions for City Commissioners!#LeadershipMatters pic.twitter.com/Wad1dFkfYl
Hardemon has been criticized for proposing the ordinance, which would allow him to buy into a pension early before resigning from the city commission to pursue a county commission seat.
The proposed pension requirements differ based on the date commissioners were elected and the length of time they served. Any commissioner who is still in office and was first elected before October 2009, when the pension program was eliminated, is entitled to a pension, as is any commissioner first elected after October 2018.
The part of the ordinance that would seemingly benefit Hardemon states that commissioners who were elected after the pension program closed in October 2009, were in office on October 1, 2018, and served at least six years will be eligible for a pension. Hardemon, who was elected in 2013, will hit the seven-year mark when he leaves the city commission in November.
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I'd like to report a robbery: "Pay 2 Play" @KeonHardemon and his fellow commissioners in crime will vote again this week to give themselves lifetime pensions for part-time jobs that they won't contribute to and vest after just 6 years #BecauseMiami https://t.co/ERH6YJnYvI pic.twitter.com/ZZqYabGbpO— Billy Corben (@BillyCorben) June 9, 2020
If the ordinance passes, commissioners will be eligible to receive pensions to which they contribute nothing. That's in contrast to other city employees, such as police and firefighters, who are required to contribute to their pension funds. City commissioners stand to earn a minimum of $50,000 — about half their total compensation between salary and benefits — annually for the rest of their lives once they're out of office and turn 55 or 60 years old, depending on how long they spent on the dais.
The pensions would be funded by taxpayers in a city that posts some of the worst poverty and income rates in the nation. The Miami Herald previously reported that newly elected commissioners can choose a pension over another retirement savings plan, to which they would contribute.
The ordinance passed 3-1 on first reading last June. Commissioner Manolo Reyes cast the lone dissenting vote, and Commissioner Ken Russell was absent from the meeting. Commissioners Hardemon, Joe Carollo, and Willy Gort voted yes. Mayor Francis Suarez doesn't get a vote, but he has the final say on any ordinances approved by the commission. Suarez would be eligible to receive a pension, the Miami Herald reports, but he opposed them for commissioners when he was one.