"You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him." ~ James D. Miles
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The popular 1980s TV show Miami Vice featured Miami-Dade narcotics detectives Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs clad in various pastel outfits and chasing after the 'bad guys' in Ferraris and speed boats. More than 20 years later the more identifiable vices are alive and well in Miami , but there also exist more insidious incarnations of vice around city and county halls these days. Catching these crooks red-handed does not really require fast cars, speed boats, fancy sport jackets or intense detective work; these crimes are committed in the public view and sanctioned by law.
It's late at night on December 15th and most of the public has gone home from another tortuously boring City of Miami Commission meeting. Commissioner Johnny Winton suddenly decides to introduce a pocket item (one that is not on the publicly distributed agenda). He moves that Mayor Manny Diaz be given a 54% pay raise from his current salary of $97,000 per year to $150,000; the commission passes the motion unanimously. Asked by a Miami Herald reporter if taxpayers might be upset about not being notified of the raise, City Manager Joe Arriola scoffed, 'that's their problem.' The manager was absolutely right, but the mayor's substantial raise is not only the taxpayer's problem: it is their burden. In recent days Commissioner Winton and City Manager Arriola have apologized for the way the raise was given, but the raise remains and there will be no public hearing on the issue.
Christmas also came early for Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess when at their December 21st meeting commissioners voted to increase his salary by $54,000--which raises the total of his compensation package to an impressive $390,000. Commission Chairman Joe Martinez, who introduced the motion, pointed out that Mr. Burgess oversees a budget of $6.8 billion (up from $2.5 billion in 1994) and 30,000 employees. Perhaps in Commissioner Martinez's mind it's the size of the budget that counts, not necessarily how it's employed. Unlike Miami Mayor Diaz's raise, the manager's raise garnered one commissioner's vote in opposition. Commissioner Carlos Gimenez voted against the measure saying, 'I have a basic philosophical problem with that amount of an increase.' What Commissioner Gimenez's philosophy is exactly is anyone's guess, but apparently it has no problem with his over $100,000 annual (for life) taxpayer-funded pension from the City of Miami for his stint there as a Fire Chief and City Manager.
You don't have to be alive to collect your pension, either. On July 27th former City of Miami Commissioner, infamous swindler and convicted felon Arthur Teele walked into the lobby of The Miami Herald and shot himself in the head. Mr. Teele's conviction made it impossible for his widow to collect his meager (by political standards) $39,100 annual (for her life) pension. On December 19th the Florida 3rd District Court of Appeals heard the deceased Mr. Teele's appeal of his conviction, and if it is overturned, his widow will receive his taxpayer-funded pension. Perhaps not even death will be able stop Mr. Teele from picking his constituents' pockets.
In some cases, overturning a felony conviction is not necessary. Former Miami City Manager Cesar Odio was convicted of shaking down contractors who wished to do business with the city. Apparently malfeasance and abuse of power is no vice in Miami government; it seems rather something to be rewarded. Throughout his incarceration--and in fact for the remainder of his life--Mr. Odio will receive $76,666 annually at the expense of the taxpayers he served so poorly.
High-flying politicians and top level bureaucrats aren't the only ones taking advantage of the virtual grab bag of taxpayer-funded pensions, perks and bloated salaries. Almost everyone in local, state and federal government jobs is offered a pension that most folks in the private sector could only dream about. Many of these government 'workers' retire in their 40s or 50s and receive these generous pensions'sometimes while continuing to work at the same government entity paying their pensions (but with a different job title, of course). In fact, of the approximately $450 million City of Miami budget, nearly half goes to fund pensions for 'retired' city employees.
But Florida politicians and bureaucrats aren't just spreading the sun and fun amongst themselves; they are giving it to taxpayers too in the form of rapidly increasing property taxes, insurance rates (Florida heavily regulates the insurance industry) and utility bills (Florida's Public Service Commission granted Florida Power and Light a 19% rate increase in spite of the fact that FPL only asked for 16%). Crockett and Tubbs made catching drug dealers look fun and easy, but if they crossed these real life politicians, they would have had their Ferrari decommissioned, speedboat sunk, been fired and had their show cancelled (a lost episode that will never air).