Five years ago I ran for Village Council. I didn't win. I had a fabulous time, but more about that in another column. My question today is why we elect a village council and mayor, expect them to listen to every little issue we have, but we don’t compensate them. I understand it’s a part time job, but so is the barista at Starbucks and they receive a salary and benefits! I do not suggest a salary of $150, like our full time village clerk (plus pension and benefits). I suggest $15,000 for the council members and $25,000 for our Mayor. I also suggest two dedicated staff people, one for the council and one for the Mayor.
George Washington, the first US president and the general who led the war effort to gain independence from Great Britain, took no salary. However, when offered the presidency, he stated that although he “didn't need” the money he would accept a salary so that future presidents would not have to be rich to serve the nation. This begs the question: Do we only want rich people sitting on our Village Council?
I’ve spoken to some of our Island‘s “Mothers and Fathers” and 39 years ago, when the Village was formed, the council was seen as a part time, volunteer job; something done for the “good of the whole.” At the time, Key Biscayne's population was around 6,000. Today we have 13,187 residents and a little over half are registered to vote. The constituents are immigrants from a myriad of countries, snowbirds from the north, native Miamians, condo dwellers, home owners, renters, young teens and our seniors. Our mayor and council must now weigh different interests, from dog parks, cross walks, developments, traffic patterns and public safety. In other words, the volunteer job now takes up much more time away from the “salaried job” and “family.”
It is time to revisit the council salary idea. Village council has become a “job,” as has the mayor. We pay our Village manager over $200,000 a year. We hire a law firm to the tune of over $500,000 a year to advise u. And many of our village employees make over $100,000 plus benefits and pension. Our Village council and mayor, who, for the most part, spend money to run for the job, are volunteers! That is actually scary!
In our charter the council is responsible for the overall direction of the village and general welfare of Key Biscayne residents. The members of the Village Council also serve as the local planning agency that is responsible for the Comprehensive Master Plan. The Council also sits as the Zoning Appeals Board. That is an amazing amount of responsibility for any volunteer – much less a group who has control of a $36 million budget. If we pay our council, we can in good conscience hold them accountable for their actions. It’s also a lovely way of saying thank you for doing what many refuse to do but are quick to criticize!