Have the Spin Doctors Spun Out of Control?
A flyer from Commission Candidate Lambrine Macejewski arrived in mailboxes yesterday, accusing her opponent, incumbent Carolyn Cooper, of having voted for a 500 percent pay raise for herself in 2010.
There’s More to the Story.
Winter Park Commissioners have been paid the princely sum of $200 a month since 1953, when $200 a month represented a living wage. In 2009, a Citizens Committee tasked with reviewing the City Charter proposed a Charter revision, to be placed on the March 9, 2010 ballot, allowing the City Commission to establish compensation levels for service as a Winter Park City Commissioner.
Voters Approve Increase
Fifty-nine percent of Winter Park voters cast their votes in favor of the measure.
In November 2010, the Florida League of Cities provided a list of peer cities of similar size and with the same “strong City Manager, weak Commission” form of government as Winter Park. The average annual compensation for Commissioners in those cities was just under $19,000. The Commission decided on a $12,000 salary for Commissioners and $12,600 for the Mayor.
Cooper Motions Increase for Future Commissioners
In a letter to supporters, Cooper stated that she voted for the annual increase but made a motion that the increase not affect sitting Commissioners. She later moved that the increase go into effect when City employees received raises, and further that the increase be implemented gradually over three years. These motions all failed.
Pay Should Cover Cost of the Job
Cooper said her reason for supporting a pay increase for the Commission was to broaden the field of potential city leaders by offering at least enough compensation to cover the cost of doing the job.
Cooper acknowledged that the timing of the pay increase, coming when City staff salaries were frozen, was unfortunate. “That was a mistake,” she said. “I was a rookie commissioner then and today would be more thoughtful regarding timing.”
Make Public Office Accessible to Younger Residents
“But I believe (and still believe),” said Cooper, “that the raise is helpful to encourage more diversity on our commission. To do this job well takes commitment and time. We should at least cover the cost of childcare to make it easier for our younger residents to participate.”
Cooper’s intent was to pave the way for younger candidates . . . like her present opponent.
Asked if she was aware Cooper had sought to have the pay increase take effect after sitting Commissioners had left office, Lambrine Macejewski responded. Her text message, in full, is as follows.
“Carolyn Cooper is trying to run from her record by confusing the voters. The fact remains that [Cooper] voted for a 500% pay raise at the same time there was a freeze on city salaries. The Charter referendum to which she is referring passed in the March 2010 election, when Carolyn Cooper was first elected. The Charter Referendum gave the Commission the “right” to increase their salaries, and that’s what Cooper did. She voted to implement her own pay raise. It’s as simple as that.”
Several citizens, including Peter Weldon, spoke in support of the pay raise but cautioned the Commissioners about the timing. The Commissioners ended up voting on the ordinance as it was presented, and it passed on a 3-2 vote.
Repealed in 2011
In March 2011, Mayor Ken Bradley moved to repeal ordinance granting the pay increase. The ordinance was repealed on a 3-2 vote.
Winter Park City Commissioners are still paid $200 a month.
Editor’s Note: Bradley served as Winter Park Mayor from March 2009 to March 2015.
Pay raises for politicians are unpopular. And it’s the challenger’s job during the campaign to point out to the voters, the unpopular positions of the Commissioner. The critical flyer is factual, and supported with documentation, so it is fair. And it’s also fair for the Commissioner to respond to it in the manner that she has.
The reason we have elections is so that the residents will get the very best Commissioners working for them. When Commissioners realize that a game of “This is Your (Political) Life” will be played every time they seek re-election, complete with a trip down “Memory Lane” of all their unpopular votes, they are more likely to make policy that represents the residents.
In years past, some candidates have conspired to hide anything embarrassing about one another’s record from the voters in a type of “candidate collusion,” which some politicians euphemistically called “Civility.” That pretty much went out the window with the 2015 City election when both candidates for mayor chose to allow the residents to see one another’s faults and foibles, and draw their own conclusions.
Commissioners have had nearly six years to change their positions on any unpopular votes they may have erred on. And they still have another two City Commission meetings before the election to repeal any unwise decisions they may have made while in office. The voters in Winter Park don’t have much patience for candidates who don’t “get it.” It all comes back to voter expectations that a Commissioner’s job is representing the residents.
Very well stated, WP Political Guru. Transparency is essential.