Miami-Dade County commissioners gave preliminary approval to a budget item that would pay former commissioners $25,000 a year to serve as county ambassadors. The idea raised eyebrows inside and outside the county hall.
The county commission now has term limits, but if the budget passes as is, former county elected officials could still be paid by county taxpayers.
Critics say it is a waste of money, which only benefits the bank account of former politicians.
“It feels like a way for them to create another job for themselves to stay relevant,” said Alicia Arellano, who lost her county commission race earlier this year.
According to county budget documents, the positions would be for one year. Ambassadors could earn up to $25,000 a year for cutting ribbons, giving speeches, leading the Pledge of Allegiance, meeting dignitaries or special guests, and consulting with the president and other commissioners.
For context, commissioners earn an annual salary of $5,000, plus a car allowance, health care, and an expense account. If the program passes, commissioners will have to decide whether to hand the roles over to county employees or independent contractors. If they are county employees, the years will count toward their taxpayer-funded pension.
Former County Commissioner Juan Zapata called it “shocking” and “embarrassing.” State Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, just answered “no” online.
“The commissioner is the county’s ambassador,” Arellano said. “It’s their job.”
The article was first reported by the Miami Herald when it came around 11 p.m. Thursday when commissioners gave preliminary approval to next year’s county budget. The county budget proposal was submitted by the budget offices of the County Board of Commissioners and Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
Commissioner Raquel Regalado drew attention to this.
“I just have a lot of questions about this county ambassador thing. I’m sure it’s well intentioned, but I just don’t understand exactly what we’re doing,” Regalado said. On Friday, Regalado confirmed to NBC 6 that she would oppose the article.
The commission’s vice-chairman, Oliver Gilbert, said from the podium on Thursday that he supported it.
“We always need people who know things about the county to say good things about the county and to represent the county,” Gilbert said.
NBC 6 reached out to Gilbert to address the criticism on Friday. His office said it was unavailable for comment at this time. However, on Thursday he said the idea was a good way to use the institutional knowledge of former commissioners.
“I think that’s something that’s a pretty good use of our retirees and the people who have served this county for so long,” Gilbert said.
Levine Cava’s office told NBC that the idea did not come from her and that county commissioners were still working on the final version of the budget. That was the stance Thursday of commission chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz.
“If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. If it is, it is,” Diaz said.
The budget must be approved at the end of September. The next meeting on the matter will take place on Tuesday, September 20.