By: Anne Geggis
Need to talk to your City Commission representative? An assistant might soon be the one returning your call.
The part-time job of serving on Tamarac’s City Commission is proving too taxing for its commissioners to handle individually, so the commission may soon be hiring personal assistants for each commissioner, according to a discussion at a February workshop.
Current rules in Tamarac limit “legislative aides” to volunteers who serve for a year, in addition to one full-time administrator who supports the City Commission functions. But that support is proving woefully inadequate, commissioners said.
“I run a local church — we are setting up satellites in four different states — I have a family and I go to school,” said Commissioner Marlon Bolton. He recalled when he couldn’t get notice of a traffic calming meeting out to those affected quickly enough. “It’s almost inhuman to do what I do at the same time. I want to make sure the residents get the better end of the stick.”
The idea has been kicking around for years, first emerging in strategic planning sessions, according Elise Boston, city spokeswoman. Now it appears to have the votes to move forward.
Mayor Michelle Gomez stood alone on the commission in outright opposition to adding paid commission assistants to the city payroll. She had a student serve on a volunteer basis for academic credit and that worked out well, said Gomez, who also works as a real estate and estate planning attorney.
“There are a lot of great things we want to do,” she said, cautioning that the cost of these positions could detract from worthy projects.
A survey of local cities show that the number of commission assistants varies greatly, independently of city size. Coral Springs, with a population of 133,000, for example, has one person paid to assist its commission, compared to five paid positions in Miramar, population 140,328, according to a report from the Tamarac city staff. No such assistants help out the commissions in larger Pompano Beach or smaller Margate.
Commissioner Mike Gelin pointed to North Miami, the same size as Tamarac, where seven full-time workers support the commission. Plus, he said, the commissioners are the most important people in the City Commission chambers, having been elected.
“Those of us who have the need … we should be allowed to have a full-time position to do the kind of work that our citizens need and demand,” he said. “… I would like to hire one legislative aide and bring along two or three interns.”
Serving on the commission is a part-time job, paying each commissioner $34,866 a year; the mayor makes $40,031 a year. It also comes with various perks – including a generous car allowance and health insurance benefits.
Instead of hiring another full-time person to assist all of them, most of the commissioners voiced support for having at least a part-time person to assist them personally.
“We need more help — we are all extremely busy,” said Vice Mayor Debra Placko.
Some of the commissioners want their personal staffer to report to them, but the mayor said that is not how it works in Tamarac, where the city manager supervises all city employees directly.
City Manager Michael Cernech said the staff would craft a proposal to add these positions for consideration at a future City Commission meeting. A vote has not been scheduled.
Anne Geggis has been a newspaper reporter for 30 years, most recently at the Sun Sentinel. She graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., with a double major in journalism and sociology.