By: Saraana Jamraj
At Monday’s workshop, Mayor Michelle Gomez, and Vice Mayor Marlon Bolton, continued their tradition of clashing during discussions.
This time, it was about how to ensure that the city of Tamarac pays employees a living wage—which they seemed to agree was necessary but disagreed about the critical details.
A living wage differs from a minimum wage. A federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and is set by the federal government. The state minimum wage is $8.46 per hour. A living wage is defined as the minimum income necessary for the working class to survive and meet their basic needs.
Currently, the City of Tamarac does not have a living wage ordinance, which would ensure city employees earn a decent income, without fear of sudden changes by a new administration, cost of living shifts or budgetary changes —and it is why Bolton says he is particularly focused on the issue.
Vice Mayor Bolton requested a discussion on the topic, and Human Resources Director Lerenzo Calhoun was tasked with presenting detailed information on the subject.
He explained that for cities in Broward County, for one adult with no children, a living wage, as calculated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is $12.96.
Currently, the city pays at least $14.49 per hour to all employees who fall under the collective bargaining agreement, which includes pay grades and salary raises. Those who don’t fall under the plan, however, can make less.
Calhoun also brought up ban the box, an ordinance Commissioner Mike Gelin introduced. This ordinance would ensure ensuring that people convicted of crimes aren’t forced to disclose that information and face discriminatory hiring. Calhoun also discussed a residential hiring preference, an idea of Vice Mayor Bolton, which is a move to hire more Tamarac residents.
After his presentation, Mayor Gomez asked Calhoun and the staff to study the three issues: living wages, ban the box, and residential hiring and come back with one policy that encompasses them all.
The commissioners appeared to be on the same page as far as wanting to implement a living wage and residential hiring preferences — as none of them objected to this, and each had suggestions about how to do so.
Commissioner Julie Fishman stressed the importance of all three issues, and commended City Manager Michael Cernech for understanding the importance of living wages, but stressed the importance of having something officially documented.
Afterward, the disagreements between Vice Mayor Bolton and Mayor Gomez began.
“$14.49 is not a lot of money, especially if you live in Tamarac, and you want to survive,” he said and argued that while they may be paying more than cities like Lauderhill, which pays its residents $10.10 at minimum, it doesn’t make it okay for a city to pay someone $14.49 per hour, especially for someone living in Woodmont or his District where they’re paying upwards of $8,000 on taxes, community development district fees, and a mortgage.
“We need to fight for our residents [and] for our employees; that is what this is all about,” said Vice Mayor Bolton, who emphasized his request for the document to come back strong and not watered down.
As discussions went on, he asked Mayor Gomez for several clarifications, and she assured him that they both agreed on this. However, he stressed that her use of the word “policy” could be interpreted that the directive to city staff would be to draft just that, “a policy or resolution,” which would not have the same strength as an ordinance.
City Attorney Sam Goren agreed, citing that an ordinance is a set of laws that would have to be followed now and in the future, but a policy or resolution are mere conversations, memorialized as a position taken by the commission.
“Believe it or not, vice mayor, we’re on the same page. I know you have trouble handling that,” said Mayor Gomez.
Vice Mayor Bolton said he wanted three separate ordinances to come back, so that they can be discussed and passed independently, fearing that combining all of them into one ordinance would inevitably stall any from getting passed.
They debated over the details, not the direction, to accomplish living wages.
He said that he has seen things get crossed out and crossed out until there’s nothing left, and feared that the same would come of a comprehensive ordinance.
“This is the mayor’s way of killing the item,” he said.
The commission was split, with Mayor Gomez and Commissioner Fishman preferring one ordinance, and Vice Mayor Bolton and Commissioner Placko preferring separate ones. Commissioner Gelin was absent for this portion of the meeting.
“In good conscience, I don’t know if this is a ploy to just kill this. We have seen things killed before, and I will not see this killed; this is too important for our residents and employees,” said Vice Mayor Bolton.
In the end, Mayor Gomez asked Calhoun and the staff to do whatever they felt was best for this commission, and give them something to review in the future.
- Selene Raj is a writer and a Florida International University graduate. She's completed her Master's in Mass Communications in 2020, and has been living in Coral Springs since 2004. She is passionate about the communities she lives and works in and loves reporting and sharing stories that are as complex and meaningful as the people who live in them.