Economic Development Starts at the Top

I asked an astute commissioner about the miniscule pay raise that he and other board members gave their future selves this week: a teeny, tiny raise; a follower, not a leader, type of raise. It was an increase based on the salaries of adjacent communities and it was nowhere near a living wage. Just how low was this increase?

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So low, you’d get better-paid at McDonald’s, part-time. So low, you never hear the kids around here saying, “I wanna be a commissioner when I grow up.” I could go on but in short, starting in 2020, it’ll be $6,000 a year for the mayor and half of that amount for each of the rest of `em.[i]

Granted, there was a time when such a low stipend was appropriate. Davenport, Florida, was a town of only a few thousand residents until the past few years when the entire region exploded with new housing. The area is now the “affordable housing” mecca of Orlando.

More residents means more work that needs to get done, and the more work that needs to get done the more responsibilities knock, knock, knock on our commissioners’ doors. Is their pay really commensurate with the jobs’ responsibilities today?

A simple “no” is the answer. Not anymore.

The astute commissioner claimed “now is not the time.” To wit, I questioned, “When, then? When you have no one left to run for office?”

The commissioner retorted, “Working for the people of Davenport is a labor of love.” Good one, Mr. Commish! And, may I interject the words of the venerable Tina Turner, “What’s love got to do with it?”

We all know that there’s a lot more to that love thing than just labor. Power immediately comes to mind. So do perks, prestige, and parties. The four P’s. Pay, however, does not. Maybe the four P’s is the reason why pay hasn’t gone up significantly with the increase in workload. Another reason could be that our board is made up of __________. <- Insert word here.

The last time commissioners did this chump-change raise was in 2017, after what The Ledger called an “apologetic” debate.[ii] Therein is the crux of the problem.

Pay is an important issue. Commissioners would be wise to place considerably more thought into the value of raising those salaries more than just a few centavos. Rather than basing this decision on what other municipalities are doing around us, they should consider paying their future selves a living wage.

Why? And why now?

Gone are the days of attending monthly meetings only to hide away until next month. While some commissioners do little beyond meetings, the majority clearly do more, much more. Is the pay really commensurate anymore with the jobs’ responsibilities today?

Again, no.

The mayor and commissioners’ jobs have rapidly progressed from volunteer types of positions to the type of hours that equate to a part-time job. The workload has increased, even doubled in just a few years.

For example, not long ago, there use to be only one meeting a month. Now there’re two plus: workshops, planning and budget meetings and meeting packages that are only getting bigger; committees; retreats; annual reports; government days; Saturday chats; reading, writing, and emails; follow-up’s; and public events that easily amount to 20 hours a week. With the increase in population and the annexations, which are happening at almost every meeting now, there is only one way for Davenport to move forward, maybe not this year but in the not too distant future.

What I’m saying is that the more residents that live within Davenport city limits the more commissioners can expect their workloads to increase. The more events commissioners can expect to have to attend. The more holidays that will be spent being a community leader and the more evenings and weekends that will be taken by public obligations.

But this dramatic workload increase – without the appropriate compensation – also means less opportunity for folks who’d like to serve the board. Specifically because of the issue of pay, a seat on the board is like facing a closed, locked door to

Every election year, I hear board members complain, “Why don’t people running for office?” yet the pay issue, staring us all us in the face, lumbers around like an elephant, not getting noticed. No one raises the issue; no one dares speak up. Crickets.

All this does absolutely nothing to encourage folks to run. It’s disincentivizing. It’s also non-inclusive.

At the current salary and with campaigns costing more than ever, only the well-to-do are able to run. Those who can’t possibly compete for these jobs include Davenport’s single parents, many young professionals, those on limited income, and the economically disadvantaged. All of these groups are locked out of running for office due to the salary issue alone.

Commissioners recently despairingly recognized that Davenport is a “bedroom community.” The half-filled side of this glass is that Davenport is a bedroom community to three regions: Orlando, Lakeland, and, to a lesser extent, Tampa.

Lucky us! Rather than complain about it, maybe it’s time for commissioners to decide to make our area a very good bedroom community … starting from the top.

Back in 2016 in economically vibrant Lakeland, commissioners increased the salaries of their own full-time jobs to living wages with no negative repercussions. Back then, it was $34,809 for the mayor and $29,733 for the commishes. Part-time, those numbers translate to $17,405 and $14,867. Prorated over time, those numbers are doable for Davenport.

With the board talking about economic development lately while a perfectly good opportunity stares them flat-handed in the face, wouldn’t you agree that Davenport commissioners really need to place more thought into their own pay?

No apologies. No more crickets.

Dear Board of Commissioners:

Economic development starts at the top. Wouldn’t it be nice to be credited with creating five well-paying jobs out of the measly internship-like, labors of love that is your “salary” today?

Give it some thought.


[i] One mayor and four commissioners serve on the board.

[ii] The Ledger, 7/24/2017.

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