Many people who packed the Pembroke Pines City Commission chambers for a budget hearing last night were angry at political leaders they believed had failed them. Despite laying off 84 employees and outsourcing major city services, the city still faces a $27 million budget shortfall, and commissioners are considering raising property taxes to fill it.
The proposed hike, coming at a time when home values have plummeted, was not exactly welcome.
But as residents stepped to the podium to plead for lower taxes, one audience member directed his wrath at a different target: City Manager Charles Dodge. It's Dodge's job to prevent such financial catastrophes, Jay Schwartz reasoned, and he's handled the latest one terribly.
"The city manager has failed to meet the expectations of the residents and employees," said Schwartz, who has lived in the city for 20 years. "I strongly encourage you to renegotiate the contract with the city manager."
The crowd erupted in cheers.
Schwartz is not an entirely unbiased source. He's a former city commission candidate who was defeated by Jack McCluskey in last year's race for the District 2 seat. But in targeting Dodge, he has a valid point.
Dodge is a private contractor whose company, Charles F. Dodge LLC, earns $755,000 a year from the city. That sum is divided between Dodge and his deputy, Martin Gayeski. Both men also receive free health insurance from the city, plus office space and staff at City Hall.
For that kind of money, paid to the manager of what was once among the nation's fastest growing cities, you'd hope for a budget season that didn't involve massive layoffs, outsourcing of basic services such as building inspections and adult day-care, and a looming fight over cuts to employee pensions.
Schwartz wondered what kind of sacrifice Dodge was making during this season of urgent belt-tightening. Mayor Frank Ortis jumped to Dodge's defense, noting that the city manager was proposing a $119,500 cut to his office's $466,300 budget.
Ah yes, it takes serious cojones to cut back on your office staff. Also, thanks to a commission vote last year, Dodge is forced to forgo cost-of-living hikes to his salary until 2013.
But his $755,000 base salary appears to be untouched. And during the meeting last night, while the audience raged, Dodge spent most of the evening silent and stone-faced, neither defending himself nor offering up other sacrifices.
He could not be reached for comment today, and has not returned The Juice's repeated phone calls since the layoffs began.
As Schwartz said, "The residents are paying a lot of money for a city manager who has let us down. There's always a surprise every budget year...and it's not right."