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Politics

House Speaker Rubio cuts back

Criticized for paying too much, he demotes his communications director, who then resigns.

By STEVE BOUSQUET and ALEX LEARY
Published January 16, 2007


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photo
[AP Photo]
In an opinion column, Rubio argued for property tax cuts: “You simply cannot provide more government than people can afford,” he wrote.

TALLAHASSEE - Criticized for paying too much in salaries, House Speaker Marco Rubio tightened his belt Monday, and one of his highest-paid staffers abruptly resigned.

Rubio demoted and cut the salary of his communications director, Jose Fuentes, by nearly $40,000 and hired a veteran replacement at less pay.

Hours later, Fuentes resigned. He cited a desire to move his family back to Miami. His last day is Jan. 31.

Rubio had come under fire for paying Fuentes more than $119,000 a year. That's more than any other communications expert in state government and is nearly as much as the pay of some state agency heads responsible for multibillion-dollar budgets.

In an opinion column in the St. Petersburg Times on Saturday, Rubio argued for property tax cuts: "You simply cannot provide more government than people can afford," he wrote.

He is paying new communications director Jill Chamberlin, a former reporter with many years in state government, $105,000. She starts today.

Rubio demoted Fuentes at a time when he was being asked to explain why some of his top aides are paid significantly more money than staffers holding similar jobs in Crist's administration.

Even after Monday's belt-tightening, Rubio still pays more than Crist for four high-level jobs: chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, budget director and appointments director.

"Everybody makes decisions based on what they think is best for their organization," Rubio said. He said his goal is to make the House a national leader in producing cutting-edge policy. To do that, he said, "we felt we had to provide our members with the most talented and experienced staff possible."

Their salaries

Crist is paying 293 staff members in the governor's office a total of $18.044-million, according to figures provided by the governor's office.

That total is about $10,000 less than the total of Jeb Bush's staff when he left the governor's office.

Crist's highest-paid staffer, chief of staff George LeMieux, is paid $147,000 a year, about $28,000 a year less than Rubio's chief of staff, Richard Corcoran.

Senate President Ken Pruitt's chief of staff, David Coburn, who has more than 30 years of state government experience, earns $171,000 a year.

Crist's budget director, Jerry McDaniel, is paid $132,000, less than either of his counterparts in the House and Senate.

Crist's appointments director, Melanie Dimuzio, is paid $70,000, while Celeste Lewis, Rubio's chief of appointments, is paid $82,000. Lewis additionally provides support to the speaker pro-tem's office.

The governor employs four deputy chiefs of staff, all of whom are paid $120,000 a year. Rubio has three. The highest-paid of the trio, Bob Ward, is paid $154,500 a year.

Crist's communications director, Vivian Myrtetus, is paid $100,000 a year, slightly less than Rubio's new communications director, Chamberlin, and slightly more than Pruitt's communications director, Kathy Mears, who also holds the post of deputy chief of staff.

She has experience

Chamberlin, 61, has held similar posts in several Democratic administrations in state government, including those of Gov. Bob Graham and House Speaker Peter Rudy Wallace. She also worked for former Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher, a Republican.

"I'm a pretty independent nonpartisan person, and I'm a registered independent," Chamberlin said. "I've been in this business a long time. It's really exciting to hear people talking so passionately and creatively."

She was a reporter for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in the 1970s before going to work for Graham. Until last month, she had been working for the state Department of Financial Services, helping with the program to oversee disbursement of $250-million the Legislature set aside to harden homes against hurricanes.

Fuentes, 32, had been reassigned to a deputy staff director in the House Republican office at a salary of about $80,000 a year, according to House officials.

But he told the Times on Monday afternoon that he was resigning to move his family he and his wife have a 6-month-old son to Miami to be with family. He intends to start a consulting company, drawing on his experience in communications and politics. "Family drives me more than anything now," he said. Fuentes said his decision was not tied to the demotion and called Rubio a "great and trusted friend."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Fast Facts:

Public pay

A comparison of similar state jobs in the office of governor, House speaker and Senate president:

Chief of staff

Governor: $147,056

House: $175,212

Senate: $170, 976

Communications director 

Governor: $100,000

House: $105,000

Senate: $94,944

Budget director 

Governor: $132,000

House: $144,216

Senate: $140,004

Appointments director

Governor: $70,000

House: $82,440

Senate: None

[Last modified January 16, 2007, 14:30:00]


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