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Seminole quiet so far on plan for pay raise

By ALICIA CALDWELL

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 28, 2001


Seminole, it would seem, is the land of happy.

At least that's how officials in this sprawling suburban community explain the lack of reaction to a recent public meeting that turned into a lovefest and ended with a proposal that would raise the city manager's pay by 6 percent and add a bunch of perks.

That would put his annual pay at $93,258. Keep in mind this is a city of roughly 16,000, including recent annexations.

Typically, there's nothing quite like the topic of pay raises for public officials to whip the electorate into a froth.

In the past few weeks, constituents thrashed St. Petersburg City Council members who wanted to boost their own pay and perks. And the new Florida Board of Education backed off a proposal that could have put the paycheck of the new secretary of education in the $400,000-a-year range.

It seems taxpayers have a problem with council members who want to spend public money entertaining in a private suite at Tropicana Field. Or those who would pay the education chief 10 times more than the average teacher in this state.

That's why you might think the Seminole council's recent proposal to give City Manager Frank Edmunds a 6 percent increase would raise a few eyebrows. But it appears not to have made a ripple.

It was more than a proposal for a fat raise that handily exceeds the rate of inflation. Council members took turns extolling the virtues of Edmunds, who became the city's first full-time manager six years ago, earning $50,000.

In a meeting a couple of weeks ago, they could not seem to heave enough good stuff at the guy. They talked about paying his tuition so he could get a master's degree. They said he could use his city car for personal reasons.

But Seminole council members weren't sure that was enough. They talked about checking with other cities to make sure they weren't underpaying him -- a well-used maneuver that probably has resulted in more public salary padding than any cost-of-living formula ever devised.

They even talked about giving him a bonus for saving money on a $6-million recreation complex. Instead, they decided it would be fitting to contribute more to his retirement fund.

Don't you wish you worked for such grateful bosses?

Seminole Mayor Dottie Reeder said it's simply a case of citizens being so content with the way things are run that no one sees fit to challenge the proposal.

"I haven't heard a word against it," she said.

Reeder said city government has improved services and lowered taxes over the years, all to the apparent approval of the community.

"We're not getting questioned on anything we do," she said.

Evidently, she said, the pay seems fair to the people who are taxed to pay it.

Perhaps it is that Seminole is a very different place than, say, St. Petersburg, where council members wanted a pension for their part-time positions and a public tab at their box at the Trop.

Maybe it's just that St. Petersburg is a more mature city. That's a polite way to point out that it has been through the boom-bust cycle a few times and, heaven help us, city-led efforts at downtown redevelopment.

In short, St. Petersburg has experience with the wisdom of public officials.

Seminole is at a different place in its 31-year civic life. It is annexing land all the time and collecting tax money hand-over-fist from relatively new subdivisions.

It is a relatively affluent place that doesn't have the kind of urban challenges or diverse constituencies found in cities such as Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

The salary issue comes up again at Seminole's Aug. 14 City Council meeting. It will be interesting to see whether anyone cares.

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