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Anonymous council pay critics anger mayor

By Staff | Nov 12, 2014

Mayor Kevin Ruane is upset with anonymous criticism of his proposal to ask voters for a stipend. CRAIG GARRETT

The debate on possible pay for city officials got bumped to December, with Mayor Kevin Ruane at the Nov. 4 public meeting reacting angrily to social media and anonymous feedback for the proposal he introduced in September.

Ruane initially broached the idea of a stipend, even a modest salary, to cover expenses in performing his job. Council by charter receives reimbursements for travel and incidentals, but no pay. Voters would have the ultimate say in approving pay.

The mayor noted that similarly sized towns like Fort Myers Beach pay a stipend beyond expenses allowed by the state. The mayor and others on council spend out of pocket for meals, donations and other items not covered by state rules, Ruane said. Spending limits are about $50 a day.

Since September, the mayor on social media and in mailings to the Island Reporter has received negative feedback to his idea. At public forums, including city council hearings, the mayor’s plan, though, has received a positive response. Citizen after citizen, for instance, at the Nov. 4 city council meeting expressed enthusiasm for the proposal.

But in two instances, opposition to the pay idea took “cheap shots,” Ruane said in an interview. Web commentary on Facebook, for instance, jumped on the mayor for his thoughts, he said. In this case, it was a marriage celebration of the mayor’s daughter, who was upset by the Facebook postings, Ruane said.

“My daughter wondered why someone would do that,” the mayor said.

In another instance, the mayor’s travel expenditure receipts were mailed anonymously. One voucher showed Ruane receiving reimbursement for a first-class flight from Washington, D.C. That flight in April cost the city $800, with other vouchers sent anonymously showing reimbursements for expensive dinners in Tallahassee, a brewery visit in Washington, and other expenditures for rentals and baggage claim.

Angry, the mayor defended the travel costs, noting the flight back to Florida was a one-timer prompted by a spring blizzard, that the flight bounced around to several cities before landing in Fort Lauderdale, where he drove home, allowing him to testify in a statewide hearing on water issues.

The mayor, however, was more upset that the travel vouchers, approved and paid, were sent on city time, violating ethics and privacy rules, he said. Internal investigations for the culprit would likely ensue, he said.

In response to any negativity, Ruane at the Nov. 4 hearing said that he would donate his pay, regardless of whether the measure is placed before island voters. The idea is under study by city staffers and will likely resurface in December. Any measure won’t make the ballot before 2016, about the time Ruane leaves office, he said.

“This,” the mayor said, “is not being done because Kevin Ruane needs a paycheck.”