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Motion pulled to put City Council compensation on 2017 ballot

By Staff | Feb 4, 2015

The motion which would have put the possibility of the Sanibel City Council receiving a $1,500 a month stipend on the 2017 election ballot, has been pulled off the table after an interpretation of the City Charter by City Attorney Kenneth Cuyler satisfied Mayor Kevin Ruane.

The 4-1 vote by the City Council in its monthly meeting Tuesday, Feb. 3, to pull the motion by Mayor Ruane, was sparked by Attorney Cuyler’s interpretation of the City Charter regarding council compensation and expenses.

In a memo from Cuyler to Mayor Ruane dated Jan. 29, Cuyler cited the Charter directly about compensation, which read: “Council members shall serve without compensation, but shall be entitled to receive their actual and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their official duties (Section 3.03).”

Although the wording in the Charter is brief, Cuyler’s interpretation included several examples to “help illustrate how my opinion would work in several scenarios.”

In essence, the Charter allows the compensation to Council members who are on city business to be paid back necessary direct expenses resulting from the business trip, thus eliminating any personal out of pocket spending by council members.

“My intent from day one was to eliminate out of pocket expenses by the council,” Ruane said. “I am taking my motion off the floor.”

City Council members will now be given expense forms to record them, in which they will be paid back in full by the City.

The State of Florida affords just a $50 a day per diem, which in some circumstances, was not nearly enough, thus forcing members to pay out of pocket.

“Because of the fact the council would expend beyond the $50, the rest of the expenses were coming out of pocket for that,” Cuyler said. “The whole discussion of the stipend (which would have gone on the 2017 ballot), was one of the ways in which you could take care of that gap. The Charter doesn’t specify $50, but provides the actual necessary cost.

“The Charter is broad, but each council member has to determine what the actual necessary cost will be. So, it could be $75 a day or less than the $50. That gap is no longer something they pay out of pocket.”

The City Charter also trumps the State of Florida’s $50 per diem, according to Cuyler’s memorandum.

“(Section 3.03) prevails over Section 112.061 of the Florida Statutes entitled ‘Per diem and travel expenses of public officers, employees and authorized person.’ That statutory section sets forth a comprehensive payment and reimbursement system for certain public officers and employees, however, as a ‘special or local law’, the Sanibel City Charter provision as cited above would prevail over any provision in the State statutory section that conflicts with the City Charter (which, in my opinion, is virtually all of that statuary section).”

The vote to pull the motion passed 4-1, with Vice Mayor Doug Congress the lone “no” vote.

“It’s not a crazy idea for the Council to be compensated,” said Congress, who is not seeking re-election in the March 3 election. “If there was compensation, that would maybe attract more candidates.”

Ruane did cite he was told by the Florida League of Cities that just over a dozen City Councils in the state are not compensated, which includes Sanibel.

But the issue of City Council compensation could potentially arise again, if a member wants to bring their own motion to the table to put the measure on the 2017 ballot.

“If someone wants to bring it up in the future, they can,” Ruane said. “But my motion is pulled.”