By Kevin Deutsch
Margate City Commissioners gave themselves a $5,000 bonus from a pot of COVID economic rescue money last month, voting to take the payment despite vehement opposition from residents—and one of their own.
The group of commissioners, vice mayor, and mayor voted unanimously for the benefit, which comes out of funds sent to the city via the U.S. government’s American Rescue Plan.
The money will provide a two percent raise and a one-time $5,000 payment to non-union, full-time city of Margate employees, whose raises are not covered by guaranteed wage hikes in collective bargaining agreements.
Nothing in city or state law says Margate commission members are full-time employees. Margate has fewer than 60,000 residents, and as elected officials, commission members can work for constituents as much or as little as they like.
When Commissioner Joanne Simone moved for a revision that would have excluded the commission from receiving the bonus, none of her colleagues supported the change.
“I do have a problem with the commissioners accepting this money,” Simone said at the Sept. 21 commission meeting, shortly before the resolution passed. “I don’t deserve this money. I was not impacted in any way by my job here in the city with COVID. I got my paycheck…I didn’t have to come if I didn’t want to come. I did not have to wear a mask for eight hours, and I was not in any health or safety risk. So for commissioners to receive a $5,000 bonus, I think, is wrong. It’s not deserved.”
Simone said the bonus money should be put toward problems in the city, like improving water quality in certain communities.
“We do have some issues with clean water for some of our residents,” said the commissioner. “I know it’s very important when I turn on my spigot that I have clean water coming out and not brackish water. I know some of our communities do have that, and I think it needs to be addressed.”
The resolution passed into law by a 5-0 vote. Simone voted to approve the resolution in order to ensure non-commission workers got their money.
Among the residents who blasted the commission bonuses was Donna Fellows, who said: “During COVID, you could sit home and do what you wanted…if it is [passed], you’re giving it to yourself because of greed.”
Mayor Antonio Arserio said he would not be taking the bonus, adding that it wasn’t for him to say “whether someone up here [on the dais] does or doesn’t deserve it.”
“I will not be taking this money; it will never go into my hands,” Arserio said, vowing to put his $5,000 toward the city’s senior center and other programs.
Aside from Simone and Arserio, no other commission member spoke publicly about the payments before voting to receive them.
- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.
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