Commissioners Approve a Retirement Program for Themselves

Image of John Ligon, Commissioner Gunter, Mayor Bell

Florida League of Cities’ John Ligon (left) presents certificates honoring Commissioner John Gunter (center) and Mayor Chris Bell for two decades of service to Fruitland Park as elected officials

Fruitland Park—City commissioners last week approved the first reading of an ordinance to establish a retirement program that would pay three current commissioners approximately $250 per month if they resign, retire or are defeated for reelection.

The proposal must pass a second reading—at the regular commission meeting slated for Thursday, Jan. 9—before it can be enacted as an ordinance.

City attorney Scott Gerken explained that state statutes require cities to pay commissioners a lifetime pension equal to half their annual pay if they have served for 20 consecutive years or more. Commissioner John Gunter and Mayor Chris Bell currently qualify for a pension under state rules, Gerken said.

The city plan awards a pension equal to half a commissioner’s salary—currently $500 per month—after 15 consecutive years of service. A commissioner would qualify for a full salary pension after 25 consecutive years, Gerken said.

The city plan also differs from state statute in one other way.

“The state statute is a little confusing in that it does not appear to award a pension when a commissioner is defeated for reelection,” Gerken said.

Gerken, who proposed the ordinance, said the confusion troubled him.

“I would hate to see a veteran city commissioner decide not to run for reelection because a pension is at risk,” Gerken said.

Wildwood officials alerted Fruitland Park of the state pension requirement.

“We checked with some of the local governments in Lake County and we did not find anyone who has addressed this,” said interim City Manager Rick Conner. “As it turns out there aren’t many local elected officials who serve for more than 20 years,” he said.

“The topic came up last month when the League of Cities awarded Commissioner Gunter and Mayor Bell for their twenty-plus years of service to the city,” Gerken said.

The issue is at least coincidental with news that The Villages of Fruitland Park plans to bring upwards of 4,000 new residents into the city starting late next year.

None of those new residents will be eligible to vote in the 2014 city elections when the commission seats currently held by Mr. Goldberg and Ms. Kelley will be up for grabs.

Conceivably, however, all of them will be eligible to vote—and will pribably constitute a majority of city voters—when the seats currently held by Mayor Chris Bell and commissioners John Gunter and Chris Chesshire will be on the line.

Orlando Sentinel columnist Lauren Ritchie lambasted the proposed ordinance in her recent column, reposted here at FruitlandParkNews.org.

Disclaimer: The blurry quality of the photo above is the fault of the photographer, not your vision. My bad.

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