Fruitland Park Residents Uproar Over Commissioners Pensions

By on January 13th, 2014
Outside of Fruitland Park City Hall where a meeting was held to vote on commissioners pensions.

Lauren Richardson/WUFT News

Outside of Fruitland Park City Hall where a meeting was held to vote on commissioners pensions.

A commission meeting held on Jan. 9 at the Fruitland Park City Hall drew larger-than-normal crowds due to the vote on a controversial pension ordinance.

The city commissioners made the final decision against giving themselves pensions. On the Dec. 12 meeting, with few residents in attendance, they voted unanimously to pass the same ordinance. 

“I have lost all respect for every one of you,” resident Michael Howard said to the city commission. His statement was met with a round of applause.

If the pension plan had passed the final vote, commissioners who served 15 consecutive years would receive a pension worth half of their salary. At 25 years of service, they would get their full annual salary as a pension.

“It is abysmal that you would even think — that as not even a part-time job — that you would be due a retirement without paying anything into it,” Howard said.

And the pensions are just one of the issues residents are talking about.

In the past two years, Fruitland Park has faced a sexual harassment lawsuit against a former city manager, a lawsuit filed by a former city commissioner, a lawsuit filed by a longtime police officer and a class-action lawsuit challenging fire and police fees.

Howard was not the only citizen upset by the idea of a pension for part-time commissioners in the midst of this recent turmoil and a high turnover of city personnel.

“I took it upon myself to make sure I could tell as many people as I could (about the pension) get to in a short period of time,” resident Tom Garlow said.

Prior to the meeting, Garlow made fliers protesting the pension plan and went door to door to inform residents about the commission meeting and where their tax dollars could be heading.

“If commissioners work for the people, that makes them the employee,” Garlow said.

Garlow said where he’s from the employee doesn’t decide what their pensions, salaries and benefits are going to be.

Fruitland Park City Attorney Scott Gerken had a different opinion of the plan.

“There were comments about times are tough and they don’t think the taxpayers should be funding this, but I’m not sure all of the people had all of the facts, for one, and realized what kind of dollars they were talking about,” Gerken said. “All they hear is lifetime pension and 50 percent of salary, and that sounds like a lot of money.”

Fruitland Park commissioners make about $500 a month. With this pension plan, a commissioner with 25 years of consecutive public service under his or her belt could make $6,000 a year for the rest of his or her life.

“That’s nothing for the city. That’s nothing for the people,” Garlow said. “It’s self-serving.” PensionPlansGraphic

About 100 people gathered at City Hall for this event, which is unusual for the average Fruitland Park commission meeting. Garlow said he believes this ordinance would have passed had citizens not come to the meeting and made their disapproval known. “I think the crowd itself was intimidating enough,” Garlow said. “They certainly felt the impact, and I think the crowd itself was what made them back down.” Fruitland Park City Commission pension motion

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