Follow the Money in Florida: 34,873 Public Employees with $100,000+ Salaries Cost Taxpayers $5.5B
When our team of auditors at OpenTheBooks.com reviewed the most highly compensated employees at every level of government in Florida, we found more than 35,000 state and local government employees brought home six and seven-figure salaries, costing taxpayers $5.5 billion annually.
Since last year, the headcount of these high-compensated Florida government workers jumped by nearly 4,000 employees.
The list of high earners includes an airport director accepting retirement payments and a working salary; a city attorney making $436,918; a junior college president making $386,578; and a county administrator making $346,722. There are even 26 small-town, village, and city managers out-earning every governor of the 50 states.
Using our interactive mapping tool, quickly review (by zip code) the 34,873 Florida public employees earning $100,000+ each, costing taxpayers more than $5.5 billion annually. Just click a pin and scroll down to see the results rendered in the chart below the map.
To see all 2017 Florida state and local payroll data at OpenTheBooks.com, click here.
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Searching the map by zip code, here are a few examples of what you’ll uncover:
- 717 small-town, city, and village employees – including 26 municipal leaders out-earning every U.S. governor at $180,000. These managers include Ron Ferris (Palm Beach Gardens – $261,987); James Chisholm (Daytona Beach – $214,669); Christopher Russo (Sunny Isles Beach – $226,314); Alex Rey Panama (Miami Lakes – $189,800); Michael McNees (Melbourne – $184,085).
- 2,484 State of Florida employees – including $276,000 for Commissioner of Education Pamela Stewart; $218,925 each for Department of Children and Families Medical Executive Directors Josefina Baluga and Steve Brasington; and $199,999 for Department of Education Board of Governors Chancellor Marshall Criser.
- 3,195 teachers and school administrators – including chief academic officer Daniel Gohl ($196,001) in Broward County School District; minority achievement officer James Lawson ($181,120) in Orange County School District; and English and Journalism teacher James Johnson ($121,493) in St. Johns County School District.
- 13,305 college and university employees – The University of Florida paid out 3,234 six-figure salaries – the most of any university in the state. Their high earners included the Vice President of Health Affairs David Guzick ($1.2 million) and Director of the Graduate Tax Program Martin McMahon ($780,392).
Data revealed 3,195 Florida teachers and administrators earned $100,000+ incomes, costing taxpayers nearly $400 million last year.
- Former Palm Beach County SD Superintendent Robert Avossa received the largest superintendent paycheck ($365,042). In February 2018, he resigned. The Palm Beach County School Board employed 359 six-figure educators for $41 million in 2017.
- Miami-Dade SD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho was the second-highest-paid educator. In 2017, he pulled down $343,386. The Miami-Dade School Board paid $1.5 billion in total payroll during 2017 with 738 employees earning six-figures.
- Public school employees across the state raked in six-figure paychecks including Duval County Superintendent Nikolai Vitti ($302,394); Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins ($281,037); Pinellas County Superintendent Michael Grego ($273,509); Collier County Superintendent Kamela Patton ($230,640); Hillsborough County Superintendent Jeffrey Eakins ($225,000); Lee County School District Attorney Keith Martin ($198,281); and Sarasota County Assistant Superintendent Scott Lempe ($178,776).
Public College and University Employees
Public colleges and universities in Florida paid 13,305 six and seven-figure salaries in 2017, costing taxpayers $2.5 billion. These salaries flowed to coaches, presidents, professors, and more.
Division I colleges and universities awarded huge salaries to athletic coaches. Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) head football coach Lane Kiffin received $436,781. Even the FAU former Head Football Coach Charlie Partridge made $294,784 in 2017. Florida International University Head Football Coach Paul “Butch” Davis took home $737,931. While new Florida State University (FSU) Football Coach Willie Taggart will receive $5 million per year and UF Football Coach Dan Mullen makes $6 million per year, taxpayers fund just a small fraction of these salaries.
Highly compensated university presidents included John Hitt, University of Central Florida president, made $898,092. Former President of Florida A&M Elmira Mangum made $638,907 in 2017. Randy Avent, president and founder of Florida Polytechnic, received $478,850. Wilson Bradshaw of Florida Gulf Coast earned $425,823 – although he retired on June 30, 2017 – while his successor, Mike Martin, brought home $392,718.
Even junior colleges doled out huge paychecks. Sanford “Sandy” Shugart, Valencia Community College president, pulled in $386,576. Kenneth Atwater, president of Hillsborough Community College, made $324,617 and James Murdaugh, president of Tallahassee Community College, received $304,834.
Other highly-compensated university employees included University of South Florida Vice President of Alumni Relations and foundation CEO Joel Momberg ($897,279); Florida Atlantic University Medical Science Professor John Newcomer ($560,638); University of North Florida Dean Mark Tumeo ($550,841); and University of West Florida Provost George Ellenberg ($423,545).
Even county employees got in on the largess. For example, the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners pays 5,476 employees more than $100,000 each – that’s twice as many six-figure employees as the Florida state government. Additionally, Palm Beach County’s Board of Commissioners paid out 1,214 six-figure salaries.
- County workers received huge compensation including Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill ($273,600); Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard ($261,478); Volusia County Manager James Dinneen ($259,954); Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker ($220,300); and Osceola County Manager Don Fisher ($215,830).
- Law-enforcement officers including sheriffs, highway patrolmen and policemen pulled in large salaries. Palm Beach County Sherriff’s Department Chief Operating Officer George Forman made brought home $227,093. At the Broward County Sheriff’s Department, 1,516 employees made six-figure salaries, including Sheriff Scott Israel, who made $189,070.
- Even solid waste managers make a lot, including Palm Beach County Solid Waste Authority Executive Director Mark Hammond ($205,019); Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer System Deputy Director L.D. Yoder earned $208,593; and Hillsborough County Solid Waste Services Director Kimberly Byer ($143,239).
Not even resignations and retirements can stop some public employees from receiving huge payouts. Consider two examples:
Bruce Pelly, Palm Beach County’s airport director, pulled in $236,768 in 2017 on top of at least $70,968 in annual retirement checks. Pelly worked for more than 20 years before “retiring” in 2010 to collect a $304,000 lump sum payout – plus his monthly annuity checks. Just 30 days later, he was rehired in the exact same position.
Richard Anderson retired from his position as Apopka City Manager in 2014 with $510,296 in final-year compensation on top of two pensions he was able to collect. Then, the city rehired him as a lobbyist with a two-year contract for another $528,000.
Florida was ranked the number one fiscally responsible state in 2017. However, with public higher education employees bringing home six and seven figures, numerous small-time municipal leaders earning more annually than state governor, and a history of high earners accepting pensions and active paychecks at the same time, perhaps its practices are worth reevaluating.
Note: Only two of Florida’s 477 pay and pension systems were reviewed for this column: Florida People First Personnel Information System and Florida State Management Services Retirement System. All data is made available under Florida transparency laws. Together, these two systems have nearly 800,000 public employees and are estimated to cover two of every three FL public employees.
Furthermore, we reached out to many of the government entities mentioned in the piece and none have responded with comments. Anyone mentioned in the piece wanting to add context or comment should contact the author Adam Andrzejewski.
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