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Doral council explores repealing retirement benefits for elected city officials

Doral Mayor Christi Fraga on the dais during a city council meeting on Feb. 8, 2023
Screenshot via City of Doral
Doral Mayor Christi Fraga wants to eliminate a lifetime pension program supported by her predecessor.

Doral City Council voted this week to have an outside law firm explore repealing what some council members believe may be an overly generous retirement package for the city's elected officials.

Mayor Christi Fraga, who was elected last November, pushed council members to seek the attorney's opinion, saying that the pension program is "absurd" and a bad deal for taxpayers.

"It's quite egregious, and it's going to be a debt that our citizens shouldn't have to take on," Fraga said.

The current retirement system, which includes health and life insurance, was originally approved by former Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez and members of the previous council.

It entitles Doral mayors and council members — who served at least eight years — to receive a pension equal to 50% of their total compensation at the end of their tenure. When the official dies, the family receives the benefits for the next 10 years.

Council members cannot serve more than two consecutive four-year terms unless they wait four more years to run again, or run for mayor.

The retirement payments grow even larger depending on the years of service of the mayor or council members beyond the minimum eight years — up to 100%.

When the retirement benefits were originally approved by council members in 2021, the then mayor and council viewed it as fair and equitable.

The new five-member council, however, doesn't share the opinion.

Council members on Wednesday voted in favor of Fraga's proposal to hire the law firmof Lewis Longman & Walker for $20,000 to evaluate if the original ordinance is even valid under Florida law.

The firm will also investigate whether the full council needs to vote together to repeal the program.

The ordinance contains a clause saying that it can only be amended by unanimous vote of the mayor and council. Fraga said she doesn't think that clause is "democratically correct."

Council member Digna Cabral, who voted in favor of the retirement system in 2021, was absent from Wednesday's meeting because she was traveling.

Reached by WLRN over the phone, Cabral said she doesn't see the point in repealing the pension programs because she sees it as a sign of gratitude to the city's founders.

"It's a way of saying 'thank you' for years of service, dedication and doing the right thing for our constituents," Cabral said.

Council member Oscar Puig-Corve, who also voted in favor of the retirement system in 2021, voted with Fraga and the two new members of the council on Wednesday to hire Lewis Longman & Walker.

An attorney with the law firm told the council they will have an answer to their inquiry within the next 30 days.

Joshua Ceballos is WLRN's Local Government Accountability Reporter and a member of the investigations team. Reach Joshua Ceballos at jceballos@wlrnnews.org
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