Sweetwater commissioner could make $95K annually by stepping down, city officials say

Commissioner Jose Diaz's resignation is effective Dec. 31

SWEETWEATER, Fla. – With just five months left in his term, Sweetwater Commissioner Jose Diaz announced his resignation this month.

The city's former mayor, who is in the midst of his fourth term in office, told the commission and residents that he was doing it because he and his family "decided we need to keep more time together."

But the city's mayoral chief of staff, Ralph Ventura, and others with the city aren't buying it.

Ventura believes there's another reason Diaz is resigning -- money.  

"The only reason to resign now is monetary gain," Ventura said.

He explained that Diaz has more to gain from the city’s pension plan if he steps down, rather than completing his term in office.

If Diaz were to work one day in 2017 he would have to settle for a commissioner's pension of about $30,000 a year, but because his resignation is effective as of Dec. 31, he can make a claim for a much higher pension.

How much higher?

Based on his time spent as mayor, Daiz could make about $95,000 annually for the rest of his life.

Over the next 20 years, it would add up to more than $1.2 million above what he'd make if he would complete his term.  

Diaz inquired last year about the issue last year with Ventura, who was then city attorney.

He asked Ventura if he would be entitled to the higher pension, "As long as I do not generate W-2 wages as commissioner in 2017."

Ventura said he doesn't believe Diaz is entitled to the larger pension because of  a technicality.  

"My opinion is he’s not entitled to the ($95,000) because he was an appointed mayor not an elected mayor," Ventura said.  

Ventura said there is a strong likelihood that the pension issue could end up in litigation.

Recently, Local 10 News confirmed that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has begun a probe into Diaz's actions as an elected official.

Diaz has defended himself against alleged conflicts of interest in the past, including the fact that he signed a city resolution granting a variance for construction in his own backyard. A court has since deemed the construction unlawful.