Robert Payton really didn't want to be interviewed.
Last week Payton, who was then still city manager of Miramar, didn't respond when we arrived at city hall to ask him about his brother's employment with the city. So we waited for him at the end of the day (knowing that bureaucrats rarely stay in their offices past five no matter what the circumstances) and he pulled a rather elaborate plan involving employees that ended with his chief administrative officer, Jeri Freedman, driving off in his car.
That was Wednesday evening. The next day Payton told those inside the city that he was resigning from the city after 36 years, 12 of them as manager. Though his contract called for 60 days notice, he and the city agreed to waive that. His last official day was Monday -- and Payton didn't even bother to go to the commission meeting that night.
Did the story and our interview attempt prompt Payton to resign? It almost surely hastened it, but after the recent election he was likely on his way out eventually. Payton has since told newspapers that he had been planning it all along. Mayor Lori Moseley, a very close ally of Payton's, said he had spoken to her about the possibility of resigning in the past.
So what was so bad about his brother's employment? Well, his brother, Christopher Payton, retired in 2007 and began collecting a pension of about $50,000 a year only to be rehired at about $25 an hour for a low-level job that normally starts at $8.60 an hour. Some, including city employee and whistleblower Paul Bennett, call that double-dipping. And the fact that he was the city manager's brother didn't sit right with many at the city, Bennett told me.
Christopher Payton's attorney, Richard Klugh, said there was no preferential treatment. He said Payton wasn't paid as much in his pension as he should have been so the city struck a deal with him to give him the park job. According to a version in today's Miami Herald from Payton and other officials, Christopher Payton told his brother about the problem and Payton had underlings deal with it. The solution was to give Christopher Payton the low-level job in the parks department -- where Christopher Payton had an office and, according to Bennett, little work -- for another $50,000 a year.
My opinion: that's one unorthodox and dubious arrangement. If there was really a problem with the man's pension, fix it. Don't give him a questionable job in a park trailer at an inflated rate of pay.
Now we come to Robert Payton's retirement package. When commissioners Yvette Colbourne and Alexandra Davis tried to get details about how much Payton was getting on the way out, Mayor Moseley repeatedly tried to shut them down, asking Colbourne why she "wanted to go there." Yesterday I obtained a city document indicating that Payton would be receiving nearly a million dollars in health benefits for himself and his family through the year 2032 and had accumulated more than half a million dollars in his DROP account. He also managed to gather more than $900,000 in a city 401K-like account. The document indicated the city was considering a $224,000 a year pension for him. "We would require an actuary to calculate the fiscal impact of this," wrote a city staffer.
Seems the fiscal impact would be ... $224,000 a year. Anyway, I requested public records on the retirement from the city, but received no response. Apparently the stonewalling continues, despite Florida's Sunshine Law regarding public records. The Herald reported that the agreed-upon pension for Payton is $110,000, which will certainly be more palatable for the public.
One promise: There will be more reporting on Miramar, whether the offiicals there want to talk about it or not.