Grand Jury Slams Commissioner Quincy’s Pay Raise, Dismisses Sunshine Law Violation

A Gadsden County grand jury rebuked the City of Quincy Commission’s decision to more than double their salaries last year, but found no wrongdoing in a submission released Friday.

Mayor of Quincy Ronte Harris and curators Anessa Canidate and Keith Dowdell voted in September 2021 to raise their salaries from $16,700 to $37,000 a year as part of their 2022 budget, a move nearly unprecedented for a city the size of Quincy. The decision was met with public backlash. Commissioners Frieda Bass-Prieto and Angela Sapp voted against the change.

In its March 1 decision, the grand jury criticized the commissioners who voted in favor of the salary change, saying they acted contrary to the Commission’s goal of increasing prosperity in Quincy.

“The Municipal Commissioners who voted for the wage increase have abused the power and responsibility conferred upon them by our current Municipal Charter. The action of these Commissioners in passing the wage increase demonstrates a self-interest which is in conflict direct with their duty to serve this community as our representatives,” the decision read.

Despite their conviction, the grand jury found that the commissioners did not violate any pay raise laws, as the Quincy city charter does not outline the process for raising commissioners.

The grand jury also found no evidence to support the former city manager’s claims. Jack McLean that Harris and Dowdell violated Sunshine Law by meeting with him twice to discuss salary increases outside of a public meeting.

McLean alleged the mayor and commissioner met with him at a Cracker Barrel in the summer of 2021, where the raise was discussed. He also said they discussed it on a rep day. Val Deming campaign event.

No evidence was provided to confirm what was discussed at these meetings. While Harris and Dowdell acknowledged that those meetings took place, they denied that the pay increases were discussed. Investigators also reviewed the phones of the parties involved, but found no breaches by Sunshine.

The same three commissioners who voted in favor of the pay hike voted to oust McLean after testifying before the grand jury and suing the Commission, as reported by the Tallahassee Democrat.

The grand jury pointed out that the $37,000 salary exceeds the compensation of other commissioners in municipalities of similar size and budget or in the same geographic area.

Although Quincy’s population is about 7,800, more than three times less than the average city size, this pay grade ranks 13th out of Florida’s 411 municipalities. The populations of the 12th and 14th ranked cities both exceeded 100,000, with annual budgets several times larger than Quincy’s $34 million. The towns closest to Quincy (Chattahoochee, Gretna, Greensboro and Midway) pay annual salaries ranging from nothing to $11,330.

To rectify the change, the grand jury recommended that the Commission restore his salary to the previous amount and pursue a charter amendment outlining the commissioner’s stimulus process to prevent what happened from happening again. They provided several different recommendations for process change, such as tying it to population growth, a percentage cap, or not going into effect until a commissioner is elected for a new term.

“Your grand jury is hesitant to proclaim which of the above options is best, but we believe that we as a community must act to resolve this issue,” the grand jury wrote.

Florida Politics contacted the City of Quincy to seek comment from the commissioners and ask if they would pursue a charter amendment, but did not receive a response. This story will be updated if a response is given.

You can read the grand jury decision here.

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William M. Mayer