Ought to the Indian River’s new mosquito boss get a job?

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Laurence Reisman

| Treasure Coast Newspapers
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There was much buzz that fall when four challengers attempted to beat the incumbent in two races for the Indian River County’s Mosquito Control District Commissioner.

With a budget of just $ 6.2 million – one 50th the county’s school district – I’ve prioritized races other than this for the three-person board.

Maybe it was a mistake.

On November 3rd, Janice Broda, who joined the board in 1992, was re-elected. Matt Erpenbeck, who had resigned as president of the Indian River County’s Taxpayers Association, defeated incumbent Buck Vocelle.

That didn’t stop the excitement.

The big problem on Tuesday at 9 a.m. – for instructions on how to watch Zoom, go to fresh.irmosquito.com/index.php – is how the district will replace Chairman Doug Carlson. He is retiring this month after serving 42 years in the district, including 17 as a director, on a salary of $ 151,158.

While Broda (and Erpenbeck) were looking for a director, Vocelle and the chairman of the commission, Tom Lowther, supported Carlson’s succession plan and selected his assistant, Sherry Burroughs, for the job.

The controversy on Tuesday’s agenda: No mosquito control director in Indian River County has had an employment contract in its 95-year history. Why should there be one now?

More: So watch the meeting of the Indian River County Mosquito Board

More: Indian River County’s Mosquito Control District director is retiring after 42 years

More: Read the proposed employment contract for Sherry Burroughs

At a workshop on Thursday, the commissioners appeared to have resigned to give Burroughs, 52, a contract similar to the one she requested.

Burroughs, who began working as a biologist in Indian River County for $ 76,376 per year in January 2016, became Carlson’s assistant in May 2019. She spent many years in Orange and Osceola counties before moving to St. Lucie County’s mosquito control manager in February 2013.She became St. Lucie Director of Mosquito Control, after receiving a reference from Carlson, before moving in November Departed in 2015 with a salary of $ 94,702.

Last week Burroughs told me that she proposed a contract in part after being asked to do so by directors of other mosquito control districts reporting to elected bodies.

“The position is at the mercy of the Commission,” said Burroughs, noting that two out of three commissioners without a contract could oust a director for no reason.

Their reasoning is understandable, as Broda and Erpenbeck, who lost a close race to Lowther two years ago, will form the majority of the commission in January.

“I don’t think (Sherry) has such a good relationship with Mrs. Broda,” Lowther told me on Friday. “That’s why I think there has to be an employment contract.”

The district also needs to become more professional, like the Indian River County government, where he was a commissioner for four years and the administrator has a contract.

“We have to go into the 21st century,” said Lowther, who became mosquito commissioner in 2014. “Sherry has proven itself as a worker and manager.”

The contract also protects the district.

On the other hand, most people I know can lose their job with just one voice if they’re not self-employed: their boss.

And most of them don’t get the $ 129,979 proposed for Burroughs (or $ 125,334 if the commissioners decide to give her a probationary period).

For me, commissioners should have one focus: us. What’s in the best interests of taxpayers, period.

If they think it is crucial for taxpayers that there is a contract and that Burroughs signs a contract before Erpenbeck takes office in a month, so be it.

However, since they are not only considering practices elsewhere, but also the taxpayer, they should be careful with these parts of the proposed treaty as well.

THE TERM: After five years, the Burroughs contract would last as long as it was signed by David Moore, superintendent of rock star Indian River County, which was discontinued by Miami-Dade County in 2019. Moore’s salary on a budget of $ 311 million: $ 180,000.

Jason Brown, who served for many years as the budget director before becoming Indian River County’s administrator in 2016, has only a three-year contract.

RESIDENCY, VEHICLE: Burroughs worked for the district when he lived in Okeechobee, just across the southwestern county line. It’s 112 miles round-trip daily to the Gifford county offices.

Under the contract, Burroughs could have a district vehicle to “contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of the district.”

If she is taking a tax vehicle home, it would make sense to require her to live within a certain limited distance from county offices. Such residence requirements were introduced for Moore and Sebastian City Manager Paul Carlisle.

VACATION: The contract calls for Burroughs to serve in the district for 12 years so she can have 20 days of vacation. How will the other 28 district employees feel? Shouldn’t the exemption guidelines be the same for everyone?

EVALUATION: It is almost unfathomable that the district has no evaluation tool for its director. The contract calls for such a tool by September, one month before Burroughs’ assessment.

This is outrageous: an evaluation tool, including specific targets, should be ready by the end of February at the latest – contract or not. This is not rocket science.

The district faces bigger questions.

Should lawmakers increase the number of paid board members ($ 4,800 annual salary plus health and retirement benefits) to five? For what essential reason? Lowther, who is in favor of this, said he had the support of Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, and Senator Debbie Mayfield, R-Indialantic.

In some other independent districts, such as the Indian River County Hospital District, trustees are not paid. Why not make this change?

Should this tax district remain independent, with a separate elected body and bureaucracy (including an “administrative manager” making $ 101,397)? It made sense in 1925 since Indian River had just become a county and relatively few people lived outside of the city limits.

Independent districts seem too bureaucratic these days. While Lowther and Carlson said independent counties (Carlson said the state has 16 independent counties versus 48 parts of the county government, including St. Lucie) are more accountable to residents, what evidence is there that they are providing better service at a lower cost Offer?

The district, the county, and our lawmakers should consider whether abolishing the district and replacing it as a division of the district government would make more sense for taxpayers.

The meeting on Tuesday could just be the start of an interesting 2021.

This column reflects the opinion of Laurence Reisman. Contact him by email at larry.reisman@tcpalm.com, by phone at 772-978-2223, Facebook.com/larryreisman, or Twitter @LaurenceReisman

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