TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Raises will be provided to 16 upper-level and mid-level employees of Enterprise Florida, as the state's business-recruitment agency does away with a controversial bonus program.
The Enterprise Florida Executive Committee voted unanimously during a conference call Friday to approve a recommendation to replace the bonus program.
The pay increases are seen by committee members as a way to maintain Enterprise Florida without causing an exodus of employees. The public-private agency has faced heavy scrutiny during the past year, with House leaders even seeking to eliminate it.
“No one is excited about taking away the bonuses, but it does make sense given the fact that the Legislature has expressed an interest in this,” committee member Holly Borgmann said.
The raises --- retroactive to July 1 --- range from $3,000 to $25,000 and will increase payroll by $118,000 for the year, under the plan outlined for the committee.
In August, several members of the executive committee expressed concern that withholding performance pay, when employees have done an “admirable job” in difficult times, could result in an exodus of experience.
“Certainly, none of us foresaw this path coming in the previous weeks and months,” committee Chairman Stan Connally, who is also president and CEO of Pensacola-based Gulf Power, said during the conference call Friday. “We want to be sure we're fairly compensating this team.”
In a memo Thursday to the committee, Enterprise Florida President and CEO Pete Antonacci explained that while the bonus program has worked, it has also been a source of criticism.
“The bonus practice, typically across the board, has had the effect of smoothing over rough spots (under payment) while at once creating unwarranted expectation (over payment),” Antonacci said in the memo. “Under circumstances and for reasons known well to all, staff bonuses are an object of public derision and will not ever be well accepted.”
“Practically speaking,” Antonacci continued, “most Floridians having opinion about EFI at all, believe our employees are public servants in the broadest sense.”
Last October, Enterprise Florida handed out $448,662 in bonuses to 57 employees.
In 2015, with up to $765,000 in bonuses being offered, then-President Bill Johnson received $50,000, half of what he could have received, despite being on the job for just six months.
A year earlier, the Enterprise Florida board approved a $120,000 bonus to then-President Gray Swoope, surpassing a $100,000 cap, while also approving $765,000 in bonuses.
The bonus program, which officials promoted as coming from money pooled by private contributions rather than tax dollars, was tied to a series of recruitment and hiring objectives for each year.
The possibility of scuttling bonuses came after the House this year sought to eliminate Enterprise Florida and the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida. The House's efforts were ultimately blocked by the Senate and Scott.
The Legislature settled on cutting state money for Enterprise Florida's daily operations from $23.5 million in 2016-2017 to $16 million for the budget year that began July 1.
Along with the revised funding, lawmakers also imposed new rules such as increasing financial-disclosure requirements and prohibiting the use of tax dollars for performance bonuses or severance pay unless authorized by law.
Also, any employee pay exceeding the governor's authorized salary of $130,000 a year must be funded out of private contributions.
Antonacci said Friday the agency has sufficient resources to cover the raises.
Under the plan outlined for the committee Friday, the largest raise, $25,000, will go to Senior Vice President of Business Development Tim Vanderhoof.
Vanderhoof, who would see his annual salary grow to $155,000, will also take over marketing for the agency.
The second-largest raise, $13,000, will go to Heather Shubrig, who serves under Vanderhoof as vice president of business development. She currently is paid $80,000 a year.
Manny Mencia, the senior vice president of international trade and development, will get a $4,000 raise. Mencia, who oversees the agency's trade missions, currently is paid $160,000 a year.
Comptroller Robert Schlotman will see a $10,000 increase in pay, to $130,000 a year, with a promotion to senior vice president.
Antonacci and Executive Vice President Mike Grissom --- who served as interim president before Antonacci joined the agency in August --- were not among those up for raises.
In August, Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to members of the boards of directors at Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida outlining his opposition to employee bonuses.
“Employees are the key to success in any organization,” Scott, who serves as chairman of Enterprise Florida board, said in the letter. “But, after a long legislative session where the spending at these organizations was greatly debated, I do not believe that employee compensation should include bonuses at this time.”
Instead, Scott advised the agencies to review employee pay “to ensure that everyone is being compensated fairly relying on salaries rather than bonuses.”
Visit Florida, which gave out $440,915 in bonuses to 119 employees in May, has announced it has ended the performance reward program.