January 24, 2022
Who makes the most in Miami’s city government?
By Joey Flechas
The two highest-paid city of Miami employees last year worked in the legal department, but many of the city government’s top-compensated workers in 2020 were firefighters who earned large amounts of overtime.
A Miami Herald database with 2020 compensation data for more than 4,500 city employees shows that 18 of the top 25 earners worked for the fire department. Three worked in the legal department, including the top two highest-paid city employees: City Attorney Victoria Méndez, who was paid $298,911.14 in salary and other cash benefits, and Deputy City Attorney Barnaby Min, who was paid $298,145.88.
City Manager Art Noriega has a higher annual compensation than both attorneys, meaning that in a full year in his position, Noriega would be the top-paid city employee, earning more than $300,000. But Noriega was hired as city manager on Feb. 24, 2020, so his take-home pay from the city of Miami in 2020 was lower than that of Méndez, Min and five other employees, according to payroll data.
The next two highest-compensated employees in 2020 were Fire Capt. Nora Hernandez and Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban. Hernandez more than doubled her base salary of $107,328.09 by earning $146,920.41 in overtime — the most overtime paid out in the city’s 4,900-person workforce. Zahralban made $281,753.29.
The city paid out more than $36.7 million in overtime in 2020, which is higher than the previous year, according to the city. The year was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led some local governments to pay out large amounts of overtime while grappling with testing and other pandemic-related services.
“The change is mainly attributed to COVID,” said city spokeswoman Stephanie Severino.
A large portion of the city’s overtime costs went to police and firefighters, most of which was reimbursed by COVID relief aid from the federal government.
After holding the top administrative job for 10 months, Noriega was the city’s eighth-highest-paid employee in 2020, with a compensation of $261,689.13. Noriega, Deputy City Manager Nzeribe Ihekwaba and former Planning Director Francisco Garcia were the only three high-level administrators not working in public safety who were in the top 25.
The median total pay for a city employee was $75,883.37, according to the Herald analysis. The city’s payroll totaled $391,529,886.75, or about 30% of the city’s overall $1.3 billion budget.
For this story, the Herald received compensation data for the 4,905 employees who were on the city’s payroll in 2020. This data does not include off-duty payments to police or firefighters, which are paid by private businesses.
The Herald is publishing compensation information for any employee who earned at least $8,900, the equivalent of working 20 hours a week for the year while earning last year’s hourly minimum wage of $8.56. In the city of Miami, 4,562 employees met that threshold.
The compensation database embedded in this story allows you to search by name, department, job title or view the complete list.
This year, the Herald has published analyses of compensation data for public employees working for Miami-Dade County and the city of Hialeah. The data for Miami’s municipal workers show top administrators earn less than their counterparts at the county but more than those in Hialeah.
Miami-Dade County’s highest-paid employee in 2020 was also a lawyer — Abigail Price-Williams, the former top attorney for the county government who has since retired. She earned $416,000 in annual compensation, about $117,000 more than Méndez, Miami’s city attorney. By contrast, in the county’s second-most populous city, Hialeah City Attorney Lorena Bravo earned $205,000.
If Méndez were a county employee in 2020, her total compensation would have landed her the 50th slot on the county’s best-paid list.
Miami’s elected officials, who are considered part-time city employees, were not among the highest paid. More than 600 city workers made more than Mayor Francis Suarez, whose total compensation was $130,600. More than 1,280 employees earned more than the five city commissioners, who each received a total annual compensation of $104,600.