Happy days here again for council dreaming of raise

ROGER SIMON

April 24, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

Mary Pat Clarke has decided to change her image.

In recent weeks, our Baltimore City Council president has become known as Mary Pat "If I Don't Get What I Want, I'll Hold My Breath Until I Die" Clarke.

But that was a negative image. And this week, Clarke fashioned an entirely new one:

Now Clarke wishes to be known as "Little Miss Sunshine."

Others may tell you that times are tough and we must tighten our belts. That city workers cannot get raises and we don't even have enough people to catch the city's burgeoning rat population (both four-legged and two-legged).

But if you're a member of the City Council, times are not tough at all. Times are swell. And that's because Clarke introduced a bill this week to give the council members a 24 percent pay raise.

They are currently earning $29,000, and Clarke wants them to earn $36,065.

At first blush, 36 grand or so does not sound like a lot of money for hard-working, dedicated public servants (and if you know of any, please encourage them to run for office this fall).

But most of the council members hold second jobs. And, in fact, many of the second jobs pay them more than their council jobs.

And viewed that way, a 24 percent boost in your extra pay is certainly a nice bonus, a dandy way to hail the new Sunshine Era.

Why does Clarke want these pay raises? I think she just wants council salaries to come closer to her chauffeur's salary. A couple of years ago, her driver, paid with tax dollars, made $62,898 in a single year motoring Clarke around town.

The mayor makes only $60,000 and has refused a pay raise. nTC Clarke makes $53,000 and has not ruled out a pay raise for herself. (Our fire chief makes $93,000, but you've got to keep him happy or he could let the city burn down.)

Not surprisingly, some members of the council think a 24 percent raise is an absolutely terrific idea. Take John Schaefer, D-1st.

He does not have a second job, he says, though he does get rent from a lot he leases to a trucking company.

Schaefer, you might recall, in 1974 became the first councilman in the city's history to be convicted of a criminal charge after it was discovered he was a silent partner in a wrecking company that did business with the city.

He was removed from his council seat but was promptly re-elected, proving once again that our public servants serve us right.

Then in 1985 Schaefer pleaded guilty to violating gambling laws at a tavern that he and another man managed.

So it's not as if he is unfamiliar with how to generate outside income.

But he now believes a 24 percent pay raise is justified. "We've been four years without any raise, and if we let this one go it will be eight years for us without a raise," he told me yesterday.

"My wife tells me how difficult it is to buy oranges and other fresh fruit and how hard it was when gasoline hit $1.50 per gallon. We have to put bread and butter on the table and pay the department store bills like everyone else.

"And this is not an eight-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week job. It's seven days a week, and often you don't get home until 10 p.m. And you've got to go to the bull roasts. And if you get invited to a wedding, well, let me tell you, you can't just show up with a card. There's got to be a little something inside that card."

Which is, I believe, a perfect example of the trickle-down effect. We give the council members a pay raise, and they put some of it into wedding envelopes, and eventually (say 30 or 40 years) that pay raise will benefit all of mankind.

Not everyone, however, believes Clarke's pay raise will ever happen. The raise now goes to the budget committee chaired by Joe DiBlasi, D-6th.

And DiBlasi tells me that if it ever comes to a vote, he's voting against it.

"For the great majority of the council, this is a second job," he said. "I work at Maryland National Bank as an account officer, for instance. And on the council we've got, let's see, a lawyer, a person who works at an optical shop, John Schaefer gets rent revenue, then there's one in real estate who once owned a restaurant, another works at the World Trade Center for the state, there's a lobbyist, a person who has a travel agency . . ." And the list goes on.

Now tell me, I asked, do most of these people make more from their city job or their outside job?

"Oh, outside," DiBlasi said. "The City Council job is extra dough."

Which leads me to wonder if the public is really going to tolerate a 24 percent pay raise for people who view their city jobs as gravy.

There are some at City Hall who think not. And some think Clarke is mixing a little smoke in with her sunshine. They think that Clarke doesn't really believe the pay raise will ever go through and that she merely wants to show the council members she is trying to support them because they have supported her.

"I am not yet convinced the raise is even legal, and unless I am convinced it is legal, I will not let it out of committee," DiBlasi said.

And what if it is legal?

"Well, I'd vote against it," he said.

Really? Why?

"I think this comes at an inopportune time," DiBlasi said. "It sends the wrong signal."

Wrong signal?

"Well, right now, most everybody is worried about having just one job," he said. "And most of us on the council have two."

But DiBlasi forgets the motto of the Sunshine Era. And, if the pay raise passes, workmen may carve it above the City Council door:

"If God Did Not Want Us To Grab All We Could, He Would Not Have Given Us Two Hands."

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