In the face of an unfavorable opinion by the city solicitor and widespread public criticism, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke has withdrawn her proposal to raise the salaries of Baltimore City Council members by 24 percent.
The proposed raise, which would have gone into effect next year, was deemed "patently invalid" by the city's top legal official because under the City Charter only the Board of Estimates has the power to determine fiscal policy and initiate salary increases.
"If the council had wanted pay raises, they should have discussed it with the mayor first," City Solicitor Neal M. Janey said.
Mrs. Clarke could not be reached for comment early yesterday.
Her controversial plan would have increased council salaries from $29,000 to $36,065.
But the proposed raise proved to be difficult for Mrs. Clarke to justify in the wake Baltimore's dreadful fiscal predicament. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had agreed not to take a salary increase himself, and municipal employees also accepted salary freezes for the next fiscal year to avoid layoffs.
"I think if city workers couldn't have a raise, then this raise for the council [would have been] a slap in the face to them," said Linda Prudente of the Baltimore Teachers Union. "It was just a bad public relations move."
Ms. Prudente said that the teacher's union had not formally spoken to Mrs. Clarke about the proposed raise but that the union encouraged its members to contact their council representatives.
"I had gotten calls and letters in the mail," said Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, D-3rd. "And at neighborhood meetings, constituents kept saying, 'I hope you don't vote for that pay raise.'
"I never believed it had a prayer of passing from the beginning."
The solicitor's legal opinion said that under the charter, the power to set the city's budget, including salaries, is confined to the Board of Estimates, a five-member panel of the city's top elected and appointed officials.
The opinion also said that while the City Council must review and
vote on Mayor Schmoke's proposed budget, it only has the power to reduce items. The council cannot add to the budget or delete items.
The proposed raises could be illegal, the opinion continues, because they would go into effect during the next council term, while Maryland law prevents increases in the salaries of elected officials during their term in office. Also, the 1991 budget cannot contain appropriations and income for future years.