Ecker Walks a Tightrope

June 16, 1992

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker is once again walking a tightrope with one of the county's unions. This time, Mr. Ecker has chafed the Howard County Police Officers Association in a dispute over merit increases.

The county executive has trudged this way before. Last year, Mr. Ecker was embroiled in a battle with county teachers over similar pay increases that he nixed in mid-contract. While there is a difference in that police officers are at the end of their contract, the union cries are the same. "All we ask for is fairness," says Dale L. Hill, the union president.

If past experience is any guide, Mr. Ecker is unlikely to back off. An expert negotiator since his days as the county school system's chief budget officer, Mr. Ecker clearly wants to rein-in employee salaries and correct inequities in work rules and compensation.

While other county employees receive merit increases on the date they were first employed, a mediator recommended that all county police officers receive their increases July 1. Such a move would allow some police officers to get their pay raises months in advance of what would normally occur for all other county workers. The cost to the county would be an additional $63,000.

It would be easy for Mr. Ecker to go along with the proposal given the small amount of money involved. However, given the pestering uncertainty of the economy, he has rightly said no.

His get-tough attitude toward the police union could hurt Mr. Ecker with the rank and file officers and their families. Yet his stand in favor of equal treatment for all county workers might win Mr. Ecker support elsewhere. He seems to be doing a much better job than the union of keeping his balance in this high-wire government act.

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