Sheriff's salary bid criticized Delegates decide not to submit bill to raise pay for post

February 07, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

Harford County Sheriff Robert E. Comes was criticized last week for asking state delegates for a pay raise despite the fact that most deputies have gone without raises for the past two years.

Del. David R. Craig, R-District 34, said the sheriff approached him about a week ago with a request that he draft a bill granting a series of raises that would boost the sheriff's salary from the $58,000 he was paid this year.

The bill Mr. Craig drafted would have granted the sheriff an annual $1,500 raise over the next five years.

But word of the request for a raise surprised County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, who holds the purse strings for the Sheriff's Department's budget and would have to cover the pay raise even though the General Assembly sets the sheriff's salary.

Mrs. Rehrmann declined to comment, saying only that she had not discussed the issue with the sheriff.

George Harrison, a spokesman for the executive, said the sheriff had several opportunities in the past week to discuss the subject of money with Mrs. Rehrmann.

"He gave no clue," said Mr. Harrison. "It's strange. It certainly isn't the way you do things."

Sheriff Comes, however, noted that the sheriff's salary can only be set once every four years, and it must be done before a newly elected sheriff takes office.

He will be up for re-election in 1994.

He defended his decision to wait to discuss the possibility of a raise with Mrs. Rehrmann until the delegation had decided whether to support a raise and, if so, how much of a raise.

"How was I going to talk to her when I didn't know what they [the delegates] would propose? It's not that I was ignoring anybody," said the sheriff. "I discussed it with Dave Craig. I was waiting to see the proposal, and then we were going to discuss it. I still haven't seen the proposal."

The delegation voted Wednesday not to submit the bill this year.

Several delegates who spoke out against the raise noted that only 40 percent of the employees of the Sheriff's Department qualified for the merit, or step, pay increases that were granted last year. No cost-of-living raises have been granted county employees, including sheriff's deputies, for two years, said Del. Donald C. Fry, D-District 35A.

"I don't feel our vote not to introduce the legislation is a reflection on the performance of the sheriff, but it's not the proper timing or the proper procedure," Mr. Fry said.

The delegates also criticized Sheriff Comes for not checking with Mrs. Rehrmann first.

"Something like this is better done when it comes from both the sheriff and the executive," said Mr. Craig, who made the motion not to introduce the legislation.

Del. James M. Harkins, a Republiican from District 35A and a deputy in the Harford County Sheriff's Department, also opposed the bill. He did not abstain from the vote or discussion because the issue does not affect his position.

"Soon after the sheriff came into office he approached us about a bill on retirement and pension, and I supported that," said Mr. Harkins. "But this may not be a good bill this year because these are different [economic] times. I also think we need more information."

Del. Mary Louise Preis, D-District 34 and chairwoman of the five member House delegation, also objected to the lack of information and the fact that the request was drafted shortly before the deadline for submitting bills.

Proposed legislation submitted after the last week in January is not guaranteed a public hearing.

"We like to hold [our own] public hearings on the issues that come before us before deciding what legislation we will support," she said. "The delegation's process is fairly clear."

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