Council's quick OK of pay scales faulted

January 16, 1995|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

New, higher pay scales for most managers of the Columbia Association were rammed through without giving residents a chance to comment, say some of the association's frequent critics.

"They didn't want anyone to see the report before they voted on it," said Lewis Lorton about the Columbia Council's approval Thursday of new salary ranges recommended by a personnel consultant. "The council seems not to want to expose what they're doing to public scrutiny because it's uncomfortable."

The new salary ranges could increase the association's expenses by about $100,000 in the 1995-1996 budget and boost the salaries of some top executives to $114,000 a year.

Council members approved the pay scales without discussing the potential costs and suspended their rules to allow a quicker-than-usual vote, said Mr. Lorton, a Kings Contrivance Village Board member.

Alex Hekimian, president of the Alliance for a Better Columbia watchdog group, agrees with Mr.

Lorton. "I think it was railroaded through," he said.

But Councilwoman Evelyn A. Richardson, who oversaw the consultant's report, said the council was eager to act after having discussed the report in private and having put off a decision for months.

"Clearly, the process has been pushed back longer than I'd like," she said, adding that the report was not released or discussed publicly until Thursday because it was considered a "personnel matter" under negotiation.

In retrospect, she conceded, the council might have been wiser to put off a vote until a later meeting to give residents a chance to consider the proposal.

Ms. Richardson and other council members who supported the higher salary ranges said the nonprofit association -- which has aspects of a private business -- must stay competitive in the labor market.

The nine new pay scales approved for the budget year that begins May 1 could raise the salaries of 29 of 34 management positions for the association, which oversees Co

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lumbia's recreational facilities, community services and parkland.

In preparing the pay scales, the independent consultant weighed the salary ranges of 35 Columbia Association managers against those of comparable positions in government, community associations, sports clubs, other nonprofit

organizations and private businesses.

The study focused on base salaries, not on bonuses received by the association's top eight officers or benefits that all managers get, such as health insurance and free recreational memberships.

"With few exceptions, the current salaries paid to CA's officers are reasonably similar to and in line with [average] market salary rates," the report from Washington-based William M. Mercer Inc. stated.

Higher pay recommended

But the report conceded that there were few positions directly comparable to those of the association, which is unique as the nation's largest private, nonprofit homeowners group.

The consultant recommended higher pay scales for most managers -- some of them substantial. For example, the potential top salary for five midlevel positions could rise by 25 percent to 50 percent.

For the director of transportation and vehicle maintenance, top pay could rise to $67,200 from the current maximum of $45,000.

But for four management positions below the vice president level, the maximum salary will decline slightly.

Association President Padraic M. Kennedy's salary is a special case, since his potential top pay is not affected by the report. His compensation -- $103,000 in salary and bonuses this year -- is based on an annual council review of his performance.

Ms. Richardson said the report confirmed her belief that the association staff is not overpaid -- despite the common perception that prompted her to request the study.

"We're clearly a hybrid, a different animal," Ms. Richardson said of the association.

But some critics say association managers are more comparable to

civil servants than to higher-paid private sector managers, noting that the association receives half its money from a levy on Columbia property owners.

"Again, it's a bureaucracy feeding itself," said Mr. Hekimian of the council's decision to raise the pay scales. "The council is causing residents to be the victims."

Councilman Chuck Rees of Kings Contrivance village, who abstained in the vote, said the report wasn't broad enough to reach sweeping conclusions about whether the association is compensating its managers fairly.

'Competitive market'

But other council members said the higher salary ranges were justified to retain good managers and recruit new ones.

"You're in the labor market looking for the best possible person," said Councilman Gary Glisan of Oakland Mills village. "You really find out how competitive you are when you're trying to fill a position and you keep having to raise the ante to hire someone."

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