City Council doesn't deserve pay raise Part-time job: Before the election, members were shy about taking higher salaries.

November 18, 1995

CITIZENS WHO DECIDE to serve the public by winning a seat on the Baltimore City Council deserve a measure of gratitude. Their related expenses while in office should be paid. And they should be given some compensation for the time they spend trying to solve other people's problems. But $37,000 a year is too much.

These are part-time jobs. They are part-time because the framers of Baltimore's charter wisely made them so. They didn't want full-time politicians navigating Baltimore's future; they wanted ordinary citizens who were more at home in their neighborhood school or place of worship or diner or park than at City Hall.

Worse than the size of the council members' new salaries is the way they went about raising them. A year ago, when a study commission wrongly recommended increasing council pay from $29,000 to $35,000, it was hard to find incumbents who said they agreed.

Third District Councilman Martin O'Malley suggested any raise should mirror the 3 to 4 percent municipal employees were likely to get. But that was a year before city elections. Once those were safely out of the way, council members began singing a different tune.

They held a public hearing on a proposed 24 percent raise. When only one dissenter showed up, an emboldened council rushed through a 28 percent raise. Mr. O'Malley and Councilman John Cain were the only ones to vote no.

It helped that the council could tie its raise to a pay hike for the mayor, who, at $60,000, is underpaid as the chief executive of a big city. The 58 percent increase to $95,000 for the full-time mayor is justified, but not the big raise for part-time council members. Maryland legislators, also part-timers, make only $28,840. Legislators cannot vote themselves a raise higher than a pay commission's recommendation.

Baltimore County Council members receive $30,900, though members represent far more citizens than city counterparts. The excuse used by city lawmakers: They hadn't had a raise in eight years and their counterparts in the affluent Washington suburbs are paid over $50,000 a year. That is the wrong comparison. Before city lawmakers vote themselves a fat raise, they should change their working hours.

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