Pay report still unused after 2 years It recommended cut in salary for position held by Gary's wife

Methodology criticized

$150,150 survey was done to help cut payroll costs

November 17, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

On Thanksgiving weekend two years ago, an Indiana consulting firm express-mailed three copies of a much-anticipated salary survey to top officials of then-County Executive Robert R. Neall's departing administration.

The report by David M. Griffith & Associates cost Anne Arundel $150,150 and was to be the basis of an overhaul of the county's personnel system. Specifically, it was supposed to reinforce the administration's push to lower payroll costs.

Instead, the report virtually disappeared.

The loose-leaf binders never circulated beyond a small circle of Neall officials and top advisers to incoming County Executive John G. Gary, a Republican who won election with a message of fiscal austerity.

But speculation continues about the contents -- as well as what it might reveal about Gary's cost-cutting priorities. The study was mentioned this year during labor negotiations and during County Council hearings over two personnel bills.

The Gary administration refused a written request by The Sun to review the report. The newspaper obtained a copy from another source.

So why the secrecy about a dry study that is 3 inches thick?

According to administration officials, the study is an unfinished work that missed its mark by a mile. Administration critics, however, say it contains useful data that have been buried for personal and political reasons: The report recommends, among other things, a substantial cut in the pay of the community services director, Ruthanne Gary, the county executive's wife.

"They stopped it cold," said Marc Wirig, Neall's acting personnel officer at the time, who worked with DMG & Associates on the salary report and was later removed from the project. Wirig was Gary's deputy personnel officer until his position was eliminated from this year's county budget.

"They paid them [DMG & Associates] $150,000 and didn't do any of their recommendations," he said. "A lot of people believe the reason has to do with Ruthanne Gary's pay."

Ruthanne Gary was hired by Neall in July 1991 as community services director, a job she still holds. The position pays $65,048 a year. In November 1994, when Neall officials received the DMG & Associates draft report, she was making $63,463.

The November draft of the survey, which compared Anne Arundel's pay scales with salary data from other municipal governments and the private sector, recommended that Ruthanne Gary receive no more than $49,633 -- a $13,830 pay cut.

In April 1995, DMG & Associates issued a second, "final" draft. It maintained that Ruthanne Gary was overpaid compared with people in similar jobs in other jurisdictions. This time, though, the recommended pay cut was a little more than $3,000.

"I don't know what the report recommended for my wife," Gary said last week.

The April draft was substantially different from the previous version in a number of other ways.

For one, the final draft recommended countywide raises worth only $336,000, substantially less than the $7.5 million in pay increases suggested in the first report. The reductions hit rank-and-file positions hardest, which Gary administration critics say is the way top officials have chosen to reduce personnel costs that account for 75 percent of Anne Arundel's spending.

Police officers, for example, saw recommended raises of $1.2 million in the first draft shrink to $52,000 in the April version. Firefighters also saw a $2.1 million raise recommendation fall to $138,000.

The administration says the second report incorporated salary data more pertinent to Anne Arundel's position in the labor market, substituting information from Baltimore-area counties for the suburban-Washington counties used in the November draft. "The study showed we were being competitive and fair, especially with our rich benefits system," Gary said.

Differing views

County labor unions have a different explanation.

"It's like they said, 'If we're going to pay this much money for a report, then you are going to produce something we like or we'll keep sending it back,' " said LeRoy A. Wilkison, president of the International Association of Firefighters, Local 1563.

Said Neall, who is now an Annapolis lobbyist and had departed by the time DMG & Associates delivered the April report: "When you are behind the times, you implement a process to get pay up to the desired level. If people are overpaid, you 'red-line' those positions until the market catches up. That's the theory, anyway."

That theory apparently did not apply to Gary's wife.

The April draft revealed that she was being paid $3,121 above the top end of comparable positions outside Anne Arundel government. But three months later, she received a merit raise worth $1,585 a year on her fourth anniversary with the county.

In 1995, 865 nonunion employees received merit raises, according to the county personnel office. But the majority of Anne Arundel's 3,500 employees have not received a pay raise for three years.

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