Competitive pay for department heads Anne Arundel County: Executive needs leeway in paying officials, such as police chief.

March 21, 1997

JOHN G. GARY wants more flexibility in setting salary levels for department heads. The Anne Arundel County executive's request is not unreasonable.

The County Council should address this issue as quickly as possible and resist an inclination to engage in gratuitous political grandstanding.

No one seemed to be aware of the problem until County Auditor Teresa Sutherland noted from a news report that new Police Chief Larry Tolliver is receiving about $1,000 a month more than permitted under current law. Newly appointed county employees are able to receive up to 15 percent more than the base salary for their positions. This means that Chief Tolliver should be receiving about $69,500, instead of the $81,000 he is now earning.

Under the proposal by Mr. Gary, the executive would have the flexibility to offer a salary between the minimum and maximum for the grade level. From the perspective of management and efficiency, his request is sensible.

The chief executive of an organization should have some discretion over the salaries paid to his appointed officials.

The adage that "you get what you pay for" applies to public employee compensation. In a world where governments must pay competitive rates for top department heads, paying 15 or 20 percent below the going rate discourages a lot of promising candidates from applying. Neither county executive nor the citizens will necessarily be well-served by someone willing to work for less than the prevailing rate of pay.

Although $69,464 (Mr. Tolliver's permitted compensation) is greater than the county's median household income of $56,500, such comparisons are irrelevant. The more appropriate measure the pay level for county chiefs in the area. In that regard, Anne Arundel ranks below neighboring suburbs. Howard pays its chief $88,900 and Baltimore County, $91,500.

No doubt, politics will rear its head in the consideration of this bill. Council President Diane Evans is correct that the chief is "violating the code." But the larger issue is not Chief Tolliver's individual paycheck, but a compensation system that makes the county non-competitive, and ultimately has an impact on service to residents. Mrs. Evans and her colleagues need to correct this deficiency.

Pub Date: 3/21/97

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