Gary's generosity knows strict bounds Executive offers weak rationale for huge raises to a few, including his wife.

November 10, 1997

BY GRANTING GENEROUS salary increases to 10 of his top administrators, including his wife, Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary has painted himself into a political corner. These department heads received raises of between 7 and 10 percent, a hefty jump even in the best of times.

These administrators have broad responsibilities. They have done a good job of managing their departments and providing residents with high-quality services in the face of limited resources. They could probably leave government service and obtain better-paying jobs in the private sector. Mr. Gary obviously would like to keep them.

But the size of the raises is the issue that will give the executive an Excedrin headache. He said their "outstanding performances" justified the generous increases. The explanation is inadequate. Unless Mr. Gary can show that such increases are needed to keep pace with similar jurisdictions, or some other circumstance, his action will spur justifiable animosity inside the Arundel Center, and among taxpayers.

These raises are far beyond what most employees inside and outside county government are receiving. Nationally, average hourly earnings are increasing at the rate of about 2 percent -- one reason inflation has remained low in spite of low unemployment. Granting a 10 percent raise will only encourage government employee groups to ask for similar amounts.

Mr. Gary, of course, cannot begin to dole out such generous raises across the board. It costs the county far fewer dollars to give a few top officials a 10 percent raise than it would to give 2,500 employees a raise of even 5 percent. The county's $11.2 million surplus has already been committed. The local economy may be improving, but not well enough to generate a tax windfall to cover a hefty raise next year, let alone in the succeeding years.

The fact that Ruthanne Gary, whose employment in county government predates her husband's, received a 7 percent increase will only add to worker irritation. Last year, Mr. Gary shelved a compensation report that suggested his wife was overpaid relative to community services officer positions in other counties. If he can't do a better job of justifying the generous salary increases for his lieutenants -- and his wife -- he shouldn't give them.

Pub Date: 11/10/97

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