IT'S EASY to generate outrage about salaries of corporate executives escalating beyond reason. It's harder to arouse the public about absurdities at the other end of the executive salary spectrum. Who cares if a political leader is underpaid?
That's the dilemma in places like Harford County, where a proposal has limped along for months to increase the salary of the executive from $65,000 to $91,000.
The status quo there is ludicrous -- as it was in Baltimore before the mayor won a raise last year. Top salaries in Maryland's other suburban counties are respectable but not generous, ranging from $85,000 to $105,000. Plans to raise the pay in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties this past year have also come under attack.
Voters normally turned off by political theater enjoy it in these cases because they think it symbolizes frugality and public sacrifice. It's a charade: the difference of $30,000 or $40,000 in an executive's salary is a blip in a budget 100 or 200 times that amount. Pay is linked to competence most everywhere else, so why not here?
Salaries are especially inadequate in Maryland, where the system of strong county governments requires more responsibility than in most U.S. counties.
Indeed, some department heads earn more than their bosses. Harford's appointed director of administration makes 47 percent more than the elected executive. In Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties, some directors make $20,000 more than the executive. That's out of whack.
The proposed salary increase for Harford County Council members from $20,000 to the low $30,000 range is another matter, however. A report by the Singer Group Inc. makes false comparisons between pay for a part-time legislative body and a full-time executive and department heads. Harford council members don't have staffs to manage, as in larger counties, yet their proposed salaries would be higher.
The suggested increase in council pay in Harford seems high; the executive proposal seems right.
Pub Date: 4/17/98