A clerk who makes more than his boss

Courts: Consolidation changes clerks' duties, but salaries stay high.

September 21, 1999|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

His bosses say Pinkney McCready spends his days carting court cases to judges, filing paperwork and doing anything else his supervisor asks him to do in the juvenile clerk's office of Baltimore Circuit Court.

His pay for such duties: $71,578 this year.

McCready, who apparently has no formal job description, makes more money than the City Council president and most city prosecutors, and $17,000 more than his supervisor.

Next year, he is due for a raise.

"I tell you, our priorities are pretty messed up," said Sheila Dixon, the Democratic candidate for City Council president, a post that pays $65,000.

McCready, 60, is reluctant to say much about his workload other than to note that he helped with a study of staffing in the office. He defends his salary, saying he deserves the pay because he was director of personnel for the Circuit Court clerk's office.

Officially, that job was eliminated eight years ago when the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) began running clerks' offices across the state. Since then, local officials say, McCready has had a series of jobs, including liaison for personnel and recorder of tax liens.

"The basic thrust of government has been that a person does not lose his salary because of reassignment," said McCready. "With this mix here, you have a number of folks whose salaries are not necessarily based on their current job duties."

McCready's salary -- he makes as much as three times more than others in his office -- is the kind of inequity the AOC has been trying to erase. For six years, AOC employees have been studying the clerks' offices to establish uniform pay scales for jobs after decades of disparity from county to county.

"There should be equity among jobs that are assigned similar duties," said Sharon Matthews, director of human resources for the AOC. "It's the fairest and most objective way to do it."

When Baltimore's office was studied in 1996, state officials and their consultants found that about 100 employees were overpaid. But their salaries were not cut. Instead, the jobs they held were targeted for salary reductions once the employees retired, said Patricia M. Bertorelli, chief deputy clerk for Baltimore.

Since then, some have left and some have retired. Fewer than 50 of those employees remain, she said.

"It starts from the file clerks all the way up," Bertorelli said.

After consolidation

Baltimore had such a high number of overpaid employees, Bertorelli said, because the city used to have six court clerks' offices with separate staffs.

When the clerks' offices were consolidated in 1983, people in high positions were allowed to keep their pay although their job duties changed.

Charles Mackey, now an assistant manager in land records, used to be head clerk of one of the six courts. He earns $47,715 and is poised to have his salary raised to $54,443 over the next five years.

If his job were vacated today, the starting salary would likely be $21,515 with a limit of $31,953, Bertorelli said.

Bertorelli said that McCready's salary won't change because the AOC decided "money will not be taken from people."

Matthews, the AOC human resources director, said that the chief judge of the Court of Appeals, Robert M. Bell, felt that cutting salaries would be undeserved punishment. Matthews said Bell decided that those with high pay should be given extra duties.

"Judge Bell made a decision on what he believed was the fairest way to handle a situation which he inherited," Matthews said.

But in McCready's case, his duties appear to have declined over time.

First he was personnel director, then liaison, then tax lien clerk; then he moved to his ambiguous job in the juvenile clerk's office. A person hired now to fill McCready's job would be paid $22,976 with a limit of $34,415, according to AOC records and Bertorelli.

Chief Clerk Frank M. Conaway, who was elected last year, said McCready's duties include "various and sundry things." Bertorelli said McCready processed paperwork and carried juvenile case files to and from courtrooms. Matthews said that he is assisting the head of the juvenile department.

The chief juvenile clerk uses McCready where he believes he is needed, Matthews said. Pressed for details, she responded: "That is all I am going to say."

McCready also won't say what he does in the juvenile department. He said he carries out assignments given to him by Conaway, such as working on the recent staffing study.

"I've been all over. I've had a number of reassignments," he said.

McCready also disputes that his duties as personnel director ended at the beginning of the decade when the AOC took over those responsibilities. He said former Clerk of Court Saundra Banks -- who died in 1997 -- allowed him to serve in that role.

Inequities in pay

His salary has provoked much talk in his office and in others around the state.

"How can someone be sitting in juvenile making that much money when the people sitting next to him are not making half that money?" asked one clerk in a neighboring county. "There should be some control over the compensation of employees. In private industry that wouldn't happen."

During the next four years, McCready's salary will rise to a maximum of $79,512, AOC records show.

Maria Smiroldo, spokeswoman for the court system, said that over time, as people retire, such inequities in pay will be eliminated.

"We've made a huge improvement over the way things were," Smiroldo said. "Over time, the problems will dissipate."

A comparison of city salaries

$71,578: Pinkney McCready, a worker in the juvenile clerk's office of Baltimore Circuit Court

$70,000: A senior city prosecutor, 20 years' experience

$65,000: City Council president

$54,534: McCready's supervisor, $22,976: Starting salary for McCready's job

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