Focus turns to pay issue

Meeting with panel, council members, Robey air opinions

`Fair' salaries sought

Lack of time for family life is common thread

September 25, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

There's little as sensitive for elected officials as publicly discussing their salaries, but Howard County's executive and County Council did exactly that last night.

Meeting with the seven-member Compensation Review Commission, County Executive James N. Robey and four of the five council members said they love their jobs so much that the pay doesn't matter, but there were a few little catches.

Robey said he works 80-hour weeks and has spent more than $10,000 out of his own pocket for his wife's tickets to charitable events.

He refused, when asked directly, to say how much the next county executive should earn. After Robey left the room, commission member Frank Bloom mentioned a salary of $125,000 to $130,000. Robey, a Democrat, is expected to run for re-election next year.

In December, Robey will get a raise to $98,500, slightly less than his pay as Howard County's police chief in 1997. Nearly 20 county officials, including school Superintendent John R. O'Rourke, make more than the executive earns. O'Rourke is paid $180,000 a year.

Asked about hiring people who make much more than he does, Robey said, "It's a strange feeling to appoint people to positions to serve you and at your pleasure who make $25,000 more than you do."

Robey said he paid for all of his and his wife's tickets to charitable and civic events for the first two years of his term, then allowed the county to begin paying for his tickets. He chose not to raise campaign money for that purpose, he said. Still, "the choice [to buy tickets] is always mine. I could say no."

As much as he likes being county executive, and he said he "loves" the job, his private life is a casualty.

He spends an average of four nights a month at home, has no time for routine household chores such as mowing the lawn or painting the house, and often finds himself talking about constituents' problems even when out socially with his wife.

"I didn't get into this for the money," he said. "The salary should be what you all think is fair."

County Council salaries are to increase to $33,800 in December. Council members told the commission that their jobs are often demanding but vary greatly from district to district.

C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat completing his fifth term, said he thinks council members should have cars supplied by the county. He spends up to 60 hours a week on county business, he said.

Chairman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, said he spends 30 to 50 hours a week, and Republicans Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City and Allan H. Kittleman of the western county estimated that they spend about 20 hours a week.

"I have no life," Merdon said. "My life is the council and my [full-time, private] job."

The council members, Gray noted, also act as the Zoning Board and occasionally as the Liquor Board.

Kittleman warned against raising council pay too much, saying that would encourage a full-time council rather than part-time citizen legislators. Gray said there are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, but Guzzone said the most important consideration for the commission is to find a salary level "to encourage any number of people" who want to serve on the council.

Bloom suggested that providing cars might encourage more middle- or lower-income people, who otherwise might not be able to afford it, to run for council seats.

Howard's salaries for elected officials are lower than those of the four largest metropolitan counties but higher than those in several jurisdictions of similar size.

Baltimore County's next executive will earn $125,000, the same as Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. Baltimore County Council members will be paid $45,000, starting next term. Each of the seven council members represents slightly more than 100,000 people, compared with about 50,000 constituents for each of Howard's five council members.

In Baltimore, council members are paid $48,000 a year. Each of the 18 members represents an average of 36,000 people.

In Anne Arundel County, the executive's pay will rise to $102,000 in December, and County Council members will earn $28,660. In Harford County, the executive will get $85,000 next term and council members will earn $29,000.

Howard County sets the pay of elected officials by appointing a Compensation Review Commission composed of citizens every four years. The council has final say. The new pay levels will take effect in December next year.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.