Burlison tries to revive executive pay raise issue

But planned resolution pulled for lack of support

March 05, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Clashing with his colleagues on the Anne Arundel County Council, Chairman Bill D. Burlison is trying to revive the debate over whether the county executive should get a raise, a hot-potato issue some elected officials say they would rather drop.

Burlison had planned to introduce a resolution that would have created a committee to look into the salary issue at a council meeting last night. When it became clear yesterday afternoon that the idea lacked support, he pulled it from the council agenda.

But Burlison made it clear he's not dropping the issue.

"It just doesn't work out for me to try to introduce the resolution at this time," he said. "If the climate changes, I might try again."

Burlison's resolve has upset some colleagues. "I don't see any sense in it," said Councilwoman Shirley Murphy, a Pasadena Democrat. "It's a dead issue."

But County Executive Janet S. Owens, a fellow Democrat and Burlison's close ally, said yesterday that she would endorse an unbiased review. "An independent look at salaries is an important thing to do," she said. "I think it is the professional thing to do, but I'm not so sure it will be done."

Burlison is having a difficult time putting together a salary committee. Some residents he asked to serve on the panel, including members of the county Salary Standard Commission, which reviewed council salaries and recommended a raise, backed out at the last minute, he said.

"Basically, I'm left without people to serve," said Burlison.

His resolution is the latest turn in a row that has the county's executive and legislative branches sniping at each other over how much elected officials should be compensated.

Last month, council members voted 6-1 to raise council salaries by as much as 26 percent beginning in December. Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican, voted against the increase, saying it might look odd given the county's precarious budget forecast.

Under the new salary scale, the council chairman will earn $40,500; the vice chairman, $37,000, and each member $36,000 a year.

The morning after the council vote, at a weekly meeting with reporters, Owens harshly criticized members, saying they shouldn't have used county employee salaries, some of which have risen recently, to justify the pay increase.

"I personally don't view elected officials as county employees," said Owens, whose position, under the county charter, also was set for a salary review. But members of the Personnel Board said last month the charter doesn't give them the authority to make a recommendation on the executive's salary.

When council members learned of that decision, they were flummoxed. It was the first time in two decades that the panel had refused to make a salary recommendation.

And while Councilmen John J. Klocko III, a Crofton Republican, and Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., a Millersville Democrat, said they would prefer to drop the issue, especially given Owens' statements to the press that she would be happy with no raise at all, Burlison thought otherwise.

"I think it is important because it's a process and procedure that has been followed during the period of our charter government," he said. "Every four years, the council looks at the salary for the next county executive, and I see no reason why that process should not be followed."

Burlison said he had not spoken to Owens about his plan for a committee to review her salary.

"I had no idea," Owens said, who earns $102,000 a year.

Owens didn't consult with Burlison and Klosterman, the council's vice chairman, when she opted not to sign off on legislation to raise council salaries. But because she didn't veto the bill, the salary increase became law anyway.

Council members said they were miffed when they learned of Burlison's committee proposal.

Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat, said Burlison's plan to introduce a resolution caught her by surprise. "He sent us all a copy," she said. "I called and said I wasn't going to co-sponsor it."

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