City secures hold on Norris with `golden handcuffs'

Officials make $100,000 available for police chief's retirement fund

Incentive to stay until 2004

July 11, 2002|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Baltimore officials approved yesterday a pair of $100,000 "golden handcuffs" to encourage Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris to remain at least until 2004 and ignore any employment offers from other cities.

Norris, whom Mayor Martin O'Malley hired two years ago to spearhead his crime-reduction strategy, would receive the money in increments every year as a supplement to his pension.

"We amended his [Norris'] contract today to give him an incentive to stay," said O'Malley. "I hope it's good enough to keep him here. The foundation of the city's future is the progress we're making in reducing crime, and we need to continue that."

In addition, the 42-year-old former New York police commander will be able to retire anytime and not wait until he's 50 to receive his pension benefits, as required for most city employees, according to the agreement approved yesterday by the city's Board of Estimates.

Norris' department helped reduce the city's murders from 305 in 1999 to 262 in 2000. But homicides dropped only slightly the next year, to 256.

And so far this year, the city has recorded 140 homicides, suggesting it will be difficult for Norris to meet the mayor's goal of no more than 175 murders by the end of 2002.

Norris said yesterday that he was frustrated by the stubborn homicide rate, but he added he was proud of the overall drop in city crime and the improvement in officers' morale.

This spring, as O'Malley weighed whether he would run for governor, Norris was blunt in saying he might also move to a better-paying job in another city.

He said he received calls from a number of cities seeking new police chiefs, including three serious inquiries from large urban police departments, which he declined to name.

After approval of his enhanced compensation yesterday, Norris said he promised the mayor he would stay as chief as long as O'Malley remains and wants Norris to serve. O'Malley's term expires in 2004.

"It's golden handcuffs to keep me here," Norris said. "I've promised the mayor I'm sticking around as long as he's sticking around. ... I'd like to see a lot more improvement. We have a lot more work to do."

City Councilman Bernard "Jack" Young, who represents the 2nd District in the center of the city, objected strongly to the retirement bonus for Norris.

"I personally think this is a terrible use of city money, especially when we are cutting programs that benefit kids," Young said. "We have almost bankrupted this city to pay for the police department."

City Comptroller Joan Pratt -- an independently elected official who frequently objects to what she regards as frivolous spending -- said that she thought the extra retirement cash for Norris was a wise use of city funds.

"I believe that in order to attract and retain quality law enforcement executives, a package like this was not a waste of taxpayer money," Pratt said. "The mayor shared with us that there were other cities where this position pays better money."

In comparison to Norris' salary of $137,000, New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly receives $162,000 per year, Washington Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey gets $150,000, and Philadelphia police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson is paid $140,000, according to spokesmen for these departments.

Neither Norris nor O'Malley, who earns $125,000 a year, is the city's highest-paid official. That distinction is held by schools Superintendent Carmen V. Russo, who gets $192,000 a year.

Carroll R. Armstrong, president of the quasi-private Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, receives $182,000 a year. Peggy Watson, the city's director of finance, receives $138,700, and Public Works Director George L. Winfield earns $120,000 a year, to name a few with comparable salaries, according to city officials and documents.

One reason for the amendment to Norris' original contract, dated May 4, 2000, was that the pension terms promised to him in writing by the O'Malley administration violated the city pension laws, according to city officials.

Although the law requires that most city employees wait until they're 50 years old to receive pensions, O'Malley promised Norris that he could retire at any age and immediately receive 2.5 percent of his salary for each year he served in the city, according to City Solicitor Thurman W. Zollicoffer Jr.

In a confidential June 10 memo to the mayor, Norris asked O'Malley to honor the terms that the city promised him, despite the legal complications. "It has come to my attention that the employment contract we agreed to and signed cannot be honored by the city ... because of my age," Norris wrote in the memo.

To skirt the legal problems, the city decided to avoid the city's normal pension program and instead turn to the private sector and buy an annuity for him, Zollicoffer said.

This will pay Norris a set amount every year -- about $10,275 if he retires after three years -- following the same 2.5 percent annual pension formula listed in his contract, according to the agreement.

On top of this, however, city officials will add another $25,000 per year of city service, up to $100,000, that will be deposited into Norris' retirement fund if he remains at least until Jan. 1, 2004. Norris will receive a portion of this $100,000 each year of his retirement.

Gary McLhinney, president of the city's police union, said that city police officers will likely not be upset by the skirting of the normal pension laws because the O'Malley administration has also handed police officers generous raises.

"We got our piece of the pie, and so he should also get a piece of the pie," McLhinney said.

Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.

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