Pediatrician elected to fill a vacancy on Westminster council

Four members unanimous on Pecoraro replacement

January 28, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Dr. Robert P. Wack, a Westminster pediatrician who ran unsuccessfully for the House of Delegates last year, was sworn in last night to fill an opening on the city's Common Council.

Wack, one of seven candidates for the post, was the unanimous choice of the council's other four members.

"He has all the qualifications to be a great council member," said council President Damian L. Halstad.

"He's a respected physician who has a keen interest in issues that affect the city: police, water and sewer and parking. Having received many e-mails and phone calls in support of his application, I know he has broad support in the community," Halstad said.

Vacant for two weeks

Wack will fill the fifth seat on the council, left vacant for two weeks since the resignation of two-term councilman L. Gregory Pecoraro, who said his new job as chief of staff for Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. did not allow him enough time to devote to the city.

"I saw no need to wait," Halstad said. "The voters and constituents benefit from having a full slate of council members."

Among the candidates for the opening were two former council presidents, two community activists, an insurance broker and an advocate for a city sports complex.

Halstad met Wack, 41, while going door to door for votes during his re-election campaign in 2000. Wack and his wife invited Halstad in and grilled him on issues, Halstad recalled.

"He asked me some very difficult questions, but it showed great interest and a substantial knowledge base," Halstad said.

In the fall, Halstad ran into him again when Wack was running as a Democrat for a House of Delegates seat in District 5A. Despite losing his bid for that post, Wack had the backing of many Westminster residents, Halstad said.

Wack, a graduate of Georgetown University's School of Medicine, is director of hospital pediatrics at Carroll County General Hospital, where he has worked since 1997.

Halstad said he would assign Wack to some of Pecoraro's committees -- cable television and economic development.

"He's levelheaded, thoughtful and smart," Halstad said. "I think he will do a good job."

Wack will have only a few months in the post before it is open again. Three council seats, including his, are up for election in May.

Police pensions

Also at last night's Common Council meeting, a proposal for a pension plan that would give the city's police officers a chance to retire after 25 years of service with 50 percent of their salary was formally introduced.

The plan is modeled after the Law Enforcement Officers Pension System used by state police. Westminster's 43-member police force has complained for years about shifting to a plan that gives them an incentive to stay in the city when other police forces around the state offer earlier retirement thresholds and higher payouts.

"I'm excited for the city," said Councilman Roy L. Chiavacci, chairman of the public safety committee that backed the plan. "What this does is single out Westminster as a town that is interested in having good law enforcement. The LEOPS plan adds another dimension to the benefits for people to come and join the Police Department and retain the good police officers we do have."

He unveiled details of the plan at a November council meeting.

New proposal

Under the proposal, officers with 25 years of service could retire and earn 50 percent of the average of their three highest paying years.

The earliest that officers now can retire is age 55, or after 30 years on the force with yearly payouts ranging from 32 percent to 42 percent.

Chiavacci said the city is waiting for actuaries from the state retirement system to determine the cost for the plan and expects the answer next month.

But a study done in spring last year by the city, which was considering several alternatives to the current pension plan, gave an estimate of $364,000 a year for the cost of LEOPS.

$125,000 set aside

The city had set aside $125,000 for a different pension enhancement plan proposed in the spring, but that plan was withdrawn by the council after police complained that it did not go far enough. Money remains in the budget for some kind of pension plan.

To make up the more than $200,000 difference, the city first would try to tap into rebates available from the state retirement plan.

To help cut that difference further, officers are willing to waive their annual raises.

"I think just the mere fact that officers made the commitment to forgo a step increase to help underwrite the cost of it helps," Chiavacci said.

The vote on the plan could occur as early as the next council meeting, Feb. 10.

The plan would go into effect in July.

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