Raises approved for Mount Airy's elected officials

Emergency law ends payments for performing administrative duties

April 29, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The Mount Airy Town Council has approved an emergency ordinance that will eventually raise elected officials' salaries while eliminating payments the mayor and council members would have received in June for performing administrative duties.

The payments for the administrative duties were a long-standing but dubious practice, the town attorney said.

As a way of keeping down town costs, council members have been paid since 1959 for being department heads and the mayor has been paid extra since 1978 for his duties with the Maryland Municipal League, said council President John P. Medve. These duties were considered separate from their elected positions under the town charter. Payments had increased over the years, although not recently.

"This is one of those pieces of advice I wish I didn't have to offer you at all," said attorney Richard R. Titus, citing legal sources at the beginning of a special meeting Tuesday night. "The concept of having an administrative salary paid to an official ... it's a no-no.

"You cannot have simultaneously more than one public office for profit," Titus said, although the title of department head is not a second office.

Medve said that there was "no evidence of collusion" in the 45-year-old practice but that "we need to fix this."

Medve said the problem was discovered in the past two weeks after Mayor James S. Holt suggested increasing officials' salaries as part of the current budget process. Salaries for the mayor and council members date from the 1980s.

After a conference Friday with Titus -- and with a town election scheduled for Monday -- the council decided to act quickly to abolish the administrative payment, Medve said.

Under the new ordinance, future council members will receive $4,000 if they attend all 12 monthly meetings and the future mayor will be paid $8,500. The officials had each been receiving $25 a council meeting, plus $2,500 a year as department heads. The mayor had been receiving $2,500 in salary and $5,000 for municipal league duties.

As an emergency measure, the ordinance had to be approved with at least four votes.

Retiring Councilman William E. Wagner Jr., who will lose a $5,000 payment because he led two departments, said he abstained from voting because his daughter, Wendi Peters, is running for his council seat. She is one of three candidates for the three open council seats.

The two incumbents up for re-election, Councilmen Peter R. Helt and David W. Pyatt, voted for the measure -- which otherwise would have failed, they said. If the measure had failed, the three residents running for election would have received only a $25 monthly meeting payment. Their terms will expire in four years.

For the officials whose terms run into 2006, the mayor will receive $2,500 a year, and Medve and Councilman Christopher P. DeColli will receive only the $25 per meeting payment -- $300 a year if they attend all 12.

"They say you don't do it for the money," said Holt, a structural engineer with a Baltimore company. "It's fun."

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