County Council members should get a pay raise, commission told

Political Notebook

September 18, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

HOWARD COUNTY might need a full-time County Council in years to come, but part-time council members elected next year should at least get a pay raise, two councilmen told members of the county's Compensation Review Commission.

Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, and east Columbia Democrat David A. Rakes said that some weeks, they spend up to 60 hours, including evenings and weekends, fulfilling their duties as legislators, community leaders, Zoning Board and liquor board members. During the past year or two, comprehensive rezoning consumed huge amounts of time, both agreed. Other weeks, they may spend less than 30 hours on the job. The other three council members and County Executive James N. Robey are to be interviewed by the commission later.

Guzzone said the council job may need to become full-time "sometime in the not too distant future" -- perhaps over the next three or four election cycles (12 to 16 years). Rakes agreed, adding, however, that there is more to the job than work. "I have a lot of fun" attending community events and mixing with people. "This is a job you've got to like -- you want to do," he told the commissioners.

Although all local legislative bodies in Maryland are at least technically considered part-time jobs, council members in Prince George's and Montgomery counties work virtually full time, officials there said.

For their efforts, Howard's council members are next to last in salary among the region's elected officials. Compensation ranges from a low of $31,000 in Harford County to a high of $76,654 in Montgomery. Howard's council salaries have been frozen at $33,800 since 2002, though members also earn extra money for each Zoning Board or liquor board meeting they attend. The chairman also gets $1,000 more. Council pay was $30,300 in 1993 and rose to $31,175 by December 1997.

Pressed for an off-the-cuff suggestion for a pay raise, Guzzone said maybe $10,000 or an amount that matches the consumer price index or the percentage county employees have received might be fair. Rakes guessed that 10 percent to 15 percent might be right. Guzzone is a two-term councilman who is expected to run for county executive next year. Rakes, a freshman, has said he wants to run for re-election.

Guzzone said some might not consider attendance at public ceremonies and events to be work, but "I take that as part of my job." In addition, he pointed to discussion of zoning changes in the western county as an example of an issue not before the council officially, but that still takes lots of time.

"It's not legislation yet, but am I spending lots of time on it? You bet," he said.

The seven-member commission meets once every four years to determine the pay for officials elected for the new term.

This year's group plans several more sessions and a public hearing at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 in the County Council chambers.

The commission's recommendations will then go to the council for a vote.

In 2002, the council approved a pay raise for the county executive but not for itself because of political tensions amid the recession that was ravaging the county budget.

Carline Cazeau, a commission member, said the council's salary surprised her.

"Most of the public would be shocked to hear how [little] council members are compensated. I know I was," she said.

Commissioner Steven Sass worried that if salaries are too low, ambitious young people with family expenses may not be able to afford public service.

But Barbara Miller, another commission member, said people who run for office often have other motives.

"They come into it for power, control -- all kinds of reasons," she said.

Commission Chairwoman Lynn Benton said the group's task is "setting a balance. You want to have a salary level where people can afford to run, but not attract someone just for the money."

Deadline approaches

Last year, Howard's delegates and senators became embroiled in a fight over whether local bills submitted for General Assembly consideration in January should be accepted if filed late.

This year, the House delegation chairwoman, Del. Shane E. Pendergrass, is hoping to prevent that by advertising Wednesday's deadline for submitting requests.

"I'm optimistic that we're not going to have the problem -- that everybody's going to try real hard to get things in on time," she said.

The Senate delegation chairman, Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, generally agreed, though he noted that "things happen," and some late event could spur consideration of a late bill.

Hooe running again

Joe Hooe, 37, of Lansdowne, a Republican auto repair and towing company owner who ran third for the two District 12A delegates seats in 2002, has announced he will try again next year.

Hooe issued a news release announcing his candidacy under the headline: "12A gets a second chance."

Hooe got 23 percent of the vote last time in the southwestern Baltimore County/Elkridge district, behind Democratic Dels. James E. Malone Jr. and Steven J. DeBoy Sr., who got 25 percent.

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