Silence is not golden

March 29, 2007

If members of the Baltimore City Council think the public doesn't know they voted themselves a raise, they are living in la-la land. Their vote not to reject a salary increase recommendation isn't fooling anyone.

The question is: Why not just vote openly for a pay raise?

An independent commission recommended the increases as called for in a new law designed to keep elected officials from setting their own pay raises (a good thing). The proposed raises for council members, council president, comptroller and mayor are in line with salaries in Philadelphia and Washington. For council members working a full day and more at their elected duties, the pay raise from $48,000 to $57,000 seems reasonable. For others, it would be an unearned bonus.

Under the charter amendment that established the salary commission, the council was barred from changing the panel-recommended salary. It could approve, reject or take no action on the recommendation, which would have the effect of approving the raises.

At a March 22 hearing on the pay raises held at the request of Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., the mayoral hopeful made a motion to reject the salary recommendations. Of the 11 members present, only Mr. Mitchell, Mary Pat Clarke and Kenneth N. Harris Sr. voted to reject the recommended pay raises; the other eight voted not to do so. The motion failed.

The council had until April 1 to officially approve, reject or take no action. Their failure to act at Monday's council meeting is tantamount to an approval of the salary raises but without a vote.

A simple yea or nay would have been more honest.

Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake is mistaken when she suggests that choosing not to reject the salary raise recommendation affirmed the public's wish to take politics out of the process. The council shouldn't be in the business of setting its own raises. But it should vote up or down on the salary increases - just as it votes on property tax cuts, the budget and hundreds of other issues.

The pay raises, which will increase the mayor's salary from $125,000 to $148,000, will take effect in December, after the city elections. Council members running for re-election can say they didn't vote themselves a pay raise; technically they would be right.

But that wouldn't be the whole truth.

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