A blind eye

Our view: A "no" vote on cost-of-living increases would have resulted in political gain for the mayor, comptroller and City Council president

December 11, 2008

Sometimes it doesn't pay to get a raise.

At a time of fiscal constraints and shrinking revenues, when City Hall is demanding cutbacks in public agencies and deferring salary upgrades for mid-level managers, Baltimore's top elected officials last month authorized a cost-of-living increase for themselves and the City Council. The annual 2.5 percent raise is proving to be more trouble than it's worth - the phones in some City Hall offices are ringing.

Forgoing the annual adjustment would have banked Mayor Sheila Dixon, Comptroller Joan M. Pratt and Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake some well-deserved political capital.

A little background is in order here. City voters in 2006 approved the creation of an independent salary commission for elected officials to depoliticize pay raises. The commission held public hearings and recommended increases ranging from 18 percent to 26 percent with a yearly cost-of-living adjustment that would take effect in the next term. The council was barred from increasing the recommendations, and if it took no action, the pay raises would go forward. The city's Board of Estimates, on which the mayor, comptroller and council president sit, must vote on the increases for them to take effect. That's what happened at its Nov. 26 meeting, as reported in The Baltimore Sun.

But the board's agenda listed the "salary adjustments" by pay grades with no other identifying information - not exactly transparency in government. Mayor Dixon, Comptroller Pratt and President Rawlings-Blake recused themselves from voting on their own cost-of-living increases, and with no discussion or public acknowledgment of the pay raises, the votes were recorded and the increases approved.

Ms. Dixon (and her colleagues) may well deserve the raises - the mayor's salary is $151,700, considerably less than the $250,000 paid to the state's attorney for Baltimore. But these tough economic times should have made her and the others think twice. Now, the only way for them to forgo the cost-of-living adjustments, which are $2,200 or less, would be to donate them back to the city.

Surely they would agree that the Board of Estimates could benefit from a little more transparency and a little less business as usual.

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