With $250,000 salary, new Baltimore IT director earns more than mayor, police chief, health commissioner

Baltimore's new information technology boss is being paid $250,000 a year — a bigger salary than the mayor, the police chief or the health commissioner — as he leads the city’s efforts to update its aging computer systems.

Frank Johnson, who holds the titles of chief information officer and chief digital officer, joined the city early last month after a long career at the technology giant Intel. HIs municipal salary is almost $100,000 higher than his predecessors’ in the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology.

Mayor Catherine Pugh said the pay reflected the expanded responsibilities of the job, which now include working on computer systems across city agencies and ensuring the security of city data in addition to working on mayoral initiatives. Pugh said Johnson’s work will ultimately save money.

Johnson has been charged with modernizing the city’s government and is now assessing systems that are woefully outdated, Pugh said.

“People are still walking around with big thick books of paper,” she said.

When Johnson was introduced to reporters in September, he said he had the right experience for the job.

“I’ve successfully helped hundreds of organizations standardize and modernize their infrastructure,” he said.

Johnson is among the very highest-paid city employees. His salary tops that of State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, who earned $238,000 in salary last year, according to city records. It easily surpasses that of the mayor ($176,000), the police commissioner ($200,000 last year) the health commissioner ($204,000 last year) and other department heads.

Pugh said other members of her cabinet, including schools CEO Sonja Santelises and the head of the quasi-public tourism agency Visit Baltimore, Al Hutchinson, make more.

Santelises, who is paid out of the school system’s budget, makes $298,000 under a contract she signed last year. Hutchinson earns $333,000 as president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, a nonprofit funded mostly through tax revenue.

Previous holders of Johnson’s job earned between $150,000 and $160,000. His salary is more than the IT chiefs in New York ($220,000) and Los Angeles ($236,000) made last year.

But Johnson’s pay is similar to those who have similar jobs elsewhere in Maryland. Rob Stradling, the director of the Baltimore County Department of Information Technology, has a salary of $251,000. The directors in Howard and Montgomery counties also made more than $200,000 last year.

Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt said leadership challenges at the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology hobbled progress in recent years. Pratt said she was confident about the mayor’s hiring of Johnson.

“Commensurate with the salary that you report he is receiving, I also have faith that expectations have been set and that he has been directed to achieve goals and reach objectives worthy of such a number,” Pratt said.

A spokesman for City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said one of the first conversations Young had with Pugh was about updating the city’s technology systems.

“He knows that’s not going to come cheap,” spokesman Lester Davis said, when skilled IT workers can command high pay in the private sector. “It’s one of those things where you get what you pay for.”

Pugh has made upgrading the city’s computers a priority. She said in July that she was conducting a nationwide search for someone to lead the job of modernizing them.

“I need somebody that's a visionary who understands that the future is technology,” she said.

Baltimore has tried for years to update its systems, many of which rely on inflexible, four-decade-old mainframe technology.

The city recently had some success shifting its water billing system to a more modern system, but even that has had problems. Some customers got bills this month covering a shorter period than they were supposed to as a result of the way a security update was applied.

Top Baltimore City salaries

Baltimore Chief Information and Chief Digital Officer Frank Johnson makes more than the mayor and several agency heads, according to the most recently available city salary data.

  • Johnson, $250,000
  • State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, $238,000
  • Health Commissioner Dr. Leana S. Wen, $204,000
  • Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, $200,000
  • Mayor Catherine Pugh, $176,000

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