Three years ago, Baltimore County technology director Robert Stradling's salary barely cracked the top 10 highest-paid county employees.
Now, thanks to a $40,000 pay raise over the last few years, he's the third-highest-paid employee, falling below only State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger and Police Chief Jim Johnson, according to an analysis by The Baltimore Sun.
Stradling's rising salary reflects the heightened role that technology directors and information systems managers play in counties and municipalities these days. In short, keeping tech-savvy employees isn't cheap.
With an eye on greater cost savings, county officials have turned to technology to enhance overall efficiency. As responsibilities have grown beyond simple desktop computer maintenance, so has compensation.
On Friday, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz plans to post salaries of 7,800 government employees online — a move he announced as The Sun prepared to release its own searchable database of county employee earnings, as it has done for state and Baltimore City workers. The database can be found here.
In 2002, the county paid its technology director about $109,000. Six years later, that figure was $50,000 higher. Last year, Stradling made almost $198,000.
"In the short term, it will cost, but the return on that investment should be phenomenal for the county," said Jacqueline Byers, director of research in the National Association of Counties' County Services Department.
Technology director is generally one of the most difficult jobs for a municipality to fill, along with county manager and economic development director, and Baltimore County's proximity to Annapolis and Washington doesn't make it any easier, Byers said.
"The competition for IT people is fierce, especially in this area. State government and federal government centers are all within reasonable commuting distance," she said.
"If you're going to try to move into that arena where you're trying to get into the most recent high-tech activities, you've got to have someone who knows how to do it and who knows how to stay abreast of what's going on in IT."
Many counties are taking cues from the private sector and even one another, looking to enhance operations through "cloud"-based computing, mobile applications and virtualization — where one physical computer houses multiple "virtual machines" — in addition to doing in-depth process analyses in each department.
A 25-year veteran professional, Stradling supervises 183 employees. He came to the county five years ago from the private sector, where he worked at Citibank, Andersen Consulting and AIG. Back then, he said, he was one of the "biggest naysayers" when it came to discussions about government spending.
"I took a bit of a pay cut coming in, but I was at a place in my life where I could look at the salary as secondary and give something back for a change," Stradling said.
He said he was eager to apply business principles — set goals and deliver — to local government.
"When you're trying to stretch and do more with less, you leverage your information technology as much as you can," Stradling said.
Technology is now an integral part of operations, he said. "The days of just doing desktop [maintenance] and making sure your devices work — that's 15 years ago. We have to be able to understand what they are doing, how we can help them and support them in meeting their customers' needs."
For instance, Stradling's department has helped to make county police cars a "virtual office" with access to email, online daily reports and training, and eventually allowing officers to file tickets without coming into headquarters. It's all part of making crime-fighting more data-driven, he said.
"Chief Johnson reminds my folks, 'You guys are crimefighters just as much as we are,' " Stradling said.
Neighboring counties are placing similar emphasis on their technology managers. Howard County recently approved increasing the salary range to $201,000. The current director, Ira Levy, makes about $164,360.
"A top-notch IT director is critical for any well-run company. And in order to hire and retain those directors you must pay fair market value," said Kevin Enright, spokesman for Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.