Baltimore County scraps controversial severance policy for top officials

Baltimore County has scrapped rules that let top appointees receive severance payments in addition to their retirement benefits when they leave their jobs.

Under the Executive Benefit Policy, eligible appointed employees could get between 80 and 120 days of severance pay in addition to their earned pension benefits.

The policy, which benefits those who are already among the highest paid in county government, came under scrutiny recently.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz sent a letter to County Council Chairman Tom Quirk on Wednesday, saying he was ending the practice.

“Upon further review, I have decided to terminate the policy in its entirety, effective immediately,” Kamenetz, a Democrat, wrote in the letter to Quirk. “Kindly advise the rest of the Council. Thank you.”

Kamenetz, through a spokesman, declined to provide additional comment Wednesday.

Last week, the county announced that its top administrative officer would no longer be eligible for the severance benefit.

While the policy has existed in some form since 1987, current county administrative officer Fred Homan has approved changes to it and stood to benefit from the severance provision. Homan, who makes $240,000 a year, could have received $80,000 under the policy upon leaving county government.

Through a spokesman, Homan declined to comment Wednesday.

Kamenetz chief of staff Don Mohler said about 30 employees — mostly department heads and senior executive staff — were eligible for the benefit. Mohler said his office could not provide a list Wednesday of all the people who were eligible.

In March, The Baltimore Sun reported that former police chief Jim Johnson received a $117,000 package that included severance and unused leave. The county also kept Johnson on the payroll for two months after he left his post, paying him an additional $45,954 during that time period. The money was on top of Johnson’s retirement benefits.

Earlier this month, the Baltimore County Progressive Democrats Club questioned the county’s practice in a letter to Kamenetz and the County Council.

“They made the right choice, and I hope that any further changes to compensation or retirement policies are done in an open and transparent way,” said Marc Lester, a member of the club who lives in the Nottingham area.

Quirk said he had spoken with Kamenetz several times about the issue and agreed with the executive’s decision to stop the severance payouts.

Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, said those who have criticized the policy have “a legitimate concern.”

Among Quirk’s constituents is former Anne Arundel County Attorney David Plymyer, a Catonsville resident who has sent memos to council members questioning the legality of the Executive Benefit Policy, which was never approved by the County Council.

Plymyer said Wednesday he still believes that the council should direct the county auditor to perform an audit of how the Executive Benefit Policy has been administered — and rescind a parallel policy for County Council employees.

David Rose, second vice president for the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police, said he was “glad to see that the county executive decided to rescind the policy, as he should have.”

The police union recently sent a public-records request to the county administration about the executive benefits plan, but has not received a response, Rose said.

Councilman Todd Crandell said the county needed to question “these exorbitant retirement packages.”

The Dundalk Republican pointed to unfunded positions within the Police Department and said additional payments for highly paid public officials “should not be a priority over other items.”

“Severance is usually meant for those who have been separated from their job, not for a retirement bonus,” Crandell said in a statement to The Sun.

Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, called it wise for the county government to end the policy, saying “those working in the private sector would not have that practice.”

Councilman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, agreed with the move, too.

“I welcome the change,” Jones said. “When you’re in government, you’re dealing with the people’s money.”

alisonk@baltsun.com

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