Aberdeen's city council is moving forward with its new task force to study proposed raises for council members, but some people have called the committee potentially biased.
The committee, which the council appointed earlier this month by a 4 to 1 vote, has seven members: Louise Costello, Bernard Backus, Pat Faircloth, Lance Hersh, Mark Schlottman, Ed Budnick and Paul Tormey.
The committee will spend the summer studying whether giving future mayors a salary of $24,000 a year instead of $10,000 makes sense; also the council members annual pay would increase from $7,500 to $12,000.
That would double the salaries of future mayors and significantly increase those of council members, giving them higher salaries than other elected municipal officials in the county and area. The mayor of Havre de Grace earns $7,800 annually and city council members get $5,200. In Bel Air, members of the Board of Town Commissioners are paid $4,800 annually, with the board chairman – who holds the ceremonial title of mayor – receiving $6,000 annually.
Aberdeen Councilwoman Ruth Elliott, who was alone in voting against the committee, said she did not believe the committee would have an independent opinion.
"At one of our meetings, two of those folks who spoke for it, they were very heavily involved in the mayor's campaign," Elliott said. "I think it's too closely connected."
Elliott said she has "no problem" taking the bill to referendum.
She also said she thinks it would be hard to have an independent committee in a small town.
"Everyone knows everyone in the city," she said.
Mike Hiob, a former city councilman who ran against Michael Bennett for mayor, said he thinks the new salaries as proposed are too much and he would try to take the bill to referendum.
"I don't think the positions deserve more than they are currently making because they are making more than anyone in Harford or Cecil County," he said, adding he thinks it is "just people being greedy."
The raises nevertheless would not affect members of the sitting council unless they are reelected, as the increases would go into effect in November 2015, after the next election.
Hiob agreed that committee members, namely Backus, had worked on Bennett's campaign in the past and was on the charter review board.
"Everything is woven together," he said. "It's definitely not independent. It's picked by the mayor."
City Manager Doug Miller originally said the raises are necessary because the salaries of the city's elected officials have not increased in 10 years and the wages have definitely not kept up with inflation.
Also, he said: "We are far more complex than we used to be, we're bigger than we used to be."
Miller said Wednesday he is not too familiar with those appointed to the task force but thinks it is too difficult in a small town to find people who would not be connected to the council members in some way.
He did say he thinks the people on the committee were "independent thinkers."
"In a small town, you are probably going to know them," he said.
Bennett did not respond to a request for comment in time for this article.