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Aberdeen task force agrees on need for pay increases, not on amount

Nearly two months of study by a citizen task force has failed to produce any agreement on how much future mayors of Aberdeen and members of the city council should be paid.

In June, Aberdeen's current mayor and city council appointed a salary task force to study the issue and recommend raises, if warranted. The panel met weekly beginning in July and heard from citizens, as well as the mayor and four council members.

During what was supposed to be their final meeting on Aug. 28, however, task force members did not come to an agreement on what they should recommend.

They tried again Tuesday evening, but after more than an hour of discussion that became heated at times, all they could agree on is an increase is needed, but not on how much.

Opinions vary widely

Chairman Mark Schlottman started by asking each of the members to give their opinions and proposed figures.

Member Lance Hersh said the current salary levels for the mayor and council "aren't even close to what the job affords to be paid."

"You're limiting your pool of people that can take this position," Hersh said, adding that the high time commitment deserved a higher amount of compensation.

Hersh cited the examples of previous mayors, noting that under former mayor Doug Wilson, the often-criticized Ripken Stadium deal was made, and that Fred Simmons' business suffered when he followed Wilson to the mayor's office. He also noted that current Mayor Michael Bennett retired in part in order to fulfill his duties as mayor.

"This job can't be done paying somebody part-time. It just doesn't exist unless you're saying that the only person that can be mayor is a retiree," Hersh said. "I guess this is fine, but again you're just limiting those demographics as mayor."

Hersh recommended that council members earn $12,500, an increase of $5,000 from what they earn currently, and that the mayor should earn $27,500, an increase of $17,500, but said that he wanted to come to a consensus with the other committee members and that cost of living increases should be taken into account.

The current salaries for the positions, which are part time, are $10,000 a year for mayor and $7,500 for council.

More suggestions

Member Bernard Backus recommended that each council member earn $12,000 and the mayor earn $18,000, noting that current salaries are "predicated on numbers of 17 years ago."

"The bottom line is, I agree with the $1,200, but I also agree with equalizing that dollar," Backus said, referring to restoring the council's previous monthly expense allotment of $100.

Member Paul Tormey said that although he'd like Hersh's proposed salary increase if he was running for mayor, he didn't think Aberdeen residents would accept such an increase.

"I think we'd look foolish putting that before the mayor and council," Tormey said. He said a $13,000 salary for the mayor and $10,000 for council members is a good compromise figure.

"If we're not all willing to compromise on a number, if somebody is going to say 'no, I'm not going to budge off of a number that I have in my head,' then we might as well close up shop," Tormey added.

While Schlottman agreed, member Ed Budnick did not, saying, "That's why there's seven of us here."

Budnick said that he did not think there should be an agreement on a figure when there was disagreement on the reasons being cited, noting that when council members lost their monthly allotment, they did not hand in letters of resignation.

"Put $60,000, 70,000, 80,000 on there a year and you're still not going to guarantee the quality or quantity of people that you're going to get to perform this function in this demographic and in this charter system," Budnick said.

"If I saw a method to guarantee success and guarantee people to storm the doors to be willing to participate in this challenging arena, then I would sign up to give them more money. I really would," Budnick added, noting that it would be extremely difficult to objectively give a value to the work of the council.

In the end, Budnick said that he would support returning the monthly allotment to the mayor and council and having them paid about $11,200 and $8,700, respectively.

Member Louise Costello said that she would support giving a $4,200 increase to the mayor for a salary of $14,200 a year and $3,200 increase to council members for a $10,700 year salary, which she said takes into account cost of living increases on top of restoring the monthly allotment.

"I want to see good people. I want to see intelligent people, not just a 'yes' person," Costello said, adding that the reaction of city residents would be determined by how the issue was presented by the council.

Sticks by prior proposal

Member Pat Faircloth said he stood by his proposal at the prior meeting to increase the salaries to $18,000 for the mayor and $12,000 for council.

Faircloth again said he hopes "more young, vigorous people" would be attracted to the offices, seeing the position as a way to help support their families. He doubted his proposal would cause a "revolt" by residents.

Schlottman said that a large salary increase would not play well with residents and would hurt the city. He said he is more interested in a candidate for office having the city at heart, as opposed to whether they were using the job to support a family.

The chairman even cited the example of the task force members, noting that money did not factor into their level of commitment.

"All of us here have spent many hours [on the committee] and we never asked what the pay was," Schlottman said. "We are a perfect example of what a city councilperson or mayor runs."

No majority

Before Costello left for a prior engagement, Faircloth moved that the committee recommends an $18,000 salary for mayor and $12,000 for council members that was seconded by Backus, only to see it only get three votes, one short of a majority.

Backus said that he thought the mayor and council would not support merely restoring their monthly allotment and that they would see such a recommendation as a "slap in the face."

Budnick replied that if the mayor and council did not like it, they could resign, saying that even a $500,000 increase would not guarantee a better candidate. Hersh disagreed, saying that he thought the current salary levels would "shut the door" on many people.

After more discussion, Schlottman moved to increase salaries for both the mayor and council by $1,200 that was seconded by Budnick. Theirs were the only votes in favor.

Hersh then said that even if the majority of the committee voted for his proposal, he would not be in favor of taking that recommendation to the council with two dissenting viewpoints.

Budnick then suggested that the committee merely recommend that there be an increase without providing a figure, and also mention the philosophical differences between committee members.

At the end, Schlottman suggested drafting a short recommendation of about one or two paragraphs supporting an increase while mentioning philosophical differences, but not providing a figure, and the rest of committee agreed.

Schlottman said he would pass the draft to the other committee members for their approval before taking it to the council.

As for whether there would be any other meetings on the subject, Schlottman said he would clear it with the city officials ahead of time, noting that Bennett had given the committee another two weeks.

Former city council member Mike Hiob and his wife, Barb, were also present at the meeting. Hiob said once again that he is against any major increase in salary.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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