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News Maryland Harford County Aberdeen / Havre De Grace

Two Aberdeen council members tell salary panel raises are needed

Members of the committee studying salaries of Aberdeen's elected officials met Monday with city council members Ruth Ann Young and Bruce Garner to get their input on how much, if at all, the pay should be increased for future mayors and council members.

The committee interviewed Young and Garner separately for about 30 minutes each regarding their activities on the city council and their thoughts on a salary increase. Committee members Lance Hersh and Louise Costello could not attend.

Chairman Mark Schlottman asked Young and Garner a series of questions previously compiled by the committee, which was appointed by the mayor and city council earlier this year to make recommendations about future mayor and council salaries. Earlier, legislation to raise the mayor's salary from $10,000 to $24,000 a year and a council member's salary from $7,500 to $12,000 caused a public outcry and resulted in the legislation being tabled indefinitely.

Young told the committee she believes the salaries should increase but said more information is needed and that bad information played a part in the initial controversy.

"[The proposed ordinance] may very well need to have some modifications, I don't know," Young said. "We'll have to see how things are going."

"Sometimes though, the public might be stuck with tradition, or just plain stuck in the past, and not realize that other people are working hard on their behalf. I think that the pay-raise is justified," Young added.

Young said that prior to holding office, she used to think accomplishing tasks on the council was easy but found that wasn't the case as a council member.

"You can't satisfy everyone, you can't soothe everyone, you can't meet everyone's needs although you might like to, it just isn't going to work that way," Young said.

Garner also said an increase is necessary.

" We're not Havre de Grace and we're not Port Deposit, Rising Sun or Bel Air," Garner said. "We have in the city a lot more going on right now than has ever happened here before for the betterment of the city."

Specifically, Garner said, Aberdeen has more responsibilities and complex issues to deal with than other nearby municipalities, whose elected officials salaries are much lower than has been proposed in Aberdeen.

"We've got [Aberdeen Proving Ground] water and sewer, we've got our water and sewer and we have the stadium to take care of plus the city," Garner said. "So when I hear those kind of statements, it kind of bothers me a little bit about when you compare us to that. I don't think it's a fair comparison."

Garner compared the city's situation to a business, with the city manager as the COO, the mayor as the CEO, the council as a board of directors and citizens being stockholders. Garner noted that the city manager, as far as he knew makes about $120,000 a year, and that the mayor and council that controls him make $40,000 combined.

"That doesn't make any sense. That's not logical. I feel I should be compensated more than what I'm receiving at the present time," Garner said. He added that an increased salary would attract active, younger professionals.

"I know that some people say that this council isn't anything but a do-nothing council, and I disagree with them 100 percent," Garner added. "We're just cleaning up messes that were started before. "

Expenses, perceptions

During his interview, Garner read from a list of out of pocket expenses including being meals, wear on tear on his vehicle, computer supplies for his home and office, the cost of his home phone system and the cost of maintaining a wardrobe.

Regarding campaign expenses, Garner mentioned that he spent $800 in his first unsuccessful attempt to run for a council seat, and estimated about $3,400 of his own money was used for his second attempt in 2011, which was successful.

Young said she invested a few thousand dollars of her own money in her campaign, but did not have an exact figure on hand because she didn't know it was going to come up.

Young also said she had not spent a lot of time in Annapolis, with Mayor Mike Bennett and Garner focusing on state legislation.

"As council members, we've taken on roles that seem to suit us best," Young said. She added she has traveled to Annapolis every January for Harford County Night, an event where the mayor and council have a table set up to educate and hand out literature about the city.

Garner said when he served on the Maryland Municipal League legislative committee, he spent time in Annapolis each week during the 90-day legislative session, in addition to attending a legislative conference in the fall and a reception in January and Harford County Night.

In 2011, Garner said he mainly spent time in Annapolis working on a proposed hotel tax for Harford County, that was supported by Aberdeen officials, and out-of-pocket expenses were incurred.

"You meet with people, you have lunch with them, you discuss it with them," Garner said. "I didn't pick up anybody's lunch, nor did anybody pick up my lunch."

Young said she has attended the annual MML summer conference in Ocean City and quarterly Harford-Cecil chapter meetings.

Garner mentioned carpooling to MML chapter meetings with other council members, the mayor and City Manager Douglas Miller, with the city paying for a meal expense at the meeting.

Asked if serving on the council has become more complex in recent years, Young said: "There's more going on; life itself, at least in my estimation, has become more complex."

Schlottman asked for specific examples, and Young replied "The number of activities that people want you involved in, and they want you on this committee and that committee and what have you. Nothing of course ever stays the same."

Garner said that new state laws made the council's job more complex, as well as increased scrutiny regarding ethics, water and sewer issues, public budgeting and zoning annexation.

Preparation

Young said that she couldn't think of what a typical week would entail for her as a council member.

"I wish I would have had one. I can't say in the six years that I've been on, and what have you, that I could ever think of a typical week," Young said. "I just never know what's going to be coming up."

Young added that she prepares before every meeting, whether it's a work session or a council legislative session.

"It's a little bit like going all the way around a rug and I like to pick up every corner to see what's there and try and determine, you know, look and see what's the good, the bad, the ugly," she said.

Garner said a typical week for him includes council meeting preparation, possible one-on-one meetings with the mayor, different city and association meetings and meeting with citizens.

Earlier this year, the council began meeting weekly, either in work sessions or regular legislative sessions. Before, it had typically held two legislative sessions a month and a single work session, though not each month.

Garner mentioned that working with Ripken Baseball is also an important and at times time-consuming activity, and that he pushed for meetings with the business. He serves as the city's liaison with Ripken Baseball, the sole tenant of the city-owned Ripken Stadium.

"This city has liability with that stadium," Garner said. "I can't tell you the hours" spent with them, Garner said.

The committee is expected to another meeting on Thursday, Aug. 8, at 6 p.m., to interview the two remaining council members and the mayor.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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