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News Maryland Harford County Aberdeen Havre De Grace

Aberdeen's salary task force divided over salary increase

With two members down and the five remaining members deeply divided philosophically, Aberdeen's salary task force says it won't be able to reach a conclusion by its promised end date of Aug. 31.

Chairman Mark Schlottman said he would ask the city for an extension so all seven members could be present for the decision, but agreement seemed unlikely after what was supposed to be the group's final meeting Monday night.

Pat Faircloth and Bernard Backus tried to walk out after their proposal of raising council members' salaries to $12,000 and the mayor's to $18,000 was voted down.

Their proposal for the mayor's salary would have been less than the $24,000 proposed by an ordinance that since has been tabled, but was still significantly higher than the mayor's current salary of $10,000 a year. Council members are paid $7,500 annually.

Faircloth told Schlottman, "You're illogical in your approach," after the chairman tried to get them to negotiate, and the two men eventually stayed grudgingly.

Paul Tormey and Ed Budnick both said they would be willing to reinstate the council members' previous monthly allotment, which Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck had said previously was $100.

Tormey said Louise Costello, who could not make the meeting, was in agreement.

Tormey said he simply did not believe city residents would accept the numbers proposed by Faircloth and Backus.

Budnick, meanwhile, passionately disagreed with the proposition of raising salaries and said the committee had not developed any logical criteria for determining the salaries.

"This is not necessarily an issue of me not wanting to give somebody a raise for something, but in the world I come from and the world I live in... what worries me the most is the lack of accountability, any kind of objective criteria [to determine salaries]," he said.

Budnick said he could picture an elected official who does not do any of the things the current council members and mayor do but simply sits in office and collects a check.

He said any candidate knows what the salary and expectations are and, in his experience as a government employee, people receive step increases based on performance.

He implied that answering e-mails or getting a visit from a concerned resident comes with the territory.

"Everybody understands that world of public servancy or that world of public interaction," Budnick said.

He said he refused to be attached to an incremental increase when no such increase was being given to the city's "rank and file."

"I know a lot of people that are doing work in this city that would like to get $10,000 or $12,000 to do it," he said.

Faircloth and Backus, however, said it will be difficult to find qualified candidates for a low salary, especially if the city wants to attract younger people to run for office.

"We need to get some young people in," Faircloth said. "One of the things we could sell them on is, here is a part-time job. There's going to be more people, especially in the private sector, looking for a part-time job."

"It's not easy to get people to run," Faircloth noted. "[Mayor] Mike Bennett did not want to be mayor. He wanted to run for council. He was pressured to run for mayor."

About the current council and mayor, Faircloth said: "I think they have done an excellent job and they are not going to get this money, but somebody is."

Backus said he could see the city having more and more challenges and he does not "see Annapolis being our friend" but continuing to send down mandates.

"This job is evolving like every other job we have," he said. "Who would want a job where you would have 200 meetings with council people over here and have 12 meetings for the business of the city and 36 meetings for the planning and work things? Who would want to kiss all those babies? Who would want to cut all those ribbons?"

"I don't know that it's a very pleasant job. I do know that there is a lot of responsibility," Backus said. "This is a $1.5 billion investment we are talking about here. It's a huge investment in the city that is very near and dear to a lot of us."

Backus said it is embarrassing to ask people to make financial decisions for "$5.57 an hour." He also said that since the value of the dollar has gone down, "every year these people work, they are losing money."

Schlottman later disagreed with Faircloth, saying he believes the city's department heads are very well-compensated to run the city business and the city's charter provides for a weak elected government.

Budnick also replied that the situation of a prospective candidate would be no different from that of countless private-sector workers everywhere.

"In the U.S. today, we couldn't count the number of people that fit the bill you described," he said to Backus.

Schlottman noted he does not think it is "a young person's job."

Barbara Hiob, wife of former councilman Mike Hiob, was at the meeting and told the task force afterward that it was very challenging to manage her family's affairs for the years her husband was in office, but Hiob said Wednesday she opposes the salary increases that were originally proposed, as does her husband.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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