Harford council administrator gets 22 percent raise in 10 months

After the Harford County Council reshuffled and increased its staff this spring, the council's administrator received a 22 percent salary increase after 10 months on the job.

Council Administrator Pam Meister was approved on June 25 to make $116,000 a year, according to county records, a $21,000 increase over the $95,000 salary at which she was hired in August 2011.

Meister's pay increase, authorized by the seven elected council members, comes at a time when the majority of the county government's employees, including sheriff's personnel, have not seen their base salaries increase since mid-2008.

County Human Resources Director Scott Gibson explained Meister is an at-will, exempt employee, hired by the council members, and she serves at their pleasure.

"I think it's important to know that these exempt employees are not governed by the same rules as other employees, which are classified," Gibson said.

The previous council administrator, Barbara O'Connor, was making $72,687 a year when she retired a year ago.

Council President Billy Boniface said last week the council did an audit of sorts that found the administrator was supervising a much larger number of employees than had been the case previously.

"We felt that the position was more in line with the director of administration or the chief of staff," Boniface said, comparing Meister's position to employees who have similar department supervisory roles in the executive branch.

He also noted Meister's salary is still far below those of the county executive's chief of staff or the director of administration, the latter a cabinet position established by the county charter.

"Now she [Meister] is more of a department head as far as overseeing more responsibilities," Boniface said.

Other council members, including Council Vice President Dick Slutzky, who is a member of the council's personnel committee, declined to talk about Meister's salary and recent raising, saying it is a "personnel" matter.

As part of a reorganization of its office, the council hired nine new employees earlier this year, including personal aides for each council member, a first in the council's nearly 40-year history.

A new full-time, at-will council attorney, two administrative specialists and six of the legislative aides were brought on board through the reorganization. (One person who had been on the payroll as a part-time administrator stayed on as a seventh legislative aide.)

Five employees who had been working in the council office were transferred to other county departments, including senior assistant council attorney Mary Kate Herbig, who was moved to the executive branch's law department.

To replace Herbig and Charles Kearney, who had been a contract council attorney making about $60,000 a year, the council hired Melissa Lambert, who had been an assistant state's attorney, for the new council attorney position. Kearney's contractual job, since eliminated through the reorganization, was a part-time position that allowed him to also practice law privately. Lambert works solely for the council.

In her new job as county council attorney, Lambert is being paid $112,000 a year, according to Gibson, the county personnel officer, about 6 percent more than Herbig had been paid and about $2,000 more than Lambert was paid at the state's attorney's office.

Meister's salary as council administrator was raised after Lambert was hired, several people familiar with the situation said.

As part of the council's office reorganization, three administrative assistant positions were transferred to the Office on Aging, Harford Transit and parks and recreation, Gibson said. A council legislative drafter was also moved to the law department.

The council members' aides are paid between $30,000 and $40,000 annually. The council members themselves are paid $35,168 annually, the council president, $38,575, and those latter salaries are set by law.

Under the county charter, the county council sets its own annual office operating budget without any input or oversight permitted by the executive branch, whose final budget the council also reviews and approves.

When they first began the recent reorganization of their office, council members said they expected the changes would increase their total budget by a maximum of $226,000 annually, including employee benefits costs, although they said the total increase would most likely be between $175,000 and $200,000.

For the 2013 fiscal year that began July 1, the council's total approved budget is $2,763,743, an increase of $226,390, or 9 percent, over 2012. In another significant reorganization during 2011-12, the council created a council auditor position and support staff.

Since its term began in 2010, the council's total budget has increased $766,079, or 38 percent. All seven council members were re-elected in 2010. At that time, their annual budget was $1,997,664, according to county budget documents.

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