A Baltimore County official who was at the center of an inspector general investigation remains on the county payroll nearly a year after he stopped working.
By staying on the payroll, William “Chris” McCollum could draw a significantly higher pension than he would have if he had left county employment last year. That’s when a review by the inspector general found wasteful spending and unauthorized purchases at the county agricultural center while he was director.
In the wake of two IG reports on spending at the Cockeysville center, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.’s administration told reporters last summer that McCollum resigned from his six-figure post as deputy director of the county’s economic development department.
But the county executive’s staff recently confirmed to The Baltimore Sun that McCollum is still being paid an annual salary of $137,710. In an email to The Sun, Olszewski’s press secretary, Erica Palmisano, said he is using “earned sick leave” and is not required to provide doctor’s notes.
McCollum did not respond to requests for comment by phone or email.
The longtime employee has worked in a variety of county government jobs since 2002, including as acting director of economic development. He also has served as campaign treasurer to a Democratic county councilwoman and a slate that has over the years included dozens of Democratic county politicians, including Olszewski.
County officials did not answer questions about how much sick leave McCollum has accrued, saying it was part of his personnel record. They said he began using sick leave in early October 2021 and, before that, used other forms of leave.
The county’s employee handbook states that “employees considering retirement can apply unused sick leave toward service time and increase their retirement benefits.”
McCollum’s last day working was July 2, 2021, county officials say.
Since then, he has reached 20 years of employment with the county. He was hired in March 2002 as a revitalization specialist in economic development.
Remaining on the county payroll could qualify McCollum for increased pension benefits. That’s because county department heads and some other high-ranking officials are eligible for more lucrative retirement benefits than other employees — if they serve two years as a department head or in a similar position.
In August 2020, the county named McCollum acting director of the economic development department after the departure of agency head Will Anderson. That move made McCollum eligible for the department-head pension system.
McCollum was not appointed as Anderson’s permanent replacement. But in November 2020, he was given another title — senior administrative assistant to the county administrative officer — that kept him eligible for the department-head retirement system.
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The difference between a department-head pension and a regular pension would be significant for McCollum. As a department head, he could draw a maximum benefit of roughly $68,855 a year, based on 20 years of employment, his current salary and the formula spelled out in county code.
A regular pension would amount to a maximum benefit of about $50,000 a year based on the same factors.
McCollum is 51, according to public records and social media posts.
County employees hired before 2007, as McCollum was, are typically able to start receiving their pension at age 60.
In a statement to The Sun, Olszewski said he understands the questions “surrounding the details of this individual’s departure from County employment.” He said county agencies are “examining the matter in question and suggesting changes or policy adjustments as appropriate.”
McCollum is a close friend and serves as campaign treasurer to Councilwoman Cathy Bevins of Middle River.
He is also treasurer of the Baltimore County Victory Slate, a campaign account that was funded by former Democratic County Executive Jim Smith. County lawmakers, members of the County Council, and Olszewski have been members of the slate.