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Kennedy's pay bonus draws fire 12 percent boost called 'cruel joke'


Columbia Association President Padraic Kennedy has been given a 12 percent bonus worth $11,174, a boost one Columbia activist called "a cruel joke on Columbia's taxpayers."

Combined with his base salary of $93,115, Mr. Kennedy, the association's president since 1972, will make $104,289 for fiscal 1994, which ends April 30.

The Columbia Association Board of Directors voted 7-1 to grant the bonus April 29 after determining that the association had exceeded objectives during the past year.

The board is made up of the 10-member Columbia Council and the Columbia Association's president, who is a nonvoting member.

The annual bonus is tied to performance goals such as whether the association exceeds revenue projections for membership facilities and completes construction projects on time and below estimated costs.

But Alex Hekimian, president of Alliance for a Better Columbia, a group that scrutinizes the association, objects to the evaluation system.

Since most of the association's $30 million operating budget comes from annual liens paid by property owners, "it stands to reason that when it comes to raises, [the association] should show more restraint like local governments have done," Mr. Hekimian said. "CA should show more respect for the financial problems experienced by Columbia taxpayers in recent years."

Council Vice Chairwoman Fran Wishnick, who represents Oakland Mills village, defended the bonus.

"There's considerable time spent by the council going over this," she said. If revenue, facility operations and services are deemed "above par, the bonus is based on that."

In 1988, the Council placed a cap on Mr. Kennedy's $87,285 base salary, providing that it could be adjusted to keep pace with inflation in 1990 and every two years thereafter. It was raised to $90,790 in 1990, and to $93,115 in 1992.

In the last decade, Mr. Kennedy's base salary has increased by )) 50 percent, from $62,000. Mr. Kennedy's bonuses have exceeded $10,500 in four of the last five years, and have averaged 11.3 percent of his base salary during that period.

The bonus, an incentive implemented in 1982, is limited to 15 percent of the base salary.

Last year, the council awarded Mr. Kennedy a $6,975 bonus, or 7.6 percent. The slumping economy and the association's effort to reduce the annual property assessment were factors, Ms. Wishnick said.

"But we knew that was not a good way to do the evaluation on a regular basis," she said. "If the bonus is to be tied to the quality and production of work, it doesn't have anything to do with the economy per se."

Mr. Hekimian finds that reasoning misguided.

"It's an attitude problem toward constituents," he said, adding that the quasi-governmental Columbia Association "is not willing make sacrifices" that public employees, such as teachers, have made.

Council member Chuck Rees of Kings Contrivance village, who also is an Alliance for a Better Columbia member, said the bonus can be interpreted either as an "outrage" or as a perk of free enterprise. He said he leans more toward the "outrage end of the spectrum," but acknowledged he's unfamiliar with the evaluation standards. "I think [the bonus] is real high for today's times," he said.

Council member Mike Rethman of Hickory Ridge village said the private enterprise approach used by the association has merit. "Maybe government would be better served if it could find a way to quantify performance," he said.

Mr. Rees and Mr. Rethman are newly elected councilmen and did not vote on the bonus.

The association is the private nonprofit corporation that runs the unincorporated new town's extensive recreational facilities and community programs and maintains open space areas. The Columbia Council sets policy and approves the association's budget, which is $30.6 million for 1993-'94.

Mr. Kennedy, who could not be reached for comment, has said that any salary comparisons for the association's 180 full-time workers and about 620 to 720 part-time employees should include evaluations of area government and private and nonprofit sectors in the region, with whom the association competes for workers.

The Council plans a study this year to evaluate the association's personnel structure, pay and benefits.

The Council agreed to provide an overall 4 percent increase in pay for association employees this year. Merit raises for all employees except the president are determined by the association's managers. Merit raises for staff members have averaged between 3.5 percent and 5.5 percent annually in recent years, said Pam Mack, the association's vice president of community relations.

"The progress of the organization clearly exceeded the objectives," said Council Chairwoman Karen A. Kuecker of Owen Brown village, who chaired the Council's Management Appraisal Committee.

She cited an association fiscal analysis showing that revenue generated by membership facilities such as health clubs and community pools was on pace to exceed projections by $666,000 as an example of Mr. Kennedy's performance.

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