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Padraic Kennedy, the president of the Columbia Association, now joins Howard Superintendent of Schools Michael Hickey as the two highest paid officials in the county.

Mr. Kennedy was recently awarded a 12 percent bonus worth $11,174, bringing his salary for this fiscal year to $104,289. Mr. Hickey's pay was boosted to $109,106 last year and drew fire for its apparent excess.

Likewise, the raise for Mr. Kennedy, who runs an organization with a $30 million budget that employs 175 people, is not sitting well with a lot of people. (County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who oversees a $289 million budget and 1,600 employees, makes $80,000 a year.)

Alex Hekimian, president of Alliance for a Better Columbia, a watchdog group, says rightly that the association "should show more restraint like local governments have done" when it comes to raises. He was obviously not referring to the school board.

But Mr. Hekimian is right that as long as the association culls most of its annual budget from a lien paid by Columbia property owners, "CA should show more respect for the financial problems experienced by Columbia taxpayers in recent years."

Mr. Kennedy and others within the association would like to remind us that CA is a private, non-profit corporation and should be judged in accordance with like organizations. Maybe they should ask the United Way of America, still reeling from the scandal over excessive compensation for its former president William Aramony, whether the public is more tolerant of greed when it involves private, non-profits.

As we've said before, the Columbia Association is more than just a large tenants' association. Because it acts as a local government for 73,000 Columbians, and because the council that oversees it is publicly elected, the association should operate on many of the same principles as government. With that in mind, it was too bad -- dare we think it intentional? -- that Mr. Kennedy's raise was considered following the recent council elections. An open debate on this subject would have proved useful.

At any rate, a 12 percent bonus while public employees are having to put up with modest cost of living increases, and with private job growth still sluggish, is difficult for any organization to justify in these hard economic times.

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