Baltimore's Board of Estimates yesterday approved a $125,000 agreement with a New York labor consulting firm despite the staunch objections of the city's police and fire unions, who argued that a company negotiator acted in bad faith and said the money would be better spent on improvements in their contracts.
The agreement with Hay Management Consultants was needed to provide "essential" information on police and fire pay and benefits, said city Labor Commissioner Melvin A. Harris, who heads a five-person staff responsible for negotiating 13 union contracts annually.
"We're trying to be certain we come to the bargaining table prepared," Mr. Harris said.
But William V. Taylor, president of Baltimore Firefighters Local NTC 734, and Leander S. Nevin, head of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, told the board the company had a reputation for being anti-union and had "zero" credibility.
Mr. Taylor said a company negotiator refused to honor agreements reached last year by bargaining subcommittees on complex issues involving vacation and paramedics.
"I think the city is making a big mistake if you bring this guy back and pay him one nickel, let alone $125,000," said Mr. Taylor. "The money we're paying could be well-spent put into our contract."
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who supports the agreement, said the city needed "the best expertise" it could get in negotiating contracts. But he vowed, "We will do our very best to avoid the personality problems and credibility problems" of past negotiations.
Mr. Schmoke is a member of the Board of Estimates, the body that controls the city's spending.
But City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, the sole member of the five-member board to oppose the agreement, said her vote boiled down to trust. The city should use some of the money to add to the labor commissioner's staff, she said, and "stop bringing in a guy from out of town."
Also yesterday, the board approved $100,000 to pay half the cost of an efficiency study of the Department of Public Works by a management consultant. The money matches an Abell Foundation grant given to the Baltimore City Homeowners' Coalition for Fair Property Taxes to pay for the study.
Daniel J. Loden, president of the coalition, said the hope is that the study by Towers Perrin/Cresap, which has an office in suburban Washington, could result in significant savings in the department, which has a $354 million annual budget and 5,800 workers.
"We're hopeful if the study produces results, it can be applied to other major city departments," Mr. Loden said.
City Finance Director William R. Brown Jr. said one stipulation of the agreement is that the study could not recommend any reduction in services, such as cutting trash collection from twice a week to once a week.