Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. is headed for a showdown with the County Council after it refused to approve the salary he has agreed to pay his nominee for the county's No. 2 job.
Smith promised Beverly Swaim-Staley, a former deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, $140,000 a year to take on the job of county administrative officer, a position he said he wanted to strengthen during his administration.
Councilmen, who have the ultimate power to set her salary, said Swaim-Staley has told them she has more lucrative offers in the private sector and would not accept a lower figure, even though the current administrative officer earns $115,000 annually.
Smith affirmed his commitment yesterday to making Swaim-Staley the administrative officer and said he is confident the council will agree to the $140,000.
"There is a case to be made for why this position is worth the salary he's recommended, and he intends to make it," county spokeswoman Elise Armacost said.
But the council appears unwilling to budge.
Several councilmen have complained since the nomination was announced in January that Swaim-Staley doesn't live in Baltimore County and has no experience with the county government.
But now, after she has been serving for three weeks as a top aide to Smith, some of them say she seems aloof, controlling and difficult to work with.
In an effort to show Smith he didn't have the five votes he needed to approve Swaim-Staley's salary, Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat, introduced a resolution Monday night increasing the administrative officer's pay to $140,000, effective June 1, the date Swaim-Staley would take over if confirmed.
It failed 4-3.
"In fairness to her, if she's setting this as a precondition, I'd rather get it resolved very early on," Kamenetz said. "But my personal issue is that I'd rather have people who live and work in Baltimore County because they care first and foremost about the county and not how much money they're going to extract."
Swaim-Staley declined to comment yesterday on whether she would accept less than $140,000 for the job or on what she told the councilmen about her salary requirements. Armacost said Swaim-Staley wants the job for more than the money.
"Some of the other more lucrative offers were in the private sector, and she said that while those offers were more lucrative, they did not involve as much responsibility and she wanted the challenge and responsibility of managing a sizable government," Armacost said. "She is committed to coming here."
Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, said he voted against the salary because he couldn't justify a 22 percent raise in pay for one of the county's top jobs at a time when raises for rank-and-file workers will be limited.
Councilmen T. Bryan McIntire, a north county Republican, and Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, said they won't change their votes.
Smith asked county Budget and Finance Director Fred Homan to analyze the requirements of the job and the salaries of comparable positions in other jurisdictions. Homan concluded $140,000 was appropriate.
Salaries for administrative officers in other counties are: Anne Arundel, $128,000; Harford, $106,000; Howard, $132,000; Montgomery, $189,000; and Prince George's, $135,000. Baltimore County's health officer makes $167,000 through a combination of state and local funds.
Even if the salary issue is resolved, councilmen said confirmation hearings for Swaim-Staley could be bruising.
Kamenetz and McIntire said they have not gotten a good feeling about Swaim-Staley in her first weeks on the job.
"I had a chance to interview this lady and I think there were some personality concerns, let's just put it that way, whether she would be a person who was willing to compromise and would maintain some degree of collegiality between the administration and the council," McIntire said.
Kamenetz said he worries about her manner in dealing with people and about how she would treat department heads.
"My sense of her is that she wants to come in as a micromanager and it will result in tremendous delays in the operation of government because she will want to participate in every single decision," Kamenetz said.
Armacost noted that the councilmen drew these conclusions after just one meeting with Swaim-Staley.