Dixon to donate to church, youths

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon said yesterday she will donate some of her 2.5 percent pay raise to Bethel AME Church, and another portion to YouthWorks, a program providing jobs to young adults.

Dixon made the announcement at a City Hall news conference kicking off the YouthWorks jobs effort for next summer. She took no questions from reporters.

"Despite the way some things are projected, I'm a huge contributor in many ways, financially, as well as others," Dixon said. "So I'm pledging to give a check from this raise, increase in living [cost], whatever you want to call it, to the YouthWorks effort."

Dixon also noted that giving in churches has declined recently. "I know the importance of my spiritual being, and my church is Bethel AME, which is really the foundation of why I became mayor - because of the faith in God," she said.

The mayor and other city leaders have faced criticism from residents and local talk radio hosts since Wednesday, when The Baltimore Sun reported that Dixon, City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake and Comptroller Joan M. Pratt had authorized pay increases for one another and for City Council members while cutting the city's budget. The increase was recommended in 2007 by a Compensation Commission for Elected Officials but needed approval from the city Board of Estimates.

The raises went on the 98-page agenda the day before Thanksgiving under the title "Salary Adjustments." Rather then listing the positions by name, each was identified only by job number: 88E, 87E, 83E and 81E. There was no discussion of the items during the public meeting, and each elected official abstained on her salary increase.

Dixon initially said she would keep the $3,700 increase, which boosted her salary to $151,700, noting her long hours and college tuition due for her daughter's education.

But the mayor changed her mind abruptly Thursday and urged other city leaders to do the same. Immediately after making that announcement, she called into WBAL's afternoon talk radio show hosted by former state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV to explain her change of heart.

"People think we should do this job for nothing," Dixon said Thursday to the on-air host, known to listeners as C4. "I woke up this morning, I was back in my more rational mind. I'm human. That's why I backed off."

A Dixon spokesman did not say yesterday how the donation would be divided between the two organizations. YouthWorks makes its donor lists public, so "when she gives to it, it will be part of the public record," spokesman Ian Brennan said.

The mayor already contributes 10 percent of her income to Bethel AME as a tithe, Brennan said, adding that any additional donation would be "between her and her church."

Comptroller Joan M. Pratt said Thursday that she plans to donate her $2,450 raise to three city charities, and at least eight of 15 City Council members have said they will also donate their $1,425 increases.

Councilman Robert W. Curran, who initially said he would keep his raise, changed his mind, saying yesterday he would donate it to a fund being created by Annette Harris, the wife of former City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., who was killed in September.

Rawlings-Blake's office clarified her position yesterday, too, saying she would give her increase to the Maryland Food Bank.

The higher salaries stay on the books, however, and become the basis for another 2.5 percent increase next year, based on the compensation commission's recommendation. The charitable donations by the mayor and other officials are tax-deductible.

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