Leggett considers veto of Montgomery County Council raises

October 29, 2013

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett said he is considering a veto of council legislation passed Oct. 22 that awards raises to council members who will take office in 2014, calling the package -- which totals more than 28 percent over four years -- excessive.

Leggett (D) said in an interview Monday evening that he thought the council should have settled for annual cost-of-living increases totaling a projected 11 percent and rejected the 17.5 percent raise recommended by a citizens panel that studied compensation.

Council members make $104,022 annually. With a previously approved living cost adjustment effective in December, their pay would rise to a projected $136,258 by 2017 if the legislation stands.

“I just think that at this time it is somewhat inappropriate,” said Leggett. “It’s pretty large. I think it sends a message that the public will have some challenges with.”

Leggett said that includes a raise of his own built into the bill, which would grow his salary from $180,250 to $190,000 in December 2014 and $207,211 by 2017. He said he preferred only annual cost-of-living adjustments.

Council members expressed exasperation at Leggett, who was publicly silent during deliberations over the bill. Some said it smacked of opportunism from a politician concerned about reelection in 2014.

Council staff promptly produced voting records showing that during his own council tenure Leggett voted three times — in 1990, 1998 and 2002 -- in favor of bills to increase compensation. As county executive, he signed a 2009 bill raising pay.

“This is another Ike Leggett profile in courage,” said Council member Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring). “It’s not lost on anybody on this council that he voted three times to increase elected official compensation. He put his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing.”

Leggett’s spokesman, Patrick Lacefield, pointed out that the raises Leggett voted for as a council member were somewhat smaller — between 16 percent and 18 percent over four years. “And those were much better times,” Lacefield said. “This is 2013, and we’re not out of the woods. There’s still a lot of people hurting.”

Ervin said the citizens panel recommended the large increase because council compensation was out of alignment with other county offices, which had received big pay boosts in previous years.

Leggett said he made his opposition clear to the citizens committee when it interviewed him earlier this year. But his comments were not part of the panel’s report, which was issued last month. Council member Phil Andrews (D-Rockville-Gaithersburg), the lone vote on the nine-member body against the compensation bill and one of Leggett’s two challengers in the 2014 Democratic primary, said Leggett’s public silence constituted “weak leadership.”

“If he felt this way, he should have let the council know about it. It might have had some impact,” Andrews said,

“It’s very odd,” Council President Nancy Navarro (D-Midcounty). “I assume this might be a political move on his part.”

A bill can become law without Leggett’s signature. He has until Nov. 4 to decide on a veto. Leggett has exercised his veto power only once bill during his tenure, on a 2012 measure that gave the council authority over county property sales and leases -- requiring public hearings and council approval of most deals.

The council overrode the veto with the required six votes. Three other bills became law without his signature.

Navarro said Tuesday that the council, which approved the compensation package 8-to-1, would almost certainly override any veto.

“We deliberated very carefully on this,” she said. “I don’t see why the council would have a change of heart.”

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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