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Charles Board Takes Step Toward a Review of Its Pay

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 24, 2005; Page SM01

Charles County's elected commissioners initiated a process this week that could lead to an increase in their pay.

The commissioners introduced legislation Monday that would create a compensation review commission to recommend salary levels for themselves and the elected county treasurer.

Commissioners President Wayne Cooper said many residents believe the commissioners are underpaid. He makes $49,000 a year. (Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)

Commissioners President Wayne Cooper (D-At Large) is now paid $49,000 a year, and the other four members of the board receive $39,000.

It was not the type of selfless public service that Candice Quinn Kelly would have chosen for her second week as a county commissioner, but the discussion pressed on at the Monday meeting.

"I feel terribly awkward," she told the board, "being brand new and already working on a raise for myself."

But work on it they would.

"A lot of people have expressed the sentiment that they think we're underpaid," Cooper said. "If no action is taken, then there would be no raises for the next four years."

Even if that happened, Charles County would still pay its commissioners more than its less-populous Southern Maryland neighbors do. In St. Mary's County, Commissioners President Thomas F. McKay (R-At Large) receives $32,000 a year, and the other board members make $27,000. David F. Hale (R-Owings), the commissioners president in Calvert, has a salary of $39,000, and the other commissioners make $36,500, according to fiscal 2004 figures.

Cooper said being a commissioner is a full-time job. He works about 16 hours a week as the branch manager in the Accokeek office of Waco Inc., an environmental contracting company, and he said he also spends 40 to 50 hours each week on county government business and an endless stream of constituent phone calls, groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings. He said the commissioners should "be compensated enough to get by," and if the salaries were raised, the positions would be more desirable.

"It might attract a lot of younger people to run for office," he said.

No specific increase was mentioned in this week's discussion; that would be up to the compensation commission. That panel would recommend a salary level, and the county commissioners could accept or lower it, but not increase it, said County Administrator Eugene Lauer. Any raise adopted would not go into effect until after the next election, in 2006.

Before the commissioners' terms began in 2002, their salaries were set by local laws passed by the state legislature. The current pay plan calls for a $1,000 increase for each year of the term until 2006, and that plan expires with the end of the term.

The code home rule form of government approved by Charles voters in 2002 gave the county commissioners more power to adopt local laws, including the one that sets their salaries.

But how that process will work was the subject of debate this week. The initial proposal called for a five-member compensation commission, made up of one resident from each of the four commissioner districts and a fifth person who could reside anywhere in the county. The members would be chosen by the commissioners, Lauer said.

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