In Calvert County law enforcement's chain of command, nobody's higher than Sheriff Mike Evans.
But on payday, Evans -- a Republican elected two years ago after 15 years as a trooper with the Maryland State Police -- looks up to several people who rank below him. Evans, who is paid $62,000 a year, made less than 17 people in his department, including captains, lieutenants, sergeants and corporals, according to a list of Sheriff's Office salaries from fiscal 2004. At the top of the heap is Capt. Tom Hejl, who earned $85,712 that year.
So last month, while Calvert was preparing its list of legislative proposals to send to the General Assembly, Evans thought it might be time for a raise.
"I didn't take the job for the money, but when you think about the responsibility, it isn't fair when your sergeants are making more than you do," Evans said. "I think the salary should be comparable with the job."
But when he talked to the county commissioners about proposing legislation to link the sheriff's salary to that of a lieutenant colonel with the Maryland State Police -- raising his pay to about $95,000 -- the response was frigid.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's just not in the cards. The salary scale's been working this way for years, and it's worked fine," said Commissioner Gerald W. Clark (R-Lusby). "When you become an elected official, you put yourself at the will of the people. It shouldn't be a career as far as I'm concerned."
Without the board's support, Evans scrapped the proposal, leaving the salary to be determined by a recommendation from the county's compensation review committee, which meets every four years. But others in the department continue to believe the sheriff deserves more money.
"It doesn't make any sense that the chief law enforcement officer makes less than those under him. Does a CEO make more than his employees? Yes," Hejl said. "Since September 11th, the job of sheriff has changed tremendously and responsibilities have grown. The salary's gotten better for the rank and file, but not for the sheriff."
A review of law enforcement salaries across Southern Maryland -- part of a Washington Post analysis of more than 70,000 salary records from 14 jurisdictions in the Washington area -- reveals significant disparities among the three counties. St. Mary's County Sheriff David D. Zylak (D) is in a position similar to Evans's. Zylak earns $68,000, less than 13 officers under him, including Capt. Ken Cusic, the highest-paid member of the sheriff's department at $89,148, records show.
However, Charles County Sheriff Frederick E. Davis (R) makes more than any member of his department, earning $108,100. Davis is the top-paid sheriff in the state, according to a survey by the Maryland Sheriffs' Association.
But even in Charles, the sheriff's salary falls below that of other county employees leading large departments. Charles County schools Superintendent James E. Richmond, for example, earns $245,000. Seven school administrators on his staff made more than the county government's highest-paid employee -- County Administrator Eugene Lauer, who earned $133,224 in the fiscal year that ended last summer, according to county figures. Lauer's salary has been raised to $141,650, officials said. Davis's salary is comparable to that of Charles County department heads, many of whom are paid just more than $100,000.
The sheriffs' salaries in Calvert and St. Mary's trail far behind many department chiefs' in their counties. St. Mary's finance director Elaine Kramer, for example, makes $123,531, while Robert S. Taylor Jr., Calvert's public works director, earns $112,722, records show.
"Historically the sheriffs' salaries in days past were not very high," said Mike Canning, executive director of the Maryland Sheriffs' Association. "It was an elected office, and it was treated accordingly. . . . It's still problematic if the sheriff isn't getting more than his men."
Last week in St. Mary's, a seven-member citizens committee recommended raises for the sheriff as well as the county commissioners and school board members. If approved by the General Assembly, the sheriff's salary would increase to $76,000 after the 2006 election, with an additional $2,000 raise each year until 2010. Committee member John Candela called it "unconscionable" that the sheriff made less than those he outranked.