Last month the Washington Surburban Sanitary Commission gave large pay raises to three of its top executives who already earn more than $44,000 annually. Then last week, in a close meeting, the WSSC commissioners froze the raises when they could not decide whether the raises violated the agency's policies.
The six-member appointed commission, which builds and maintains sewer and water facilities for Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, voted inanimously last Thursday to reconsider the three raises which would increase the salaries $2,000 to $5,000 a year.
Their action came after an anonymous caller complained that the salary increases violate a 1975 WSSC ruling that* bears raises for employees who get annual salaries of $40,000 or more.
The raises were approved Dec. 31 by WSSC general manager Robert J. McLeods as one of his last official acts before retiring., McLeod, whose salary was $56,440, is now a $75-an-hour consultant hired by the WSSC to help it sell its bond.
Under the plan, acting general manager John M. Brusnighan's salary would have gone from $44,087 to $49,913 annually. James Lee, the WSSC's director of maintenance, would have earned $49,266 instead of $46,850. George Nagel, the agency's treasurer and director of finance, would have received $47,022, up from $45,213.
The bicounty agency, which sets its own salaries and benefit schedules also granted pay raises in December to 208 other employees, each of whom earned less than $40,000 annually.
Among this latter group is Arthur P. Brigham, the agency's director of public affairs, whose salary has increased for $36,383 to $38,566.
Brusnighan said last night that his proposed new salary, which, like those of Lee and Nagel, is more than that of U.S. senators - who get $44,600 a year - and of top local elected officials, is justified by his work.
Additionally, he said, the salary range "is comparable to what other public sanitary commissions pay, and also what top federal civil service grades pay."
Maintenance director Lee, who said that he had not heard until yesterday morning that his pay raise had been stopped said, "I haven't has tome to have a reaction" to the freeze. About the amount of his salary he commented, "I have no complaints," adding that he does not think it was excessive.
Nagel could not reached for comment last night.
Brigham, who received a raise of $2,183 is not affected by the freeze imposed by the board last week because his salary is less than $40,000. Nevertheless, he said he "would understand if they (the board) would withdraw (the raise) for budget or other reason. I never asked for the increase and I don't want something that they don't want me to have," he said.
Under WSSC rules a supervisor must approve a merit raise. The raises for Brusnigham and Brigham were approved by outgoing general manager McLeod.
Brusnigham himself, along with McLoed, approved Nagel's pay raise, James Lee's raise was approved by his supervisor, director of maintenance and operation Richard G. Hocevar, who himself earns $45,448, as well as McLeod.
Montgomery County Executive James P. Gleason, who makes $42,880 annually said, through a spokesman yesterday that be "will check into" the recent WSSC raises and "would be disturbed to find out that the raises circumvent the normal salary system."
In Prince George's County, John Lally, a spokesman for County Executive Winfield M. Kelly, said that Kelly would not second-guess the WSSC on matters of salary because "that has to be a management decision by the commissioners. They have to keep the responsibility for those decisions."
Lally pointed out that Kelly accepts only $35,000 of his $42,800 annual salary and that Prince George's County had frozen all promotions and hiring. "We're facing strict budget controls and so is the commission," Lally said.
The confusion over the 1975 resolution banning salary increases for employees earning more than $40,000 apparently was caused by a reorganization of the WSSC's salary schedule last year, according to agency spokeswoman Marjorie Johnson. The board had been under the impression that the reorganization voided the ban against raises for empolyees earning more than $40,000 she said.
She added that no date has been set for determination of whether the raises will remain in effect.