Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Do Our Elected Officials Make Too Much Money?

At Monday's city council meeting, a public hearing will be held for (amongst other things) a change in the way cost of living raises are given to our elected officials.

If you want to read about how the mayor and aldermen will receive a bigger raise than the police officers under the current proposals, click here. The truth is, the two events probably have little to do with each other. A study on elected official compensation has been in the works for some time now, and I doubt they could have predicted the details of the negotiations with the police union. Frankly, AP has no interest in discussing this particular aspect of this issue at this time.

What I am interested in talking about is the level of compensation for the elected officials. Although I started this post yesterday, I had somewhat of an impromptu conversation about this issue with the gentleman behind this morning and we tend to agree on most of it.

Former Governor Ehrlich often preaches the value of having candidates for office that have succeeded in their private lives. The problem is, most of these people would have to take a pay cut if they were to be elected. The mayor, a full-time city employee, makes $70,000 per year. Each alderman makes $12,600, which will not pay your mortgage if you own any house in the city. People make work decisions based on utility, which means the total value to them of the job's salary as well as non-monetary factors such as hours, convenience, and having plenty of attractive co-workers in the office.

For the system of government that we have, $70,000 is probably not enough. The non-monetary aspects are great: prestige, fulfillment of public service, possibility of a sweet cabinet-level position in the O'Malley administration, etc. But, any city mayor could probably make twice their salary in the private market.

(Of note, currently the mayor appoints a city administrator, who makes slightly less than twice the mayor's salary and does, well, slightly nothing. If he did slightly anything he may consider fixing the air conditioning problem in the market house or replacing some other department heads. {Note to city administrator: you can do it! Just pretend like the other department heads are named Patmore}).

And the aldermen, heck---being an alderman is/should be a full-time job. It takes time to respond to constituent needs and adequately research bills. But with the paltry salary they receive, they either have to be independently wealthy, live off the land, or have another full-time job. Can we really blame aldermen for wanting to run for mayor or county council? Their hourly wage probably works out to be worth 3 Auntie Annie's pretzels at Market House.

Here is the list, to the best of my knowledge, of what other full-time jobs the aldermen have:

Dick Isreal: attorney, longtime assistant attorney general

Mike Christman: former navy pilot, current retail company COO

Classie Hoyle: educator, educational activist, baltimore slumlord, oops, landlord

Sheila Finlayson: educational lobbyist, school board critic/crusader

Dave Cordle: investigator, state's attorney's office

Julie Stankivic: health policy analyst (in baltimore, btw)

Sam Shropshire: founder, Maritime Republic of Eastport (yay!), involved in various non-profit organizations (note: I am not quite sure how or if Alderman Sam earns other income)

Ross Arnett: #1 greatest job ever (economist), retired federal government executive

How do we solve this problem? I'm going to stop short of saying this is the solution, but consider this idea:

-get rid of city administrator

-pay the city council more money and increase their responsibility/ability to serve

-have city council hire a city manager at its discretion (not by appointment by the mayor)

-have mayor be figurehead, preside over city council

-have city manager run logistics of city operations

-enjoy better city

Well? Whadda' ya think?