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September 1, 2005

Same Old Song, Different Tune

John W. Ashbury

Enough is enough. How many times will the citizens of the City of Frederick have to live through the recriminations over the salary paid to the aldermen?

Twice in the past year the idea to raise the salary for these five public servants has been brought to the point of discussion and vote, and both times it has been rejected by the Board of Aldermen, although it was a 3 to 2 vote each time.

Still it is coming back this month for a third time, and each time has been at the behest of Alderman Donna Kuzemchak Ramsburg, who is now finishing her second term in office.

It is difficult to understand how, under any set of rules of order and procedure that someone on the losing side of votes on issues can keep bringing the issue back for vote after vote.

Late last year the aldermen voted on a salary hike to be implemented with the installation of the next Board of Aldermen. Ms. Ramsburg said at that time that if the salary was not increased she would not seek another term in office.

Then came Mayor Jennifer Dougherty's budget proposal in March - which included a pay raise for the aldermen, despite the fact that the aldermen had voted to reject it. When the budget was adopted, however, that money remained because the aldermen were so concerned with the mayor's proposal to "fire" 12 people.

During those budget discussions, Alderman David Lenhart proposed the dismissal of different employees, which raised the hackles of Ms. Ramsburg when she realized that her husband's position with the city was among those Mr. Lenhart suggested be eliminated.

Alderman Ramsburg became very angry at that meeting and afterwards fired off an email stating in so many words that she would now have to seek another term as alderman to protect her husband's job.

Apparently without realizing it, Ms. Ramsburg publicized a direct conflict of interest for her in dealing with budget items and pay raises for employees. Her husband made approximately $54,000 during the last fiscal year.

So, Ms. Ramsburg entered the Democratic primary for alderman and is again pushing this pay raise, citing the number of hours she puts in and saying she should be paid $22,000 a year, a nearly 63 percent increase.

The Maryland Municipal League, when asked, provided a comparison of the salaries of the mayors and the aldermen/councilman in the five largest municipalities in Maryland, discounting Baltimore City where the council is considered a full time position.

Annapolis pays each of its eight council members $12,000 per year. And the mayor gets $65,000.

Gaithersburg pays its five council members $6,000 a year each. And the mayor gets $7,500.

Hagerstown's five council members each receive $8,000 a year. The mayor receives $28,000.

And in Rockville, the four council members receive $13,200, while the mayor is paid $16,421.

Compared to Frederick - considering what Ms. Ramsburg says - all these public servants are underpaid. Mayor Dougherty receives $67,692, and the aldermen get approximately one-fifth that amount, or $13,500.

One of Ms. Ramsburg's argument in an August 22 email is that the salary is so low that candidates for election "must be own your own business, be retired, somehow other (sic) able to live without a full-time job or have a full-time job that allows you to make your own schedule."

Apparently she hasn't looked at the list of people seeking seats in City Hall. Yes, some are retired; some own their own business; and some do have jobs where they set their own schedules. But there are others who fall into other categories - like employed full time as employees, not owners.

And none of them has publicly complained about the "meager" salary Ms. Ramsburg mentions at every opportunity.

Another discussion point Ms. Ramsburg constantly brings up is the claim that the current mayor "works well over 50 hours/week."

That may well be true. But the current mayor micromanages everything, perhaps even down to the size and number of paperclips the city is to purchase this fiscal year. She leaves little to others, particularly when anyone who has every criticized her needs something from the city, like a building permit. She has even been known to hamper Carroll Creek developers because of the real estate agent they have hired to represent their interests.

She is the first mayor to act this way. It leaves little time for her to develop a "vision" for the future of our hometown.

So Ms. Ramsburg's comparison with how the mayor performs her job is a red herring. She fought most everything Mayor Jim Grimes wanted to do during her first term in office. And she has gone along with most everything Mayor Dougherty has wanted to do. But she gets to meet with the mayor whenever she wishes - schedules permitting. Other aldermen do not share this privilege.

Alderman Ramsburg is seeking help from her friends, asking them to give her their support in demanding this aldermanic pay raise.

Before she votes herself a pay raise, she should look to giving the citizens of Frederick some of their money back. They work just as hard for their salary as Ms. Ramsburg says she does for hers.

So who is more deserving? Is it Ms. Ramsburg? Or is it the citizens of Frederick who will be required to cough up the money for her pay raise - and that of her fellow elected public servants - should she win re-election.

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