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August 9, 2010

Running for a Better Pension

Shawn Burns

A few hundred years ago when David Gray first ran for county commissioner, his motives may have been noble. I say, “may have been,” because I’m skeptical of any politician who has hung around as long as he has in Frederick County.


Mr. Gray is trying to get elected again this fall for a fifth term. Enough is enough. Mr. Gray; it’s time to ride off into the sunset.


What has Mr. Gray really accomplished in his 16 years on the board that makes him worthy of serving for another four years? Let’s be honest, the guy hasn’t done a whole heck of a lot other than collect a paycheck from the taxpayers. Just in terms of his salary, the taxpayers of Frederick County have invested $180,000 in Mr. Gray in just the last four years. And what has been our return on investment?


In terms of Mr. Gray’s voting record, where does one even begin to dissect that mess?


Through the years people on the right and the left have grumbled about many of the votes he has cast. Some complain his votes are against Republican ideals. Others will say he just isn’t consistent on how and why he votes certain ways.


My theory is that Mr. Gray has never cast a vote based on whether Republicans or Democrats will like his decisions. Or, God forbid, he has never cast a vote based on what the taxpayers of the county want or need.


No, my theory is that Mr. Gray casts a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote based on which vote will have a better chance of getting him re-elected. He votes to keep his taxpayer-funded paycheck and pension plan.


Again and again, Mr. Gray shows how little regard he has for making difficult budgetary decisions, and how lightly he regards our tax dollars.


Just a few weeks ago, instead of doing the right thing and returning to the county the unused money left in his expense account, he decided to donate it to charity.




If Mr. Gray cared so much, why didn’t he make that charitable contribution from his personal checkbook? If he even remotely understood the Maryland State and U.S. Constitution, Mr. Gray would have grasped the simple concept that that money was not his money to hand out.


I always thought that being an elected official was about service to the community. Mr. Gray thinks of it as a long-term job, and he wants you and me to pay him accordingly. Forever!


What do I mean by forever?


Let’s talk about the retirement plan for county commissioners.


Why would taxpayers pay for retirement plans for people who are supposed to be serving in elected positions?


As it is now, taxpayers pay 15.8 percent of each commissioners pay ($45,000) annually toward their pension plan. That’s over $7,100 a year for each commissioner. Four of the commissioners opted into the plan; Blaine Young opted out.


So, just in the last four years, Mr. Gray has cost taxpayers $28,400 for his pension plan.


Now if that’s not bad enough, Mr. Gray has been in favor of a plan that will give county commissioners retirement benefits that no other county employees will have. Plus, if the plan is ever approved, commissioners will be able to collect retirement benefits after two terms and maybe even one term of service.


Can you retire from your current job and get a nice retirement check that will include automatic Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) increases after having worked there for only a couple of years? Me, either.


So, why are we allowing the county commissioners to determine and create their own retirement plan?


Anything to do with compensation for elected officials should only be decided by the taxpayers and voters. It’s a simple process called a referendum.


The state legislature opened the floodgates on this pension issue by first giving authority to local officials to create pension plans for themselves and more recently by passing HB-477, which will give them the authority to sweeten the pot for themselves.


Now this plan hasn’t been finalized or brought before the board. But the simple fact that Mr. Gray, and fellow Commissioners Jan Gardner and Kai Hagen spent the better part of their March 18th meeting talking about pensions instead of dealing with issues that will help the voters and taxpayers of this county, speaks volumes.


If you didn’t see it, you can watch the discussion on the pension plan from their Commission meeting on March 18th by going to the county website.


Politicians like Mr. Gray are the very reason we desperately need to see some fresh faces on the Board of County Commissioners this November.


For anyone running for county commissioner this fall, I have two requirements of you.


One, you publicly pledge to opt out of the retirement plan and save the county at least $7,100 a year.


And two, publically pledge to serve only one term.


Finally, here is a suggestion for Mr. Gray’s campaign slogan: David Gray for Commissioner: Running for a Better Pension.


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