Cecil County Council Splits on Any Pay Raise for new Sheriff; County Exec Asks Smaller Boost than Retiring Sheriff Janney Proposed
It must have been a political version of the â€śpolar vortex,â€ť that has turned the weather topsy turvey lately, when Cecil County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) sided with his two usual foes on the Council Tuesday in opposing any pay raise in Fiscal 2015 for whatever individual is elected sheriff in this yearâ€™s elections.
Although no formal vote was taken, Hodge said he had â€śa tendency to agree withâ€ť Councilors Diana Broomell (R-4) and Michael Dunn (R-3), who refused to consider any pay raise in the upcoming budget. But Councilors Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) and Alan McCarthy (R-1) voiced strong support for a pay boost.
Sheriff Barry Janney, who is retiring at the end of this year, had proposed a pay boost for his successor, pointing out that Cecil Countyâ€™s sheriffâ€”currently paid $71,500 a yearâ€”is the third lowest-paid sheriff in the state of Maryland. (Rural Allegany County pays its sheriff $61,000 and remote Somerset County pays $60,000, and those sheriffs do not have the responsibility of running a large detention center, as Janney does.)
Indeed, the Cecil County Sheriff is paid less than leaders of some much smaller town police agencies in the countyâ€”such as $91,300 paid to the Elkton town police chief and $85,000 paid to the town of North East local chief.
County Executive Tari Moore recently sent the County Council a scaled-down version of Janneyâ€™s request. She called for raising the salary in Fiscal 2015 to $75,075, followed by about 3 percent annual boosts over the next several years, reaching a salary of $82,075 in Fiscal 2018. Janneyâ€™s request had called for a boost to $82,500 in Fiscal 2015, rising to $87,000 in Fiscal 2018.
â€śI believe his request has some merit, especially when compared to other Maryland jurisdictions with similar responsibilities,â€ť Moore wrote to the Council. But she said she wanted to scale back Janneyâ€™s request and favored â€śsomething more gradual and phased-in.â€ť
(However, since the pay raise would only become effective when a new Sheriff is sworn in, the actual budget cost in Fiscal 2015 would only cover about seven months of that budget year.)
The Sheriff is elected independently and, under the state Constitution, is considered a state official whose salary cannot be cut by local government. But a statutory pay raise must get approval from the General Assembly. Thatâ€™s why Janney raised the issue several months ago, in time to get the county government on board with the idea so that the areaâ€™s state legislative delegation could introduce a bill in Annapolis during the current General Assembly session.
Councilor Dunn, who usually says little if anything at Council worksessions, found his voice to declare, â€śI donâ€™t think itâ€™s an appropriate time to do thisâ€ť due to â€śeconomic conditions.â€ť He said the county should â€śdo nothing.â€ť
Broomell agreed, saying â€śIâ€™m alarmed at the amount of money we have spentâ€ť since Charter government began a year ago. â€śThis isnâ€™t the time to take on any new costs.â€ť
Hodge said he leaned toward their position, adding that â€śa lot of people want this jobâ€ť regardless of the salary. (A crowded field of candidates, both Republicans and Democrats, has already filed in the 2014 election for the position and there is still another month left before the candidate filing deadline.)
Bowlsbey took strong issue with Hodgeâ€™s view, saying that the sheriff â€śhas officers who are making more than he doesâ€ť due to overtime and other pay provisions. â€śYou get what you pay for,â€ť she said. And she said it was important to have underlings â€śrespectâ€ť the countyâ€™s top cop, but that was hard to do if the sheriff is paid less than some deputies.
McCarthy agreed, saying the Council nay-sayers were setting up the county to â€śprice ourselves out of the marketâ€ť and that top tier, experienced law enforcement leaders would not consider working in the county for such low pay.
Bowlsbey said the first-year cost was so small that the Council could cut its own budget to cover the expenseâ€”suggesting at one point that the council members forego attendance at the winter meeting of the Maryland Association of Counties and the costs of sending county officials and staff to the multi-day event.
Broomell, who often waxes poetic about the MACO conclaves, seemed shocked that her colleague would even suggest that. Bowlsbey said she was actually making a â€śtongue-in-cheekâ€ť suggestion to illustrate the relatively insignificant cost of the first year sheriff salary boost, which she said would not â€śsink this county.â€ť
Then Hodge, seeing his usual allies desert him, suggested that the council freeze the salary for Fiscal 2015 but then propose some unspecified increase for Fiscal 2016.
â€śWeâ€™re kind of splitting hairs,â€ť McCarthy said.
â€śIâ€™m going to hold firm on this one,â€ť Bowlsbey said, leaning forward and staring straight at Hodge.
Hodge then closed the discussion without any formal action by the Council, saying, â€śWeâ€™re going to have to talk a bit more.â€ť
In an interview with Cecil Times on Tuesday, Janney expressed disappointment with the Council discussionâ€”and Mooreâ€™s greatly scaled back proposal, which he said she had not shared with him before it was sent to the County Council.
â€śI was very, very conservativeâ€ť in the salary increase proposal, Janney said, adding â€śthis is not for meâ€ť since he is retiring and wonâ€™t get a penny of any pay raise.
â€śWe are the 6th largest law enforcement agency in the state,â€ť he noted, and his department is designated by the state as the â€śprimary law enforcement agencyâ€ť in the countyâ€”a designation that the State Police have been reluctant to give up in many other largely rural counties but that three State Police superintendents have conferred on the Cecil County Sheriffâ€™s Department.
It is a slap in the face and harmful to deputiesâ€™ morale when they see their department out-paid by local municipal police agencies, Janney observed.
Janney also had a warning for the County Council for the future. Unless the county has a team leading the Sheriffâ€™s department that is professional and savvy about legal issues, the county could be on the hook for judgments in lawsuits filed by people having issues with the law enforcement agency.
Janney said, with pride, that although his agency has been sued â€śhundreds of timesâ€ť he hasnâ€™t lost a case yet and has worked closely with the state Attorney Generalâ€™s office that defends his agency in civil lawsuits. He said the AGâ€™s office has been pleased with the documentation and professionalism of the current sheriffâ€™s office that has enabled successful defenses.
[SEE previous CECIL TIMES report on Sheriff Janney’s original salary proposal here: