- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2007

A D.C. Council member yesterday said a proposal allowing Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to give significant pay increases to agency heads is “over the top” and “scary” and would lead to ballooning salaries across the government.

“I am not opposed to our employees being fairly compensated,” Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, said during a committee hearing on Mr. Fenty’s proposal. “However, I believe some of [these packages], which are being paid for by taxpayers, are exorbitant and quite possibly ridiculous.”

Mr. Fenty’s proposal boosts the number of pay levels on the District’s Executive Schedule from five to seven and caps salaries at $279,900 — an increase of more than $100,000 from the previous maximum.

City Administrator Dan Tangherlini said during the hearing that the amended pay schedule is needed to recruit top-flight candidates for open government positions and to make up for retirement benefits he classified as subpar compared with those of other cities.

“It is important to provide the District government with the ability to attract and retain the best and most qualified candidates for high-level positions,” Mr. Tangherlini said.

The council in July passed an emergency bill that approved Mr. Fenty’s amended schedule, after Mrs. Schwartz attached an amendment that allowed only six specific agency heads — including D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi — to be compensated within the new levels without prior council approval.

Mrs. Rhee earns $275,000 and Mr. Gandhi negotiated a pay raise to $279,900 earlier this year.

The amendment was drafted after council members realized that the resolution contained no restrictions on how many agency heads could be hired at the higher pay levels.

Mrs. Schwartz reiterated her concern during an exchange with Mr. Tangherlini that the unamended, permanent legislation before her committee would be a “blank check” for the Fenty administration to hire employees at exorbitant salaries.

She also argued that the District’s salaries are comparable to those of surrounding jurisdictions and other cities.

Mrs. Rhee earns more than school superintendents in Montgomery County and New York City. Baltimore’s fire chief earns a salary of $134,635, and D.C. Fire Chief Dennis Rubin makes $176,550.

The city administrator insisted that the new schedule was designed to accommodate those six specific positions and that new agency heads who would earn higher salaries would still be subject to the council’s confirmation and oversight.

“It’s not simply a whim,” he said. “We’re not asking for an open-ended blank check.”

Mr. Tangherlini pointed out that the mayor has personnel authority under the District’s Home Rule Act and that the new levels are needed to streamline the District’s compensation system.

The school system previously used a different salary scale for executives, but is now under control of the Fenty administration. The old schedule would have allowed Mrs. Rhee to offer new employees projected salaries of more than $100,000 and as high as $200,000, Mr. Tangherlini said.

“Ideally, we’d get everyone under the same schedule,” he said.

Both officials agreed to work toward a compromise on the bill.

“The most I would do is approve that [new] scale for [those] that are getting it,” Mrs. Schwartz said.

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