- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

D.C. Council members said they are not concerned that an agency director making almost $140,000 a year will become a part-time D.C. employee for the next six months while taking on a temporary assignment for the governor of Pennsylvania.

Chief Technology Officer Suzanne J. Peck has taken a temporary job as the interim director of a new office of management and productivity for Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell.

Council member Kathy Patterson, however, said the moonlighting deal isn’t unusual, especially because Pennsylvania has agreed to compensate the District for any costs incurred by the Office of the Chief Technology Officer during Mrs. Peck’s absences.

“It’s not something I have a great deal of concern about, and these kinds of deals happen more often than people think,” said Mrs. Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat.

As chairman of the council’s Judiciary Committee, she said, she has borrowed federal government employees to work with her on oversight of the Metropolitan Police, and D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services departments. The arrangements, she said, have worked well.

Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat,said, “It sounds like Suzanne is very sought after, and if … Governor Rendell worked out an arrangement with the mayor, and the city is reimbursed, I don’t have a problem with it.”

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said the District has to make allowances for highly skilled workers.

“In OCTO you have all of the high-technology geeks, which is a very specialized field, and there just seems to be a higher tolerance for the higher salaries,” he said. “I do have questions about leaving the office rudderless in her absence. … As long as we’re not paying for time she’s not here, I’m OK with the deal.”

Mrs. Peck’s $139,947 salary puts her at No. 15 on the list of the city’s highest-paid workers. She manages a staff of 135 — including 35 who, like her, pull down more than $100,000 a year. Mrs. Peck, contacted outside her office last week, said she was on her way out of town and could not comment on her salary or her job in Pennsylvania, which was first reported in The Washington Post.

She was not available for comment yesterday either, but Linda Argo, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Peck’s agency, defended the department.

“All of the people earning those salaries are senior managers and information-technology specialists with 15 to 20 years’ experience,” Miss Argo said.

The Washington Times first reported last month that the District has many more city workers earning $100,000 salaries than Chicago, a city with nearly 3 million residents, and Baltimore, a city similar in size to the District, with 651,000 residents. With 572,000 residents, the District has 156 more workers earning more than $100,000 annually than Chicago. Thirty-four of Baltimore’s 15,000 city employees earn more than $100,000 a year.

Of the District’s 34,000 city employees, 575 earn $100,000 or more a year, up from 301 in 1999, when Mayor Anthony A. Williams took office.

Mrs. Peck was hired in 1998 by the federal control board, and though she has been credited with improving some of the District’s technology problems, she has also been criticized for the escalation of salaries in her department.

In 2001, Mrs. Peck added three assistant positions to her department with salaries authorized by the council to go as high as $170,000, though it’s not clear whether those positions were filled at that rate.

That same year council member Kevin P. Chavous called that move “ridiculous” and criticized Mr. Williams for allowing city salaries to grow so rapidly.

Mrs. Patterson said Mrs. Peck deserves credit for addressing the fire department’s chronically malfunctioning radios, which Mrs. Patterson predicted would be fixed by the end of the year.

Mrs. Patterson said the department’s capital budget includes $45.5 million in federal funds to upgrade the radios, funds that Mrs. Peck and her agency will use to erect antennas that are expected to remedy the “dead spots” in the system.

“I regret that we didn’t take care of this three or four years ago, but we should have it up and running by the end of the year” Mrs. Patterson said.

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