Nearly 1,000 of the lowest-paid employees in Baltimore County did not get a promised 2% pay raise in January because they fell into a bureaucrat catch-22, Inspector General Kelly Madigan reported today.
Those missing out on the pay hike were security guards, clerks, nursing aides, social workers and office assistants assigned to grades in a non-union pay schedule that are linked to a pay schedule represented by a union. The exclusion occurred across all county departments.
As a result, an estimated 838 employees received in January a longevity benefit, in lieu of the 2% cost-of-living (COLA) benefit, “that will never be of any benefit to them” because they are not eligible for longevity increases, according to the report’s findings.
The county has about 8,000 employees, so about 11% of the workforce was excluded from the promised COLA.
Madigan blamed “the antiquated compensation system utilized by the county for classifying its employees for compensation purposes” as the source of the problem – and said steps should be taken to make “the affected employees whole.”
Rodgers: “No Purposeful Exclusion”
The IG can only recommend changes to County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.
Speaking on his behalf, County Administrator Stacy L. Rodgers did not dispute the report’s findings, but argued that “there was no purposeful exclusion of the group of employees.”
She would not say whether the administration plans to provide retroactive pay, writing:
“This matter is part of a larger systemic issue that the offices of Budget and Finance, Human Resources and Information Technology began working on as part of the county’s WorkDay Human Resource Management and Financial Systems implementation over a year ago . . . We are reviewing the January 2% COLA matter for the affected employees in the context of this work.”
Stay Away from “Operational Issues”
But Rodgers did say – in no uncertain terms – that the inspector general had exceeded her authority in launching the investigation, echoing the argument made by County Council Chairman Julian Jones when Madigan reported on his use of the county’s email system to solicit campaign donations. (“We are not subject to discipline in the same manner as other county employees,” Jones said in his rebuttal to the IG report.)
And it’s the same administration that admitted to keeping politically connected William “Chris” McCollum on the payroll – so far paying him more than $110,000 – after he resigned following Madigan’s reports of wasteful spending and misuse of a county credit card at the Ag Center.
“This issue is clearly an operational matter,” Rodgers told Madigan, “with no issues of fraud, abuse or illegal acts [her emphasis]. We mutually seek to find ways to promote efficiency, accountability and integrity. As this is an operational issue, I believe that there should be opportunities to discuss matters like this, as opposed to handling through an investigative process.”
Rodgers pointedly added that the administration “was well aware” of the pay exclusion prior to today’s report.
Madigan said the investigation was started after an employee cited an email sent by Olszewski announcing that a 2% COLA pay increase was scheduled for all employees in the first pay period of 2022.
When the employee sought information on why the increase was not reflected in their paycheck, “no clear and adequate justification for the exclusion” was provided by supervisors or the human resources office.
A key mission of the inspector general, Madigan wrote to Rodgers, is to “provide increased accountability and oversight in the operations of the county government,” including “reviews of operations of the county government as deemed appropriate.”
Until the IG began to look into the pay exclusion, “it appears that this particular issue had not been elevated to all relevant parties at the highest levels of the administration,” she said.