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Proposal to cut staff, pay sparks fierce debate at Council session

The incoming Common Council majority's plans to cut some Council staff positions and salaries drew criticism Tuesday from the outgoing majority faction.

Under a plan that supporters are calling a "right-sizing" of government, Council members will no longer be allowed to have a third full-time staff member who receives benefits.

It was that proposal, along with a plan to give the Council's president pro tempore a $2,500 annual stipend, that stirred the loudest debate in the Council Chambers.

South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, a member of the outgoing majority, questioned why the new majority would affect the staffs of each Council member when there are routinely 200 to 250 vacant jobs funded in the city budget.

"Are you watching at home?" Kearns said looking into the video cameras that help stream Council meetings on the Web. "It's a game, people. You're over-taxed."

It was a fiery debate inside the chambers in City Hall, unlike the typically calm and cooperative meetings.

Much of the outgoing majority's criticism over the staff reduction was directed at North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., who has been a vocal opponent of Council members having a third staff member with benefits.

Golombek said he believes no Council office needs three staff members, adding that his stance boils down to fairness and equity.

"It's about fiscal policy," Golombek said Tuesday, adding that the limit of two staffers involves no actual cut in spending for any Council office.

Kearns, Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto and Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, who are part of the outgoing majority, each have a third full-time staff member.

LoCurto said it's been an unwritten rule among Council members not to interfere on how each Council member wants to allocate money for staff. LoCurto also said each member is allocated the same amount of money to spend on staff salaries; some choose to spend it on paid interns as opposed to a third full-timer.

At present, each Council member has at least two full-time staff members who receive benefits paid out of the Council budget. For the lawmakers who have a third full-timer, that person's benefits are paid from a general fund, which Golombek has called "unfair."

That option is available to all Council members, however, LoCurto said, adding that the general fund runs a surplus every year.

Members of the outgoing majority also called the proposed $2,500 stipend a political move to help the new majority.

"It just doesn't come across as looking as pure as that is," said Franczyk, Council president and member of the outgoing majority, referring to the legislation introduced by Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen.

Pridgen said he believes the Council's new majority supports the package of changes.

Under the proposal, the salary of the Council's chief of staff would be slashed by $20,409 to $60,000.

The plan, which would save about $30,000 in total, Pridgen said, also changes job titles and salaries for three of the nine-member central Council staff.

Three "senior legislative assistants," who make $46,083, would become "legislative assistants," at a salary of $41,163.

The salary of the office manager for central Council staff would decrease to $55,000 from $59,187.

The stipend for the Council's president pro tempore comes with an expansion of the post's duties, Pridgen said.

The main job of the president pro tempore has been to fill in for the president and preside at Council meetings where the president is absent or when he relinquishes his seat to debate an issue from the floor.

Pridgen said he wants the post to carry duties that include organizing a college intern program, representing the Council in budget negotiations and handling ongoing education for Council members and staff.

Those duties were not part of the changes to the City Charter that Pridgen introduced.