California, MD — A new member of the St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission (MetCom) has criticized the salary being made by their attorney. “What I am saying is I have a concern,” said Bryan “Puff” Barthelme about the $165,000 annual salary of MetCom General Counsel Jacquelyn Meiser (shown at left).

Barthelme said that Meiser makes $40,000 more than the county attorney and more than Gov. Larry Hogan, whose salary is $150,000. He called the salary “ridiculous.” Barthelme was previously on MetCom from 1996 to 2002 and was chairman for his final year. He was reappointed in 2009 but resigned due to a work conflict.

Meiser, who has been doing work for the agency off and on since 1991, became their general counsel in 2006 and added the responsibilities of executive director while continuing to be their attorney in 2009. Then State Sen. Roy Dyson introduced a bill that passed the Maryland General Assembly in 2011 that prohibited MetCom from having one person to be both attorney and executive director.

Meiser at first indicated she would continue as executive director and have the agency hire an attorney. But later she changed her mind and resigned as executive director in late 2012 and was named general counsel and to the new position of “government affairs officer.” Apparently at that time the commission continued her under the salary she had when she was executive director.

After Meiser’s resignation, Dan Ichniowski was selected as executive director but he decided several months ago to retire and a replacement has yet to be announced. Ichniowski makes less as executive director than Meiser does as attorney/government affairs officer.

The discussion of Meiser’s salary at MetCom’s March 26 meeting led to a discussion on who on staff should receive the one step and one-percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) in the proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

Commission Chairman Steve Willing said he considered ratepayers to be the agency’s number one priority but that employees were a close second. “If you don’t have good people it’s going to affect operations and ratepayers,” he said.

After some discussion it was agreed to give lower paid staff, in Grade 15 or below, the step increase, but not employees in higher grades. “One or two people are holding back the whole company,” Barthelme said. The Step 15 covers employees who make $45,000 to $73,000 and at the top of the grade.

When there was an attempt by Barthelme to exclude Meiser from the COLA as well, she told the commission that she didn’t want it. The motion for the one-percent COLA was then adopted that excluded Meiser.

But the salary argument continued over a discussion of a proposal to make a legal assistant in Meiser’s office a full-time 40-hour employee instead of working 32 hours.  That upgrade was approved by a 3-2 vote, with Barthelme and commission member Mike Mummaugh voting against making it a 40-hour position.

Mummaugh had argued earlier in a discussion of whether to hire an inspector and make that a contract position that growth has slowed for MetCom and the agency needs to be cautious. He said he didn’t want new people hired only to have to be let go later if the work wasn’t there.

Out of concern for the decision to upgrade the legal assistant to 40 hours, both Barthelme and Mummaugh voted against the operating budget that will go to public hearing April 1.  Chairman Willing quipped that the two were voting against the whole budget over an infinitesimal amount compared to the overall budget. But Mummaugh noted that every little bit counts.

The budget that is going to public hearing includes the rates from a consultant’s study. It would lower rates for the bulk of MetCom’s residential customers, but increase rates for some businesses, some of whom may decide to go to smaller meters to avoid rate increases.

The commission had looked at several alternative proposals which would have lowered the commercial rates but decided to go to the public hearing with the rates as advertised otherwise another public hearing might have been necessary. They still have time to make changes based on testimony at the public hearing.

The Wednesday, April 1 public hearing is at 6 p.m. at the Bay District Volunteer Fire Department Social Hall, 46900 S. Shangri-La Drive, Lexington Park.

Contact Dick Myers at news@thebaynet.com