Ramsey’s extra-legal pay

    I hate to be the one guy sounding a sour note as we trade high-fives over Philly Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey choosing us over Chicago.

    But I have this little quibble: the dude’s salary is illegal – at least in my humble, amateur opinion.

    The salaries of certain city officials, including the police commissioner are established in the city charter, and can be changed only by City Council ordinance.

    I wrote when Ramsey was hired in 2008 that his $195,000 salary was more than $20,000 over the maximum allowable under law. With Ramsey’s boost to $255,000, he’ll be close to 70 grand over the legal limit, which is set by law with adjustments for inflation.

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    To get around the salary restriction, Mayor Nutter gave Ramsey an extra title. He’s a deputy mayor, too. Nutter isn’t the first mayor to do this. When Ed Rendell ruled city hall, he gave his health and human services commissioners salary bumps by also calling them deputy managing directors. I wonder if these gambits would hold up if they came before a judge.

    The charter provision which sets salaries top officials includes this language: “The compensation fixed by this charter for any officer shall be reduced by an amount equal to any compensation which he receives in addition thereto for any services, rendered by virtue of his office, to the City or to any other governmental agency.”

    I’m sympathetic to Nutter’s problem. Candidates for important jobs can go elsewhere. Our citizens deserve the best talent, and talent has a price. I’ve known a few city officials who are worth twice what Ramsey gets. Real leadership is a rare and beautiful thing, and it’s remarkable what it can accomplish.

    The other side of it is that when you start paying people big numbers, everybody wants them, and you can give a bad mayor license to reward hacks and cronies with outrageous sums.

    This was the squalid political climate the charter was drafted in, and the framers clearly wanted some hard rules to protect the public purse. The top cop’s salary in the charter, by the way, was a hefty $13,000.

    Mayor Rendell argued that legal restrictions on salaries were harming the city’s ability to recruit good managers, so he and council crafted a new ordinance in 1995 to deal with the issue.

    It raised salaries generally, and did two other things. It set a range for each position, so mayors would have discretion to reward performance and department heads would have an incentive to hustle. And it provided for annual cost of living increases, so the salaries wouldn’t become out of date over time.

    Under that ordinance, the range for police commissioner’s salary has risen steadily. It was a max of $174,464 when Ramsey was hired, and while I couldn’t immediately get the current number, some rough calculations show it’s around $186,000.

    When I wrote about this when Ramsey was hired, Nutter’s spokesman Doug Oliver said the inflation-adjusted salaries under the city ordinance are “completely inadequate and should be removed,” and he said the mayor would talk to Council members about this.

    My story generated no public outcry, and the mayor had plenty of other things to do.

    So I’m sure I’ll write about this again. It just seems to me that if there’s a law on the books, we ought to pay some attention to it.

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