City Council members voted unanimously Monday night to hike the annual salary for Baltimore’s top attorney by 30% — a move that would elevate the position to one of the most well-paid in city government.
The bill, which members expedited Monday evening from a preliminary to a final vote, raises the salary for the city solicitor position to $245,000 from $188,000.
In a letter endorsing the raise, Baltimore’s Department of Human Resources said the elevated salary is commensurate with other cities, arguing that the existing compensation made it “extremely difficult” to recruit and retain attorneys. The solicitor’s salary has held at $188,000 since at least 2016, according to the human resources department.
Since January, the law office has been headed by Acting City Solicitor Ebony Thompson, who for now is serving in the “acting” capacity because she was 11 months shy of a required decade of bar membership when she assumed the position. Mayor Brandon Scott’s spokesman Bryan Doherty said it will be up to the mayor to decide whether the salary change applies to Thompson in her acting capacity, but added she would automatically receive the higher pay upon confirmation.
The raise for Baltimore’s top attorney comes two years after the city increased the salary for the head of the Department of Public Works from $188,000 to $245,000, a decision that came while the agency was operating with an acting head in the wake of former director Rudy Chow’s departure.
Human Resources Director Quinton Herbert said in his endorsement letter that the chief solicitor and public works director salaries have historically “tracked together,” since both officials sit on the city’s spending board and are therefore only eligible for salary increases once in a term.
The HR department included an analysis of salaries for the top attorneys in other jurisdictions. The top lawyer for Anne Arundel County makes $185,000, the top lawyer for Baltimore County makes $234,000 and the top attorney in Howard County makes $208,000, according to the department. Elsewhere, Philadelphia’s solicitor makes $177,00, while New York City, Atlanta and Alexandria, Virginia each pay their top attorneys more than $240,000, according to the analysis.
Mayor Brandon Scott tapped Thompson to be the city’s top attorney in December following the resignation of his mentor and onetime running mate, Jim Shea.
The appointment of Thompson to acting solicitor has raised questions about the city’s ties to her former law firm, Venable LLC, which leads the team charged with independently monitoring efforts to reform the Baltimore Police Department under a federal mandate. The head of the independent monitoring team is Thompson’s great-uncle and Venable partner, Ken Thompson.
If approved by the mayor, the increase would make Thompson one of the highest-paid employees in Baltimore City government. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, who announced his resignation last week, made $287,000 in the 2022 fiscal year, according to a database of city salaries, and Public Works Director Jason Mitchell, who is expected to resign at the end of the month, made $245,000. Former City Administrator Chris Shorter made $260,000 and has been replaced by Faith Leach, a former deputy mayor to Scott.
Council members approved the solicitor salary hike Monday night without discussion.