Baltimore’s spending board punted decisions Wednesday on the contracts for Mayor Brandon Scott’s nominees for police commissioner and fire chief until after the pair have been vetted in their City Council confirmation hearings.

The City Council is slated to hold back-to-back confirmation hearings Thursday night for acting Police Commissioner Richard Worley and acting Fire Chief James Wallace, both veterans of their departments who have taken the reins following sudden departures by their predecessors.

Worley’s contract, which was slated to go before the Board of Estimates Wednesday, calls for a starting salary of $285,000 for three years, compensation Baltimore would have been required to pay over the next year even if City Council rejected him Thursday night. That’s thanks to a clause written into the police commissioner’s contract during the tenure of his predecessor Michael Harrison requiring the city to pay out one year of salary if the council refused to confirm him for the position.

Scott opposed such a clause in Harrison’s contract when he was on City Council, calling it “a dangerous precedent that corrupts the confirmation process” according to Baltimore Sun reporting at the time, but defended his own use of the provision in a news conference Wednesday.

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“I think it’s best practice,” the mayor said when asked why the clause was included in Worley’s contract. “We were in a very different time with BPD five years ago than we are today.”

Worley’s contract would jump $10,000 from the starting salary of Harrison, who resigned in a sudden announcement in June. The three-year contract for Worley is shorter than previous police commissioners have received. Harrison left in the final year of his five-year term, while the terms of his three immediate predecessors ranged from four to eight years. None served out the duration of their contracts.

Harrison’s pay climbed to $287,500 in the final year of his contract, but the amount earmarked for Worley is also tens of thousands of dollars more than the pay for department heads that came before Harrison.

James Wallace speaks at a news conference at his introduction as the nominee for Baltimore’s next fire chief on July 26. (Emily Sullivan)

Wallace, meanwhile, would earn $218,000 annually under his contract. According to city charter, the fire chief’s contract spans four years or until the end of the mayor’s term, whichever comes first.

A 33-year veteran of the department, Wallace would succeed former Fire Chief Niles Ford, who resigned from the post last year following a damning report on his agency’s response to the 2022 Stricker Street vacant home fire that killed three firefighters. Ford was paid just under $229,000 in the 2021 fiscal year, the latest information available in the city’s salary database.

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Prior to his appointment as acting fire chief, Wallace spent the last three years serving as director of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management, a team within the fire department charged with everything from pandemic response to implementing citywide plans during hazardous weather.

Both Worley and Wallace’s contracts guarantee a minimum 3% annual raise.

Scott said at the news conference following Wednesday’s Board of Estimates meeting that he and other board members decided to delay Worley and Wallace’s contracts until after the City Council hearings to demonstrate their commitment to transparency and hearing out other elected leaders.

He nonetheless expressed confidence in their confirmation. “We strongly believe and know that both of these gentlemen — who are capable, who have relationships, who’ve been working in these departments in the city for a long time — will be officially nominated through the council process,” he said.

Worley’s contract appeared on Wednesday’s Board of Estimates agenda when it was released last week, while Wallace’s was a late addition but never formally introduced at the meeting. Both contracts were postponed without discussion before the board.

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adam.willis@thebaltimorebanner.com

This story has been updated with the correct year of the Stricker Street vacant home fire that killed three firefighters.

Adam Willis covers city government for The Banner, including the impacts of the large COVID-19 stimulus package that Baltimore received from the federal government.

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