Following confirmation votes, spending board approves contracts for Baltimore police commissioner, fire chief

Published 10/4/2023 10:34 a.m. EDT, Updated 10/5/2023 4:49 p.m. EDT

Baltimore Police Commissioner Rich Worley speaks during a press conference about the killing of Pava LaPere at BPD headquarters on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023. LaPere, 26, was found slain in her Mount Vernon apartment Monday morning.

Baltimore’s spending board approved contracts Wednesday for Mayor Brandon Scott’s appointees to lead the police and fire departments, two days after both agency veterans were officially confirmed by the City Council.

The contract for acting Police Commissioner Richard Worley calls for a starting annual salary of $285,000 for three years, a $10,000 jump from the starting salary of his predecessor, Michael Harrison. Fire Chief James Wallace’s contract pays $218,000 annually, which, according to city charter, would be paid over four years or until the end of the mayor’s term, whichever comes first.

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

The mayor-controlled Board of Estimates approved both contracts unanimously and without discussion Wednesday as part of a routine agenda at the start of the meeting.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Richard Worley is officially sworn into office by Mayor Brandon Scott during a ceremony at City Hall on Thursday, October 5.

The pro forma approval for Worley’s contract followed a dramatic City Council meeting Monday in which the body voted 14-1 for his confirmation, but police reform activists interrupted proceedings in opposition.

Since Worley took over the acting police commissioner job in June, his department has faced intense criticism for its management of two tragic incidents. In July, 30 people were shot, two fatally, at the annual Brooklyn Day party in South Baltimore, an episode Worley has admitted the department failed to adequately prepare for. And just last week, Worley drew criticism for choosing not to warn the public about a dangerous suspect in a West Baltimore attack until after the sudden killing of a young tech CEO days later.

Multiple council members spoke critically of Worley’s management in both situations at Monday’s confirmation vote. But only Councilwoman Phylicia Porter, who represents Brooklyn, voted against his confirmation.

The council confirmed Wallace as fire chief unanimously in the same meeting.

Both Worley and Wallace’s contracts were originally slated to go before the Board of Estimates two weeks ago, even though neither appointee had advanced through a City Council committee or the full council yet. The board decided to delay its decision on the contracts until after City Council approval, a move that relieved some financial pressure from Monday’s confirmation vote.

That’s because Baltimore would have been required to pay Worley over the next year regardless of whether he was approved by the full City Council. A clause written into the police commissioner’s contract at the time of Harrison’s appointment, and included in Worley’s contract, required the city to pay out one year of salary if the council refused to confirm him for the position.

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.

The salary for Harrison, who resigned abruptly in June, 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.

Baltimore Fire Chief James Wallace is officially sworn into office by Mayor Brandon Scott during a ceremony at City Hall on Thursday, October 5.

Before getting tapped to be the city’s next commissioner, Worley served more than two decades in the Baltimore Police Department, starting as a patrol officer in the Western District and later working as commander for the Northeast District while Scott, then a City Council member, represented the area.

Wallace was tapped in July to succeed 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, according to the latest information available in the city’s salary database.

Prior to his appointment, Wallace, a 33-year veteran of his department, spent more than three years heading the Office of Emergency Management, a division within the fire department charged with leading the city’s response to everything from hazardous weather to the pandemic.

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