Baltimore law firm tops county payroll

October 15, 1997


Staff Writer

The Baltimore law firm hired by the Washington County Commissioners to lead their labor negotiations has been paid $87,400 in the past year, more than any county employee.

The commissioners contracted with attorney Frank Kollman of Kollman & Sheehan, P.A., at $175 an hour last October to work on the negotiations with the county's roughly 85 unionized roads, transportation and landfill workers in addition to other labor issues, according to County Attorney Richard Douglas.

Douglas said Kollman had billed the county about $54,400 for work related to the collective bargaining case through August. The additional $33,000 was spent on unrelated personnel issues, he said.


Douglas is the highest-paid county employee at $79,482.

Union officials and County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers criticized the legal fees.

"Isn't this the same County Commissioners who proposed that parents pay for school books this year?" asked C.J. Ross, administrator for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 67, of which Local 2677 is a member. Commissioner James R. Wade has suggested having parents pay for school books.

"I think that they're going down the wrong avenue and paving the street in gold," she said.

The commissioners voted 4-1 to decertify Local 2677 on March 18. The Maryland General Assembly later enacted a collective bargaining law forcing the county to negotiate.

"This has been a union that's been recognized for 28 years. Basically, for reasons unknown to us, they've taken it upon themselves to basically try and bust this union and to take complete control over the employees," Ross said.

"And how long is this going to continue? This could only be a drop in the bucket. If I was a citizen there I would be irate."

Ross said that union members merely want their old contract back. "That was what was supposed to have been done and that is not what is being done," she said.

"If we wouldn't have destroyed the process to begin with we would have been off doing something else and saved all this money," said County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers, a United Auto Workers member and the only commissioner to vote against the decertification.

"It's called being penny-wise and pound-foolish," he said.

County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook, Vice President John S. Shank, and commissioners R. Lee Downey and James R. Wade said Tuesday that the negotiations were costing the county a lot of time and money before Kollman came aboard.

Snook said the county probably saved money overall by hiring Kollman because months of negotiations between county supervisors and union employees, which took place on county time, weren't successful.

"We went into it knowing it was going to cost us money. We wanted to make sure we got the right people. It got to be more than we anticipated," Shank said.

When the legislature stepped in and forced negotiations the costs increased considerably, Shank said.

"That's just indicative of what it costs governments to negotiate labor contracts," Wade said. He said the costs were one of the reasons why he voted to decertify the union.

"Unfortunately, the taxpayers are having to pay to get an agreement that basically gives (union employees) what everybody else has." The union workers received the same pay raises and benefits as other employees, Wade said.

The county and the union are now locked in a dispute over the negotiations; the county claims an agreement has been reached on all mandatory items of negotiation under the law but the union says that there is no agreement and said they won't agree to anything unless their concerns are addressed.

Kollman said that the union can't hold the mandatory items hostage to the non-mandatory items, such as having a dues checkoff procedure.

An independent mediator was chosen last week by the two parties to make a recommendation on the dispute to the Washington County Commissioners, who have the ultimate say over whether they or the union are right, Kollman said.

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