In becoming Baltimore’s first city administrator next month, Christopher J. Shorter has accepted a modest salary increase in exchange for vastly expanded responsibilities.
Since 2019, Shorter has been one of four city managers in Austin, Texas, directing health, environmental and cultural services for a city of slightly under 1 million people.
On January 11, he will assume day-to-day operations across Baltimore government, holding supervisory power over all agencies, department heads and employees, while overseeing the annual budget and advising his boss, Brandon Scott.
Scott says the appointment is one of the most important he will make as mayor. He has equated the relationship to that of a CEO aligned with the chief operating officer. “We will work closely together to fix what’s broken in city government and restore the public’s trust.”
Shorter has not been made available to the press to express his ideas of the job, which will make him the second-best-paid employee in municipal government behind Police Commissioner Michael S. Harrison.
The Board of Estimates today approved his employment agreement. It provides for an annual base salary of $250,000 for four years ($1 million total) compared to $275,000 a year for Harrison.
Shorter is further due a $10,000 signing bonus when he officially starts at City Hall on January 11, plus up to $45,000 ($2,500 a month for 18 months) as a housing allowance until his house is sold.
Other provisions of the agreement are relatively modest: a take-home vehicle, a perk granted to police brass and other officials; $9,557 in moving expenses; and eligibility for the same cost of living, health, pension, life insurance, dental and other benefits provided to other executive employees.
Because his job is considered to be in effect 24 hours a day, Shorter is not entitled to undertake outside paid work or to receive a lump sum for accrued vacation, personal leave or sick time. (Earlier this year, retiring Deputy Comptroller Harriette Taylor pocketed more than $200,000 in unused vacation and sick time.)
If fired without cause before his contract expires in December 2024, Shorter is entitled to a lump sum of six months’ base pay, or $125,000.
Snow in D.C.
Shorter’s prospective annual salary in Baltimore is only $9,000 more than the $241,000 he was receiving in Austin, according to that city’s online records.
In Austin, his purview included the management of parks, libraries, animal shelters, waste management and lifelong learning.
Those tasks align with his lifestyle, which he told the Austin Statesman is attuned to “parks and trails and hiking.” Asked what he considered a perfect day in Austin, he replied, “being outside.”
Shorter moved to Austin in early 2019 from Washington, where he had worked for 10 years in a host of municipal agencies, including youth rehabilitation services, the health department and public works.
Directing D.C.’s snow removal after a record 27-inch storm in 2015 was one of the “toughest moments of my career,” he recalled to the Statesman:
“It was national news, health and safety. When the president of the United States needs to get from Point A to Point B, slippery roads are not acceptable.”
Faced with Baltimore’s relentless crime and homicides – coupled with an ongoing pandemic and shrinking city revenues – Shorter will be stepping into a job where snow and slippery roads may be the least of his concerns.
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