With a base salary of $202,989 a year, Lower Merion Township Manager Douglas Cleland is among the best-paid municipal administrators in the region.

He makes $28,075 more than Gov. Tom Corbett and $30,867 more than Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

Without a contract since it expired in December 2011, Cleland may be up for a raise.

Township commissioners have privately been negotiating new terms with Cleland. The final contract is expected to be introduced at the commissioners' March 21 meeting.

Already, there is a drumbeat of criticism from some who question Cleland's last contract.

"What exactly are we paying for?" Carla Zambelli, a civic activist and blogger, said. "I'm not saying [Cleland] doesn't work hard, but I've seen a lot of other township managers who are more user-friendly.

"If the taxpayers are paying for [Cleland's] contract, they should have the ability to have a say in what it is."

Cleland manages a township staff of 422 full-time and 311 part-time employees, which includes the Lower Merion Police Department.

Craig Wheeland, a political science professor at Villanova University who teaches public-administration theory, said Cleland was one of the region's best-paid managers for good reason: Lower Merion borders Philadelphia, and the township must work with the city on certain projects, which means Cleland needs to know more laws and policies.

"He has to manage a complex situation," Wheeland said. "His compensation isn't out of line if you look at the kind of work he does."

Rick Schuettler, deputy director of the Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities, said it was also important to note Lower Merion was a first-class township.

"Lower Merion is a very sophisticated municipality," Schuettler said. "It's very well-managed and very well-run.

". . . If [Lower Merion] feels like they need to pay top dollar for their manager, they realize it's a national market. He could go to work elsewhere and get paid more."

Cleland, who graduated from Ohio State University with a master's degree in public administration, said his job is 24/7 and hard work.

"I work for one of the premier municipalities in the state and in the country," Cleland said. "It can be very demanding. There are some [managers] who make more and some that make less."

Still, the fact that Cleland's salary outpaces that of other local township managers means something to Commissioner V. Scott Zelov.

"We are one of the biggest townships, so I take that into consideration," Zelov said, "but I'm concerned about the significant difference between his compensation and that of other municipalities."

The closest second to Cleland's salary is Radnor's Bob Zienkowski, who makes a $182,000. He gets no township car or bonuses.

Cleland, on the other hand, collected an additional $15,659 longevity bonus last year. He began working for the township 28 years ago as its finance director. The township also contributed $15,466 to his deferred-compensation package. In total, he made $224,449 last year. Along with a township vehicle and Lower Merion's contribution to his health insurance, the total package is estimated to be about $276,000.

Joe Brown, a retired resident of Lower Merion with a background in human resources, is among those who think Cleland is paid too much.

"The logic says to me, unless you can show it's terribly harder for him to run [Lower Merion] than other local township managers, there's no rationale to his pay," Brown said.

Though Cleland said he knew his pay was subject to public scrutiny, this year's negotiation process seemed a bit more difficult.

"Today we have a more open and more transparent public process," Cleland said. "We've had advances in the evolution of how things are presented in society, and we are going through a very public process now."

Commissioner Jenny Brown said that when she voted on Cleland's last contract, she knew about the yearly pay raises but did not know all the other features attached.

"It's important for the public to understand the process and know the set of terms this time," Brown said.

Commissioner Cheryl Gelber said the board received comparisons between Cleland's compensation and those in 15 other municipalities. It is something she has never seen in her eight years as a commissioner, she said.

"Right now, we have more information than we know what to do with," Gelber said. "Four years ago, the committee just made the recommendation, and the board pretty much followed the recommendation."

". . . His total package is a lot of money, but part of that is because he's been with the township for so long. A majority of the board has a great deal of respect for Doug. He's a wealth of information. Maybe we wouldn't get the same institutional knowledge from someone else."

at anguyen@phillynews.com.