SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 17, 2014

Council's salary raise delayed

Ethics quandary arose while city solicitor on vacation

By Neil H. Dempsey
Staff Writer

---- — SALEM — The pay raise for city councilors will have to wait.

After consulting with the state’s Ethics Commission, City Solicitor Beth Rennard has determined that councilors can’t vote for their own raise in the same term it’s to take effect. That means the councilors’ recently approved pay bump will be delayed until January 2016, after the next city election.

The council voted last month to raise Mayor Kim Driscoll’s salary to $120,000 a year. At the same time, they boosted their own pay from $10,000 a year to $12,000, as their salary is pegged at 10 percent of the mayor’s.

Noting she’d been on vacation during that vote, Rennard said the issue posed a conflict of interest for the councilors because they all have a financial stake in it.

“If you have a financial interest in the matter, you can’t participate in it,” Rennard said.

Councilors can’t vote for something that would give them an “immediate and foreseeable” financial benefit, Rennard said. Delaying the effective date of the raise until after the election means it won’t be “foreseeable,” because councilors can’t count on winning another term.

The issue came up last week when councilors went to take the second of two votes required to enact the raises.

Rennard’s intervention basically forced councilors to do something some of them had earlier opted against: Councilor David Eppley had previously introduced a proposal to delay councilors’ raises until January 2016, but it died in a subcommittee.

The issue of whether the council ought to be giving itself a raise has often lent a sense of awkwardness to the yearly discussion about giving the mayor a raise. This year, Eppley was uncomfortable enough with the situation that he voted against the raises during the first full council vote, even though he supported one for the mayor. He was the only councilor to do so.

After hearing that the pay bump for his own position would be delayed, Eppley voted in favor of the raises during the second round of voting last week.

This time around, Councilor Arthur Sargent delivered the sole vote in opposition, saying he was open to a raise for the mayor but thought $20,000 was excessive. He had been absent for the first full vote on the matter but previously voted against the raise at a subcommittee meeting.

“I thought it was too much,” Sargent said.

Councilor Josh Turiel previously voted against the raise in a subcommittee but ultimately sided with the majority.

The mayor’s raise will still take effect in January 2015.

Eppley has said he intends to introduce a proposal that would end the link between the mayor’s salary and the council’s.

Neil H. Dempsey can be reached at ndempsey@salemnews.com.