SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 28, 2014

Benton: Hold off on that raise, councilors

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — Tying councilors’ salaries to that of the chief executive strikes many voters as unseemly.

The former are part-time employees who, they usually insist, are far more interested in public service than any financial gain. (Though the health and retirement benefits for which they are eligible can boost that remuneration to several times the posted salary.)

Mayors, on the other hand, normally put in well over 40 hours a week on the job, and their responsibilities range from keeping the snow off streets and sidewalks to overseeing the public schools. Few would begrudge them regular raises along the lines of those granted other full-time municipal workers.

In debating whether to grant Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll another raise, freshman Ward 4 Councilor David Eppley sensibly suggested that any increase for him and his colleagues — whose salary is set at 10 percent of that of the chief executive — be delayed until after the next election. That’s a good start. But like the editorial board of this newspaper, I’d suggest Eppley and his colleagues take the further step of cutting the link between mayoral and council salaries entirely.

It’s not easy voting oneself a raise. But there should be no embarrassment if it doesn’t become effective until after voters have had a chance to weigh in on whether their representatives have earned it.

At least Salem councilors are talking about change. Next door in Peabody, the initiative to forgo a pay raise has always come from the mayor, rather than the council.

For 10 years, Michael Bonfanti frustrated councilors with his refusal to accept an increase in pay. Following the election of his successor, Ted Bettencourt, one of the first things councilors did was approve a pay hike (to $105,000 a year) for the mayor.

While that put Bettencourt’s salary more in line with that of other area chief executives — and still well below that of almost 100 of his fellow city employees — it also resulted in a boost for councilors and School Committee members. This year, Bettencourt said he was fine with the current amount, and councilors opted to drop the matter.

Up on Beacon Hill, legislators have also conspired to pass a law allowing them to receive automatic pay raises without having to vote on them. That doesn’t make it right.

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We suspect many Bay Staters scoffed when Gov. Deval Patrick told a Washington-based news organization this week he wouldn’t rule out a run for president in 2016.

While Patrick hastened to add that such a candidacy is unlikely, he’s wise to keep his options open. Indeed, I can recall how it was a little more than eight years ago that a then little-known lawyer came by The Salem News’ offices on Dunham Road in Beverly, accompanied by a lone aide, to introduce himself. The candidate was Patrick; his aide was a young political organizer by the name of Khalil Byrd.

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Correction: That report on the Koch brothers and their furtive effort to gain influence for the far right can be found at www.propublica.org. Last week’s column mistakenly gave it a .com address.

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Datebook: Democratic activist Agnes Ricko of Lynn, an iconic political figure here on the North Shore, will be honored with the state party’s Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Award at an event on May 27 at 6 p.m. at Fenway Park. Her co-recipient is U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield.