SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

March 21, 2014

Benton: A good week for Salem mayor

The Kimberley Driscoll administration’s tenaciousness paid off on two fronts this week.

Monday a reconstituted Salem School Committee voted 6-1 to enter into negotiations with a private firm for a semi-takeover of the struggling Bentley Elementary School. And on Tuesday came news that the Massachusetts Appeals Court had upheld a 2009 Board of Health ruling allowing use of the former municipal incinerator site on Swampscott Road as a trash transfer station. The decision overturns an earlier Superior Court ruling siding with neighbors who oppose the project.

As many have discovered over the years, the mayor doesn’t back off from a fight and doesn’t wave the white flag easily. So, firefighters and police officers who last week cowed city councilors (with the exception of Ward 2’s Heather Famico) into backing off on Driscoll’s proposal to take the chiefs’ jobs out of civil service might want to hold off on their celebrations.

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It wasn’t the weather that had Salem councilors a bit red-faced this week. It seems the 20 percent raise they granted themselves recently was illegal.

City solicitor Beth Rennard, who was on vacation at the time of the vote, ruled that the raise could not go into effect until after the 2015 election. That way, voters can decide whether councilors deserve the extra money. Makes sense.

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Meanwhile, next door in Peabody, this observer has always maintained that a better case can be made for abolishing the Municipal Light Board than granting its members another raise.

Commissioners have always felt that the fact that the utility offers among the lowest electric rates in the region gave them license to spend money on lucrative contracts for managers and other employees, not to mention a nice stipend and assorted perks for themselves. But the vast majority of Massachusetts municipalities prefer to leave the production and distribution of electricity to the private sector; and those who continue to operate their own utilities, like Danvers, Ipswich and Marblehead, have found more efficient ways of doing so than is the case in Peabody.

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