State of the Cities: Bettencourt sees Peabody's agenda on schedule

MARY SCHWALM/Staff photo

Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt delivers the Peabody State of the City address at the Wiggins Auditorium at City Hall in Peabody. 

Peabody city councilors voted as recently as 2013 to tie their pay to the mayor’s, allowing themselves 9 percent of his earnings. But already some wonder if they’ve made a mistake.

In a query to the city solicitor, they asked if they could detach their salaries from the mayor’s in order to raise his pay but not theirs. They also asked if they could give the mayor a raise that he would not be allowed to reject. Mayor Ted Bettencourt has already announced he does not want a raise. 

Behind these concerns, councilors say, is the belief their mayor is underpaid at $105,000 and top people might be deterred from seeking the job. “I’m a strong believer,” says Councilor Tom Walsh, “that the position of the mayor should bring a higher salary.” 

Officials in the fire and police departments, the schools and public services all earn more than their boss, notes Councilor Barry Osborne.

Peabody Municipal Light Plant manager Glenn Trueira, the top earner in 2014 at $175,818, exceeded the mayor’s pay by more than $70,000. Police Sgt. Timothy Maroney is next on the list at $173,693. Close to 70 city workers earn more than the city’s chief executive. Of course, in many cases long hours of overtime bring extra money, but the mayor, also, is extremely busy.

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll earns $120,000, by comparison. The council there recently attempted to separate the mayor’s pay from the councilors’. Mayor Mike Cahill in Beverly earns $100,000.

City Solicitor Michael Smerczynski responded to councilors’ questions regarding the link between their pay and the mayor’s. “The council is free to change the language ... eliminating the percentage clause.” As for mandating the mayor’s raise, he puts stress on the word “shall” in state law, as in “the mayor SHALL receive ... such compensation ... as the city council SHALL determine.”

For his part, Bettencourt declines to comment. “I’ve tried to stay out of that issue.”

“I would say he deserves a big raise,” says Osborne. Councilors don’t need more money, he adds, and he urges their stipend, $9,450, be uncoupled from the mayor’s until his earnings reach an acceptable level. At that point, when raises might be limited to small increases, 1 to 3 percent, council pay might be refastened to the mayor’s.

As for the mayor’s reluctance to take an increase, Osborne suggests he could donate any raise to a group like Haven from Hunger.

When it comes to compensation for the councilors, echoes member Jim Moutsoulas, he has no interest in earning more. “From day one, when I got on the council, I didn’t even know they got paid.”

Retired veteran councilor Dave Gamache made the motion that raised the mayor’s salary in 2013, impacting some stipends that hadn’t been boosted in more than a decade. He did not benefit personally from the increase that went into effect in 2014. “It should be $125,000,” he says of the mayor’s salary. He also believes it should rise regardless of the mayor’s wishes. If he doesn’t want it, “He can put the money back into free cash.”

Even so, Gamache doesn’t expect the council to act. In theory, “The council can do anything it wants to do.” In practice, “The political will is not there.” Especially in an election year. Finally, he suggests the entire question should go to a subcommittee and, “And let’s look at it next year.”

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