Having installed former councilor Maureen E. Feeney as city clerk under less than honorable circumstances a year ago, the Boston City Council abruptly renewed her appointment this month until 2016 — with no questions asked or answered, and no notice to the public. The move was all the more disappointing because the earlier wrangling raised legitimate questions about how the clerk’s office is run.
Moments after winning another term as president of the Boston City Council recently, Stephen J. Murphy pushed through a surprise vote to reappoint Feeney, who had been his political ally on the council. The other current councilors learned of the vote just before it occurred, but none objected.
The move is bound to deepen well-earned public skepticism about the clerk’s office, which has long been a political plum. Late in 2011, Feeney quietly resigned from the council after almost two decades to position herself for the job. Amid an outcry over that maneuvering, councilors went through the motions of a perfunctory open search. Then they voted Feeney in.
Amplifying the controversy was the cushiness of the job. Currently at about $102,000 a year, the base salary is comfortable — and it’s amply supplemented by fees for weddings at City Hall. Feeney’s appointment highlighted an absurd state law that lets municipal clerks keep the money for an official act they perform during their normal work hours. To address complaints about the process, the council passed an ordinance restricting the hours for weddings and adding a new $15 fee that the city gets to keep. Yet the clerk who performs it still keeps the usual $60. Feeney later indicated to the Globe she and an assistant clerk have each earned about $28,000 over the last six months from performing weddings.
Unfortunately, there’s little momentum for getting rid of the state law. Maybe city councilors have decided there’s no point in even asking Feeney how the new city ordinance is working — or even for an update on her performance. At best, it’s a sad sign of resignation from a council whose job is to provide oversight of city government.