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Push made for key ally in bid for clerk’s job

Help arrives from council president

Maureen Feeney is expected to easily win a simple majority of seven votes from the City Council today, and the council president, Stephen J. Murphy, has gone to bat for her.

Maureen Feeney is expected to easily win a simple majority of seven votes from the City Council today, and the council president, Stephen J. Murphy, has gone to bat for her.

Fighting for his political life this fall, Boston City Council President Stephen J. Murphy benefitted from a boost in Dorchester by fellow councilor Maureen E. Feeney, who hit the campaign trail for her longtime ally.

Feeney offered a glowing testimonial for Murphy at a Dorchester campaign stop with 60 seniors, describing their close friendship after serving 14 years together on the City Council.

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“Over the years there are people who come and go,’’ Feeney said before pausing to point at Murphy. “Then there are people who stand with you and fight for you.’’

Now it is Murphy’s turn to fight for Feeney, pushing her as the next city clerk in the face of criticism that the council is handing a lucrative position to one of its own without a substantive search.

Murphy has scheduled a meeting today that will accomplish what many have seen as a fait accompli for months, if not years: Feeney’s probable election as the next city clerk.

The job will come with almost a $14,500 annual pay hike for Feeney, plus the potential to take home tens of thousands of dollars more a year performing weddings.

Feeney is expected to easily win a simple majority of seven votes from the council, a body she served on so recently that her photograph still hangs in the lobby.

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While the council president post is largely ceremonial, it has given Murphy the parliamentary power to press for the swift election of a new clerk. In January, Murphy is expected to easily win a second term as council president.

Murphy did not respond for comment yesterday, but he filed a lengthy letter with the council urging his colleagues to elect Feeney clerk and defending the search process.

“The council complied with both the open meeting law and the ethics laws and conducted interviews of the most qualified applicants for the position of city clerk,’’ he wrote.

Reached last night, Feeney said she was unaware that Murphy had called for a vote and declined to comment.

Murphy and Feeney both grew up in Dorchester, and they have served side by side on the council since Murphy was elected in 1997.

The day after Murphy lost in the Democratic primary for Suffolk County sheriff in 2004, it was Feeney who greeted him with a hug on the floor of the City Council.

Murphy backed Feeney’s 2007 bid to become president of the City Council. In turn, Feeney supported Murphy to be her successor until competitors secured enough votes for the job. Feeney stuck with Murphy when the president’s job came up two years later and helped elevate him to his current leadership position.

The process for hiring clerks has been under fire since Feeney quit abruptly on Nov. 10, a move that set the stage for her to become the next city clerk. State law requires Feeney to be out of office for a minimum of 30 days to avoid any impression that she had an inside track on the job or used her elected office to influence the hiring process. Feeney left without notifying her colleagues or the constituents she had represented for almost two decades.

Three of the last four city clerks have served on the council, including the current officeholder, Rosaria Salerno, who plans to retire Jan. 2.

Pamela Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, acknowledged that the council had done more than in the past to create a more transparent process for selecting a city clerk.

“They’ve made strides, but they are not quite there yet,’’ Wilmont said yesterday. “It’s important that the public believes that jobs are given according to who is the best person for the job and not according to political deals that are done behind closed doors without a full and fair process.’’

To fill the clerk’s job, Murphy moved quickly after a barrage of criticism and set up a hiring process. He publicly posted the clerk’s job to solicit applicants, something that had never before been done. But it was clear that the search was limited from the start.

The clerk’s position was posted for only seven days, starting the Friday after Thanksgiving. Boston’s Human Resources Department typically posts positions for a minimum of 14 days. The job description said that preference would be given to candidates who currently lived in Boston, a condition that would have discouraged applications from many clerks in other cities. For most jobs, Boston does not require that employees move to the city until they have been hired.

In the end, 26 people applied, but half were immediately disqualified because they did not have bachelor’s degrees. (Feeney eared a degree in labor studies in June 2010 from the University of Massachusetts Boston, a school spokesman said.) Other candidates lacked sufficient government experience.

“Only Maureen Feeney met all the requirements,’’ Murphy wrote in his letter to the council.

Feeney and another candidate were interviewed as finalists by a committee chaired by Murphy.

Several councilors said yesterday they planned to vote for Feeney, including Michael P. Ross.

“I think it was utterly defensible that we hired from within the City Council,’’ Ross said last night as he praised Feeney for her knowledge of the inner workings of Boston government. “I do not think that in this narrow situation it required a nationwide or even a countywide search.’’

Ross and Murphy filed an ordinance last week that would curb the most controversial element of the clerk’s job. The proposal would bar the clerk from keeping wedding fees from ceremonies performed at City Hall. But it would still allow Feeney - or whoever becomes the next clerk - to collect fees for marriages solemnized during the lunch hour, after 5 p.m., or before 9 a.m.

Yesterday state Representative Martha M. Walz, a Democrat from Back Bay, put forward a state plan that goes further, barring all government employees from keeping wedding fees for ceremonies performed at any government building at any time.

“No other public employees are permitted to run a business during the workday or after working hours in their offices,’’ Walz said yesterday, adding that she planned to file the bill in January. “This is to treat municipal clerks the same way we treat other employees under the state ethics law.’’

Andrew Ryan can be reached at acryan@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.

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