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Melrose

Pay hike for Melrose mayor passes first vote

MELROSE — Mayor Robert J. Dolan appears on his way to a bigger payday.

At a public meeting on Monday, during which residents and civic leaders packed City Hall to praise Dolan’s decade-long tenure as mayor, the Melrose Board of Aldermen took a first vote to approve a $25,000 pay raise for the mayor.

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If approved by a second vote of the 11-member board on Monday, Dolan’s annual salary would rise to $125,000 on Jan. 1, 2014. His current salary of $99,896, which went into effect on Jan. 1, reflects a raise approved by the aldermen in 2010.

Dolan, 41, who was present at the meeting, did not address the aldermen. He is in the second year of a four-year term, and has campaigned publicly for the raise.

Sixteen residents and business owners spoke in favor of higher pay, citing Dolan’s work to improve Melrose schools, youth and senior services, and the economy of this city of nearly 27,000 people.

“I don’t think, by any measure, that one could conclude that Mayor Dolan has not been an effective mayor for the city of Melrose,” said David Driscoll, a former state education commissioner and Melrose school superintendent. “He shows leadership. He shows creativity. . . . I am very proud to speak on behalf of Mayor Dolan, because I think he’s done an excellent job.”

John McLaughlin, a homeowner and businessman who sent e-mails to city residents encouraging support for the raise, said Dolan has led an “impressive community renaissance” since taking office in 2002.

If approved by a second vote of the 11-member board, Mayor Robert J. Dolan’s annual salary would rise to $125,000 on Jan. 1, 2014.

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“I would put an emphasis on the word ‘impressive,’ ” said McLaughlin, a long-time political supporter of Dolan. “No other community comes close to approximating the accomplishments of our city and its leaders. Perhaps the success is taken for granted because of its regularity.”

Two residents spoke in opposition of the raise, saying the city could not afford it.

“The mayor has a proven track record,” said resident Devon Manchester. “I just don’t feel we as citizens of Melrose can afford to once again reach into our pockets. . . . Our schools are in need of improvements. Our roads in need of repair, and our parks in need of maintenance.”

Ted Kenney, a frequent critic of the Melrose School Committee, said the pay increase was too much. “He’s done a lot of great things. I’m not taking that away from anyone,” Kenney said. “But 25 percent? Come on.”

Marianne Long, the city’s director of human resources, made the formal request for the salary change, saying the job of Melrose mayor has long been underpaid.

“This order represents a solution to a human resources issue that our city has faced since Mayor Milano’s administration,” Long said, referring to the late James Milano, who served as mayor for 20 years, retiring in the early 1990s. “The mayor’s compensation has been sporadically adjusted, but never adequately adjusted.”

A survey of 30 area communities showed the average pay for a mayor or town manager is $130,000, she said. In the Middlesex League, an athletic conference Melrose competes in against communities of similar makeup, the average pay is $137,000, Long said.

She also noted that Dolan earns less than 14 city department heads, including the police chief, the fire chief, and the school superintendent.

“As HR director, and as a current resident of Melrose, I feel very strongly that we must fairly compensate our current and future mayors,” Long said.

The Melrose Chamber of Commerce endorsed the pay raise, writing in a letter to the aldermen that “the position of mayor is one that is important to residents and businesses alike, and the salary needs to be commensurate with those of neighboring communities.”

Most aldermen — who noted that they had received dozens of e-mails from residents supporting the pay raise — appeared to agree.

“Overwhelmingly, our constituents are supporting this,” said Ward Five Alderman Gail M. Infurna. “This is not about Mayor Dolan. This is about the position, and our chief executive officer has 14 department heads earning more than he does. I’m not sure any other company would work that way.”

Ward Six Alderman Peter D. Mortimer noted that early in his tenure, Dolan voluntarily cut his pay by $5,000, while the city weathered cuts in local aid. “Mayor Dolan has served Melrose for a long time,” Mortimer said. “He’s worked hard. He deserves the raise.”

The 11-member board was sitting as the appropriations committee, which reviews all financial matters. The pay raise was approved on a voice vote, with three board members saying no.

Alderwoman at Large Jaclyn L. Bird chided Dolan for drumming up public support for the raise.

“This feels a little bit more like a campaign meeting, than a Board of Aldermen meeting,” she said. “Despite the personal testimony here tonight . . . this is a not a personal issue, it is a personnel issue. . . . It is simply not the role of the Board of Aldermen to give out a 26 percent raise to an elected incumbent, who has two more years left on his term.”

Ward Two Alderwoman Monica C. Medeiros urged the board to take more time to consider such a large pay increase. “I do think this is a hefty proposal,” she said. “It’s a salary proposal for a 25 percent raise. This is something that we should review.”

Alderman at Large Donald L. Conn said he would not support the pay raise when it comes to a final vote on Monday. “I think it’s too high,” Conn said, addressing his comments to Dolan. “I don’t think it has anything to do with you, the person, or you, the mayor. . . . Setting compensation tailored to a particular person who is very popular, I don’t think is the way to do business.”

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter: @GlobeKMc­Cabe.
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