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Lynn vote would raise pay for mayor, city councilors

Mayor Kennedy: “My motivation was not to be right, it was to get it right.”

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/2009

Mayor Kennedy: “My motivation was not to be right, it was to get it right.”

The city of Lynn is seeking special state legislation to end its long legal drama over the correct way to set its mayor’s salary, which would allow pay raises for Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy and the 11-member City Council.

Kennedy would receive a 75 percent pay raise and the city councilors’ pay would more than double under a salary proposal approved by the council last week by a 10-0 vote, with one member abstaining.

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Kennedy’s pay would increase to $145,000 from her current salary of $82,500.

Councilors — whose salary is currently set at 15 percent of the mayor’s salary, or $12,375, plus $8,700 for expenses — would receive $25,000 annually, and would no longer be eligible for expenses.

The raises will require the Legislature to approve a home rule petition, because under Lynn’s city charter, raises for elected officials take effect only after the next election.

Though the pay increases would technically be retroactive to 1998 — when the Lynn council last approved setting the mayor’s salary at $82,500 — neither Kennedy nor councilors will receive back pay under the proposal.

Since then, two successive Lynn mayors, Patrick J. McManus and Edward J. Clancy Jr., received additional compensation, including pay raises and educational stipends paid to city department heads and union employees.

At a City Council public hearing on Tuesday, Kennedy backed the new salary plan.

“Four years ago I asked the superior court to provide a ruling on the law with regard to the mayor’s salary,” she said. “In seeking that ruling, my motivation was not to be right, it was to get it right. And in short, that we modify our practices to act in accordance with the law.”

Kennedy filed a lawsuit in 2010 against Clancy, challenging the formula used to calculate his salary and benefits, which increased from $113,092 to $147,583 during his eight year-tenure, from 2001 to 2009.

Kennedy has collected the $82,500 salary since taking office in January, 2009. But city councilors until April continued to be paid $15,302, or 15 percent of Clancy’s $102,000 base salary paid to him in 2009.

In March, Superior Court Judge S. Jane Haggerty ruled that the correct salary was $82,500, and that Clancy potentially owed the city more than $400,000. Clancy has appealed that ruling, but that move would likely be moot if the home rule petition is approved.

Because a councilor’s pay is set at 15 percent of the mayor’s, the court ruling also raised the prospect that long-serving councilors might have to repay tens of thousands of dollars.

The new legislation would forgive any overpayments paid to mayors and councilors by extending the salary increase back to 1998, when McManus, who died in 2009, was mayor.

City Council president Daniel Cahill said Tuesday that the vote would correct past mistakes.

“This will be the hardest vote any elected official here most likely has taken in their careers,” he said.

The proposal also states that “no current or former elected official” is entitled to a pension benefit higher than what they contributed to the system.

“They just want to make it clear that because a raise has been given retroactively, they cannot make a claim that there would be no adjustment to the pension,” Gary Brenner, clerk to the Lynn Retirement Board, said in an interview after the council’s vote.

At the hearing, nine members of the public spoke in opposition to the change, deriding it as clear self-dealing.

“I hear from this that you’ll be grandfathered for the extra $3,000 that you got in salary all these years, and also the current stipend of $8,500 is included,” said William Edwards, a retired Lynn firefighter who now lives in Nahant. “So now you’re talking maybe $10,000 a councilor, and you’re voting on this. So I would love to be the defendant and be my own jury. That sounds pretty good to me.”

Many complained that they had had little notice of the vote and had not been able to see the proposed measure. Others asked why the councilors would forgo a chance to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars while cutting department budgets and missing the state minimum for school spending.

“Lynn has been underfunding our schools for years. Quincy on the other hand has been overfunding their schools an average of $15 million a year for at least the last decade,” said Lori D’Amico, a Lynn resident “Until the mayor is willing and able to fund our schools at at least 100 percent, I do not think anybody should be thinking about giving raises and benefits to anyone, particularly to themselves.”

Several speakers said they supported a raise for the current mayor but bristled at its retroactive terms.

“The special legislation seems designed to hold the sins of the past — or the people who committed the sins of the past — unaccountable,” said Ron Mendes, who unsuccessfully challenged Daniel Cyr for the Ward 3 council seat last November.

While 10 council members approved the proposal Tuesday, At-Large Councilor Gordon “Buzzy” Barton abstained, citing legal advice he had received and his role on the city’s retirement board.

The new salary structure would put Lynn councilors on a par with their counterparts in nearby cities. Medford city councilors are paid $27,529 annually, while Somerville aldermen are paid $25,000, according to a Globe survey of salaries for elected municipal officials.

Cahill, the Lynn council president, said the raises would attract the right candidates to public office. “There has to be some kind of compensation, or else you get folks who are willing to do things for free,” he said. “And you get what you pay for.”

Kathy McCabe can be reached at katherine.mccabe@ globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe. Alan Leo can be reached at alanleo@gmail.com.
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