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The mayor of Everett, a city with fewer than 50,000 residents, has become the highest-paid city leader in Massachusetts thanks to a controversial “longevity bonus” that one political rival denounced as “asinine” and the city clerk reported to the FBI as possibly illegal.

Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria was paid $236,647 in 2020, which is more even than then-Mayor Martin J. Walsh earned for overseeing Boston, a city 15 times larger. DeMaria’s base pay of $185,000 was lower than Walsh’s $199,000 paycheck, but DeMaria’s $40,000 bonus and other perks pushed his total income significantly above Walsh’s.

Defenders of DeMaria, who was narrowly reelected to a fifth term earlier this month, say that he deserves a good salary, though his spokeswoman stressed that DeMaria got no special treatment. His annual bonus has been approved by both the city’s attorney and chief financial officer.

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“The salary that Mayor Carlo DeMaria earns is the same salary that any mayor elected by the residents of Everett would earn,” said spokeswoman Deanna Deveney.

But several other city officials say DeMaria and his allies are manipulating the language of a vaguely worded city ordinance to collect $40,000 a year in bonuses when he should be getting only $10,000 every four years.

“Longevity pay for an elected official is asinine,” said Councilor Fred Capone, who ran against DeMaria this year and lost by 210 votes. “It makes no sense whatsoever. You don’t pay elected officials longevity pay. They get reelected. That’s their reward for a job well done.”

“I find it outrageous,” said Councilor Michael Marchese, who said he only recently learned that DeMaria received the annual $40,000 bonus. “I’m disgusted by it. ... We live in a city where we have immigrants who don’t even make $40,000 a year.”

Capone has filed a motion to eliminate the bonus, which was scheduled to be debated Monday night, though the meeting could be postponed because Capone has tested positive for COVID-19. He believes DeMaria should refund the city for the bonuses already collected.

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DeMaria, first elected mayor in 2007, has long been a polarizing figure in this small city north of Boston. He played a key role in attracting the Encore Casino to Everett, creating thousands of jobs and generating millions in tax revenue.

“The city is being extremely well run,” said former Everett mayor David Ragucci, who was not familiar with the longevity pay issue. “He’s doing a wonderful job for the taxpayers and the people of Everett.”

But DeMaria has also been dogged by controversy. Multiple women have accused him of harassment and city clerk Sergio Cornelio accused DeMaria of pressuring him for $97,000 in a real estate deal that DeMaria had not earned.

Through it all, DeMaria has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing — Cornelio owed him the money, DeMaria said — and watched his mayoral paycheck climb from $85,000 in 2015, a spokeswoman said, to $236,647 last year. That puts DeMaria’s income far ahead of the leaders of other much larger cities including Springfield ($135,000), Worcester ($38,543), and Brockton ($153,037). In fact, no mayor in the state makes as much.

The current controversy centers on Everett’s unusual practice of awarding the mayor a bonus simply for staying in the job.

Mary Kate Feeney, who was acting chair of a Framingham committee that studied the pay of mayors across the state earlier this year, said that none of them received longevity pay on top of their salary. Feeney said some mayors haven’t had a raise in a decade or more, noting that Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller recently refused a pay hike approved by the City Council.

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“We really came to the conclusion that many of the mayors in Massachusetts are focused on serving their communities and their compensation is doing the best they can for the people they serve,” Feeney said.

The Everett City Council passed the longevity bonus ordinance in 2016, containing only bare-bones and ambiguous language: “Any individual serving in the office of mayor shall receive a longevity payment of $10,000 for each completed term as mayor.”

Two city councilors who voted for the measure — John Hanlon and current council chairman Anthony DiPierro, who is also DeMaria’s cousin — say the measure was intended to pay the mayor $10,000 per term for staying on the job.

“I thought it was $10,000 after the completion of every term,” Hanlon, himself a former Everett mayor, told the Globe. “I didn’t get any longevity. Maybe I can get it retroactive?”

But city solicitor Colleen Mejia and chief financial officer Eric Demas told councilors at a recent meeting that DeMaria is entitled to a $40,000-per-year bonus — and more when he completes his fifth term.

“It’s $10,000 a year for each completed term,” said Mejia, explaining that, since DeMaria has completed four terms, he is entitled to a bonus of $40,000.

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And Mejia said the money is paid annually like bonuses paid to other city employees. ”There’s nothing in the ordinance that discounts his ability to get an annual longevity payment because it is the practice to give employees the longevity every year. He gets it every year,” Mejia said.

Demas added: “I agree the language is poorly written. How the administration interprets it is $10,000 per year for each term completed as mayor.”

Most of DeMaria’s bonus payments cannot be found in city payroll or budget records, though Capone believes that DeMaria has received a total of $190,000 in longevity payments since 2016.

Some councilors expressed confusion even after Mejia and Demas explained the bonus to them.

“I need a little drawing with the math,” said Councilor Stephanie Martins, who wasn’t in office when the measure was passed in 2016.

Councilor Rosa DiFlorio suggested the council revise the language so that the mayor receives $2,500 a year in longevity pay — which she says would more accurately reflect the original intent of the ordinance.

Council members agreed to debate whether to eliminate or modify DeMaria’s bonus on Monday, Nov. 22.

Separately, city clerk Cornelio aired his concerns about the legality of DeMaria’s bonuses in a meeting last month with agents from the FBI, US attorney’s office, and the IRS, according to his attorney Joseph Machera. The agencies had asked for the meeting after Cornelio publicly accused DeMaria, a onetime friend, of pressuring him for money.

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DeMaria has strongly denied that he improperly pressured Cornelio. He has filed a defamation suit against the Everett Leader Herald, which first published the allegations, and Cornelio, saying Cornelio owed him the money as part of a real estate deal.

Cornelio also told them about the longevity payments and said DeMaria received substantially more than he was entitled to, according to Machera.

“It’s time the City Council initiates a full-scale investigation into whether or not anyone is violating the longevity ordinance they passed to reward faithful employees,” Machera said.


Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.