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City Council presses to boost raises

President, panel face off over report

Boston City Council President Bill Linehan (left) said he will introduce a measure on Wednesday for a salary between $97,000 and $107,500.
Boston City Council President Bill Linehan (left) said he will introduce a measure on Wednesday for a salary between $97,000 and $107,500.(Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)

City Council President Bill Linehan vowed Thursday to push for a pay increase for himself and his colleagues that reflects the “true value” of the council, after facing off with the head of an advisory panel that had suggested a raise he considered inadequate.

The showdown came weeks after the Compensation Advisory Board recommended boosting councilors’ pay from $87,500 to $97,000. Councilors had approved an increase to $107,500 last fall, but that measure was vetoed by Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

Deborah Shah, who heads the compensation board, said the panel spent the past eight months formulating its assessment before filing its recommendation in July.

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“We took our time. We looked at many factors,’’ Shah told councilors at the hearing.

But Linehan and other councilors said they were not satisfied with the report, calling it faulty, disrespectful, and offensive in its methodology and assessment.

Linehan said he will introduce a measure at Wednesday’s weekly council meeting that would include a salary bump to between $97,000 and $107,500. He refused to provide a specific figure.

“We are undervalued and your report devalued us,’’ Linehan told Shah and city policy analyst Chris English, who also spoke at the hearing and helped craft a salary survey used by the panel.

Linehan’s declaration was the latest development in series of contentious twists and turns over whether the council should increase its own salary. Councilors have not had a pay increase in eight years. The higher wage issue is playing out as councilors seek reelection this fall.

But Linehan said that someone “has to stand up” and push the issue, and he vowed “we are not going to back down.”

Shah told councilors that the compensation board considered many factors in its report, including the salaries of councilors in five comparable cities with a strong-mayoral governance structure: Baltimore, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle.

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“Ultimately after much deliberation and debate . . . the board thought that a nearly 11 percent increase was indeed fair,” said Deborah Shah.
“Ultimately after much deliberation and debate . . . the board thought that a nearly 11 percent increase was indeed fair,” said Deborah Shah.(Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)

“We were predisposed to provide an increase,’’ she explained. “The question was, what size?”

Shah said the panel recognizes the councilors’ “critical role” in Boston, adding that they should receive a raise in line with other city officials with important managerial and administrative functions.

“But what is fair?’’ she asked. “This will remain a subjective issue. Ultimately after much deliberation and debate . . . the board thought that a nearly 11 percent increase was indeed fair.”

At least one councilor — Michelle Wu — appeared ready to move on. Wu said it was getting “pretty annoying” for councilors and their constituents to still be talking about this issue. Wu had opposed a pay raise, saying councilors should not be setting and voting on their own salaries.

But her fellow councilors picked apart the report, paying particular attention to its introduction pages, which called the Boston City Council “the second least powerful’’ when compared to the roles and responsibilities of councilors in the other cities.

Councilor Stephen J. Murphy said the report ignores the full duties and responsibility of the council.

“We establish public policy as regularly as the mayor through these powers and authorities. They seemed to have been undervalued in your report,’’ Murphy said.

Linehan asked English, the city policy analyst, if he verified who filled out the salary surveys in the other cities and questioned why Boston councilors were not given the surveys to complete.

“We didn’t get the same appreciation that the other cities have,” Linehan said. “We didn’t get recognized the same way. That’s a serious issue. We didn’t get to fill out our own survey.”

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Shah said much of that information was part of the public record.

Councilor Frank Baker wanted to know when the panel is expected to produce its report on the salaries for city department heads, saying the council’s job is more demanding than that of many managers with higher salaries.

“It almost seems like this is, let’s throw this at the City Council, let them get beat up, and then we’ll let the department heads’’ go free, Baker said.

The report is forthcoming, Shah responded.

Linehan had originally proposed a 29 percent increase that would have given councilors an immediate salary boost to $112,500. That proposal was met with stiff public backlash and later revised.

Under pressure, councilors voted in October by 9-to-4 to give themselves a lower pay hike of 23 percent, or $20,000, effective in January. The mayor vetoed the increase and reconvened the Compensation Advisory Board, which issued its recommendations late July. Linehan has said the council has nine votes to override the veto.

The mayor and the council have wrangled over who has the authority to grant the pay raise. Linehan has argued that he still has nine votes to override Walsh’s veto. But city lawyers have said the council does not have the authority to increase its salary.


Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.

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