Council president has a new pay raise in mind, despite critics
City Council President Bill Linehan said Friday he would recommend increasing the council's pay from $87,500 to $105,000 next month, but he and his colleagues are increasingly under fire for devoting so much time to their own salaries.
"Why should they get a raise?" asked Ralph Moore, a 59-year-old Dorchester resident who said he was newly laid off from his bank job after several decades.
Annissa Essaibi-George, a Dorchester businesswoman and the only challenger trying to unseat one of the four at-large councilors this fall, accused the council of wasting time on the pay matter.
"They spent two solid hours debating this,'' Essaibi-George said of a hearing Thursday. "They've had just one public safety hearing this summer. And they've had zero education meetings this summer. Education and public safety are the two most critical issues the public have to deal with every single day."
The council has discussed increasing its pay nearly a half dozen times since the fall, creating a campaign issue in an otherwise sleepy election cycle with just a few contested races.
Linehan, who is running unopposed to represent South Boston, acknowledged the pay issue has taken months to resolve but said the council has also been busy tackling other hard topics, such as banning synthetic marijuana.
"If you want to pick out two months in a year, after a very heavy load in the spring time, that's fine,'' Linehan said. "But we are doing good work, and we will continue to do so. And we are looking to putting all of this behind us."
Last September, Linehan proposed an immediate $25,000 pay increase, saying the council has not had a raise in eight years. Some councilors noted they had approved higher pay packages for other top officials, such as the fire and police commissioners, and said they, too, do important work.
But Linehan's plan hit a road block when lawyers for the city said councilors could not legally vote on their own increase, and the State Ethics Commission also began reviewing the matter.
The council then voted 9 to 4 for a $20,000 increase effective in January. Mayor Martin J. Walsh vetoed that, and reconvened the Compensation Advisory Board to advise him. It recommended a $97,000 council salary, a $9,500 raise that Linehan says is inadequate.
He called the hearing on Thursday, in which councilors made speeches about their value to the city — a display that didn't sit well with some voters.
"If you give back to people and you're trying to better people's lives . . . you don't get paid that much,'' said South End resident Anthony Bolt, a 24-year-old who works with formerly incarcerated juveniles. "We do this out of the kindness of our hearts, not the paycheck."
In response, Linehan said he's getting positive feedback from members of the public urging him to keep up the fight.
"I hear from constituents who say, 'Good, the council does do good work,' " he said. "It's a complex issue. Most folks don't understand how much everybody is paid in government. . . . I can see where people say 'That's enough. They don't need anymore.' "
The issue is stirring the at-large council contest, where Essaibi-George, who is also a teacher, is joining incumbents Stephen J. Murphy, Michael F. Flaherty, Ayanna Pressley, and Michelle Wu on the ballot.
Pressley, Wu, and fellow councilors Matt O'Malley and Josh Zakim oppose the pay raise, saying the system is flawed and councilors should not be in the business of setting their own salaries.
Essaibi-George criticized the council Thursday for focusing on the pay issue, which she called a "waste of time" when there are more important matters to discuss, such as education and crime.
"Let's get back to the issues that we should be working on in municipal government — improving our schools, making our streets safer, and creating economic opportunity in all of our neighborhoods,'' Essaibi-George said in a statement.
Her statement followed a wave of shootings that left three people in their 20s dead, and that wounded at least five.
Also, the Boston school district reported a glitch in the school assignment process that delayed the release of wait-list information for more than 8,000 students.
Murphy, who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee, held 18 hearings from last year through June. Many were for grant appropriations, such as one that provides funding for additional Naloxone kits to help reverse opioid overdoses. The panel tackled six issues at its July 20 hearing, including funding for video cameras in the downtown business district, victims' assistance, and continued dialogue between youths and police, a Globe review found.
"Those were all done this summer,'' Murphy said.
Councilor Tito Jackson, who heads the Education Committee, said his panel held more than a dozen hearings since last year, most during the budget process. A hearing is also set for Aug. 31 on banning drug needles near school zones, he said.
The mayor, through his press office, said he looks forward to reviewing Linehan's new pay proposal next month.