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Boston City Council could get 14 percent raise

Boston councilors, employing a rarely used city charter provision, may finally get a long-sought raise and boost their salaries by 14 percent — without having to go on record with a final vote.

The maneuver that would send the raise through —without a vote — has not been used since at least 1990, according to the city clerk’s office. It would allow councilors to avoid the unseemly task of approving their own pay hike shortly before standing for reelection Nov. 3.

In the yearlong pay saga, Mayor Martin J. Walsh proposed what he called a compromise that would boost salaries to $99,500. The matter was sent to a City Council committee and has sat untouched since being introduced in September. The city charter stipulates that if the council does not act on a mayoral proposal within 60 days, it automatically becomes law.


That clock expires at 12:01 a.m. Election Day.

The realization that a $12,000 raise could go through without a final vote caught some, but not all, councilors by surprise Wednesday. It drew a rebuke from Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a fiscal watchdog group.

“In the spirit of transparency and accountability, this increase should be voted on by city councilors at a public meeting and not go into effect by just letting time run out,” Tyler said, noting that the raise would cost taxpayers $156,000 next year.

Walsh’s compromise would give councilors a slightly larger raise than an independent board had recommended. But the mayor’s proposal is far less than the $20,000 pay hike that the council originally approved for itself by a 9-to-4 vote and that Walsh rejected last year.

The mayor’s proposal to increase salaries to $99,500 was formally introduced Sept. 2. For the council, Walsh’s timing was significant because it set the 60-day clock to expire on Election Day.


The date is key because the city’s legal department has said state ethics law requires a vote on a raise before the election so that a pay increase can take effect at the start of a new term in January.

Councilor Frank Baker said he was not initially aware of the 60-day rule when Walsh proposed increasing salaries. Baker said he has since learned about the provision, although he would not disclose how.

“We were actually wondering when that question [about the 60-day rule] was going to come up,’’ Baker said, joking about intense media scrutiny over the council’s push for higher pay. “This is a way for us to get a raise. [It is] not necessarily what the people in favor of [a larger raise] want, but it’s a compromise.”

Walsh was in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

The battle over the pay increase dates to September 2014, when City Council President Bill Linehan proposed a nearly 29 percent hike, which would have increased the annual salary to $112,500. Linehan argued that councilors’ pay had been stuck at $87,500 since 2006, even as other city workers received significant increases.

After a public backlash, councilors lowered their ambitions and voted to increase their salaries to $107,500. Walsh vetoed that, saying it was too much. The mayor enlisted the help of the Compensation Advisory Board, which studied pay in other cities.

After further back-and-forth between the council and the mayor, two competing pay proposals were referred to the Government Operations Committee, which is chaired by Councilor Michael F. Flaherty Jr.


As committee chairman, Flaherty controls whether either the mayor’s proposal or the higher councilor plan will be brought forward for a vote.

“It’s not my intention” to put either proposal on the floor for a vote, Flaherty said Wednesday. “Quite frankly, I’m focused on more important issues facing the city.”

Flaherty said that even if there is no vote on the mayor’s proposal, the council had already made its sentiments about a raise clear with the earlier vote. There is, he said, no need for additional public scrutiny.

“If one particular issue has been fully vetted through hearings and working sessions and a Compensation Advisory Board report, it’s been this issue,” Flaherty said.

Nine councilors did not respond to Globe inquiries seeking comment. On Wednesday, Linehan reiterated that the mayor’s proposal for $99,500 was inadequate and said he would vote against it if it came to the floor.

The council president acknowledged that Walsh’s measure could go through without a vote. He said he still held out hope for a higher raise but did not sound optimistic about garnering enough support.

“I don’t have a sense there’s an appetite for this discussion at this time on my matter,” Linehan said, nothing the upcoming election. “I think that even the general public has heard enough on this. They want to be doing their due diligence on who they would want to elect as the new City Council.”


Andrew Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.