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For some city councilors, short days in City Hall

Records show a range of work routines, attendance as their pay raise nears

Boston City Hall.New York Times/File

Boston City Councilor Stephen J. Murphy argues that he deserves a raise because he works tirelessly. But Murphy, who owns a condominium in Florida, was absent from Government Center for weeks at a time the last two winters, according to an analysis of his schedule and time-stamped data from City Hall’s executive parking garage.

Councilor Timothy McCarthy’s schedule in his first year in office had golf penciled in for 14 workdays — days on which there is no evidence he ever came to City Hall. McCarthy said he hit the links only six of those days. The Hyde Park councilor took three weeks of vacation during his freshman year and a two-week, all-expenses-paid trip to Israel with colleagues.


Councilor Michael F. Flaherty Jr. earned $100,000 to $200,000 last year as a partner at a law firm while collecting $87,500 as a full-time city councilor. Records show that on many days, Flaherty did not access City Hall’s parking garage until 10:30 a.m. or later and was often gone before 3:30 p.m.

A yearlong push by most councilors to give themselves a substantial pay raise has cast a spotlight on the enduring debate about the workload of the 13-member body. Councilors don’t punch a clock. They have unlimited vacation days.

Their bosses — the city’s voters — will go to the polls Nov. 3. Five councilors have no opponent, and three others face only token opposition. Over the past three decades, incumbents have won approximately 97 percent of elections.

To develop a snapshot of councilors’ work habits, the Globe scrutinized thousands of pages from their private calendars and reviewed attendance records from nearly 300 hearings and 48 weekly City Council meetings. The analysis also included more than 10,500 bits of data from City Hall’s executive garage showing the precise moment councilors used a keycard to enter and exit.


Most councilors rejected the findings of the Globe’s analysis and took umbrage with the attempt to quantify how much time they dedicate to their jobs. Several pointed out, correctly, that their job often involves work outside of City Hall, as well as nights and weekends.

“I’m on the phone 24 hours [a day],” McCarthy said, adding, “This is unfair. I work very hard, and I don’t take a lot of days off.”

City councilors said their job demands interacting with constituents in their districts and often dominates their weekends and holidays, impinging on time with their families.

“If you’re a 9-to-5 city councilor, you’re not doing your job,” Councilor Salvatore LaMattina said, adding that he is often at community meetings until 9:30 p.m. and shows up at middle-of-the-night emergencies to aid constituents. “I respond to fires. A lot of them.”

The main proponent of a raise, Council President Bill Linehan, often arrived at the City Hall garage before many of his colleagues but also appeared to leave early, especially at the end of the week. According to the parking data, on at least 22 Fridays, Linehan last accessed the garage before 3:30 p.m., including days when his calendar showed no afternoon or evening appointments.

Linehan said he spent more time in his district on Fridays, and he noted that on weekends his schedule included 175 events over a 17-month stretch.

“Trying to use the entering of an access code to a garage as a gauge of the amount of time councilors work is not valid,” Linehan said in an e-mail. “Schedules only represent a portion of the work.”


Councilor Mark Ciommo might have spent the most time at City Hall, logging more hours in hearings than any other councilor. Garage data showed he often arrived before 9:30 a.m. and stayed until 5 p.m. or later. He declined to comment for this story.

Boston’s strong-mayor form of government leaves scant power for members of the City Council. It is considered a full-time post, although councilors are not prohibited from holding other jobs.

In the past, councilors have gone to law school and earned other degrees while serving on the council. McCarthy’s schedule showed he took classes at Suffolk University, working toward a master’s degree in public administration.

Councilors are poised to receive a nearly 14 percent raise in January, increasing their pay to $99,500 a year. But councilors had wanted even more: They voted 9 to 4 for a salary of $107,500. Walsh vetoed that proposal, countering with the lower amount.

Walsh’s proposal is set to become law on Election Day without councilors having to take a final vote because of an obscure provision in the city charter.

Councilors have not had a raise since 2006, but with salaries of nearly $100,000 a year, they will make significantly more than many of their constituents, whose tax dollars will pay for the raise. Boston’s median household income is less than $54,000, according to the US Census Bureau.


The Globe examined 17 months of data spanning January 2014 through May 2015. The data showed that in 2014, more than half of hearings and meetings were concentrated in four months: April, May, June, and December. In January, February, and July, the schedule slowed to a trickle.

The parking garage data are not the same as filling out a time card. If two cars arrive at the garage at the same time, only one councilor has to swipe his or her card because the garage door stays open long enough for more than one vehicle to enter.

The Globe cross-referenced the parking information with attendance at hearings, meetings, campaign spending, and councilors’ private calendars. The analysis showed patterns that undercut some councilors’ claims as they pushed to increase their pay.

The parking records had limitations. Councilor Ayanna Pressley, for example, does not have a driver’s license. Pressley’s calendar showed few early appointments. She often blocked off stretches of time to prepare for hearings, speeches, and media appearances.

In an interview, Pressley said her day begins at 5:30 a.m. with e-mail, Twitter, and newspapers. She said she often arrives at City Hall at 10 a.m., works 60 to 80 hours a week, and has taken only two weeks of vacation after nearly six years in office.

“If I even take a day of the weekend, that is vacation,” said Pressley, who opposed a raise. “I consider my workweek to be a seven-day week.”

Councilor Michelle Wu said she also often does not drive to City Hall and instead relies on the number 43 bus or the subway’s Orange Line.


Some councilors — including Matt O’Malley and Josh Zakim — hold regular office hours in their districts at coffee shops.

Flaherty is a partner at the law firm Adler Pollock & Sheehan, which has an office a half-mile from City Hall.

Financial disclosure documents filed with the city clerk show the law firm paid Flaherty $100,000 to $200,000 in 2014. The document did not cite a specific salary or indicate how much time the councilor dedicated to practicing law.

Flaherty voted in favor of the raise to $107,500 that the mayor vetoed.

The garage data showed he often accessed the garage in midmorning and tapped out by midafternoon. He left particularly early on Fridays, when his schedule often showed few if any afternoon appointments.

In an e-mail, Flaherty did not answer questions about how many hours a week he works at his law firm. Flaherty’s City Council duties involve much more than a physical presence in City Hall, he said, and he noted he has never taken a full week off.

“My public duties consistently consume more of my time than anything else,” Flaherty said.

McCarthy also said he worked most nights and weekends, and spent much of his time in the neighborhoods he represented.

“If I happen to golf in a Sacred Heart tournament with my constituents, I guarantee that I probably didn’t go home and put my feet up,” McCarthy said. “I was probably at community meetings until late that evening.”

Murphy did not use the garage — or attend any hearings or council meetings — for eight consecutive workdays in January 2014. Records show he dipped into his campaign account to spend $100 at Nick’s Tomato Pie restaurant an hour north of Fort Lauderdale, where Murphy owns a condominium. A week later, Murphy charged his campaign account for a meal at the Aruba Café, a few minutes from his condominium.

In March 2014, Murphy did not use the garage or attend hearings for nine consecutive workdays.

The pattern replayed this past winter with no evidence of Murphy’s presence in City Hall for 11 consecutive workdays at the end of January, five consecutive workdays in February, and five consecutive workdays in March.

When Murphy was in City Hall, records show he often arrived after 10:30 a.m. and was often gone before 3:30 p.m.

Murphy declined to be interviewed. His spokesman, George K. Regan Jr., said the councilor spent about 14 days in Florida and on Cape Cod in 2014. Regan would not provide exact dates or airline receipts to confirm Murphy’s whereabouts.

Regan offered several explanations for why Murphy’s City Hall parking tally might not show all the times he was there.

For example, Regan said, Murphy carpooled in the winter (Regan would not say with whom). Murphy parked in an undisclosed location for security reasons because he is chairman of the Public Safety Committee. (City Hall’s executive garage is used by the mayor’s security detail, who are armed police officers.)

“Councilor Murphy is deeply committed,” Regan said, “to his job and to the people of Boston.”

Meghan E. Irons of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Andrew Ba Tran contributed to this report. Andrew Ryan can be reached at .