North

Longtime Lynn city clerk says enough is enough

Mary Audley, who is retiring as Lynn city clerk.

This year’s election cycle turned out to be the final straw for Lynn City Clerk Mary Audley, after 39 years of service in city government.

But local, not national, politics led Audley, 63, to decide to retire in January.

The increasing burden of overseeing elections in the city of nearly 93,000, and Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy’s refusal to fund a deputy election commissioner position, resulted in Audley’s decision to leave, she said.

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“Sometimes I feel like I’m the election commissioner, and my city clerk duties have taken a back seat,” Audley said. “It requires a lot from one person.”

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Audley began working for the city as a temporary clerk stenographer in 1972, not long after graduating high school, she said. After taking the state civil service exam the following year, she took a permanent position in the city solicitor’s office, where — except for five years she left to raise her children full time — she worked until she was appointed city clerk in 2001.

When Audley began that job, Lynn had a full-time elections commissioner, said Daniel Cahill, City Council president. But the city got rid of the position in 2003 because of budget cuts, Cahill said.

Additional responsibilities added to the city clerk’s job hit fever pitch this past election cycle, when election reforms in the state – such as a requirement to offer early voting — began during a year that, in Lynn, included the annual election with state ballot questions, two special votes, and two primaries.

In August, the City Council unanimously voted in favor of hiring Inspectional Services Department coordinator Michele Desmarais to a newly created position of deputy election commissioner, but Kennedy refused to fund the post, Cahill said.

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“The needs of elections have increased in the city of Lynn,” said Cahill, who added that Audley had already found room in the budget for the approximately $73,000 per year job.

But education incentives would have required the city to pay Desmarais, who holds a master’s degree, an additional 25 percent, said Jamie Cerulli, Kennedy’s chief of staff. That would add up to nearly $100,000 annually.

Kennedy later appointed Desmarais as the city’s public health director at a salary of $91,104.

Controversy notwithstanding, the mayor praised Audley’s years of service. “Mary has been an exemplary city employee,” Kennedy said in an e-mail statement. “I wish her well in retirement.”

Cahill, who won a special election in May to fill a state representative post, said he believes none of Lynn’s 11 city councilors wants Audley to retire. He said her work ethic and institutional knowledge of City Hall is irreplaceable.

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“She is a tireless worker, does the job of multiple people, and you can’t replace that kind of knowledge,” Cahill said.

The council has not yet discussed plans to hire a replacement.

After she leaves in January, Audley said she plans to spend time with her two grandchildren, and at her house in Point Sebago, Maine. Her pension will pay her approximately $114,000 per year, according to Lynn’s Retirement Board.

“I’ll miss the people, because the people here are wonderful,” Audley said. “I love this city, and I hope that whoever comes in [to replace me] comes in with that same passion.”

Sean Teehan can be reached at spteehan@gmail.com.