The Braintree Town Council spent more than $21,000 researching and debating the mayor’s salary, roughly the same amount of the raise they eventually approved, according to recently released reports.
According to an invoice from the council’s auditor, who is paid $125 an hour and whose staff charges $75 an hour, the auditor and his staff spent 253.1 hours doing research on the mayor’s salary review, costing the town $21,556.
That research resulted in a 242-page document councilors relied upon in deciding to hike the mayor’s salary from $105,000 to $125,000.
According to Councilor and Committee on Ways and Means chairman Paul “Dan” Clifford — who asked for the research — the study was worth it.
“I think the results were outstanding,” Clifford said, calling the data, compiled by CPA Eric Kinsherf, “rich information” that helped councilors grapple with a difficult situation.
Clifford said the document includes a comparison of mayors’ salaries in several Massachusetts municipalities, including Beverly, Holyoke, Marlborough, and Woburn, which all have a similar population size (around 40,000) and have a mayoral form of government. Those salaries are between $73,000 and $96,000.
The study also looked at salaries of other executives — town administrators and town managers — in comparable towns, such as Natick, Franklin, Dartmouth, Chelsea, Lexington, Chelmsford, Falmouth, Watertown, Andover, Amherst, Billerica, Shrewsbury, and Randolph. Their salaries ranged from $128,000 to $169,000.
The research led Clifford to suggest a salary of approximately $117,000 for Mayor Joseph Sullivan, an amount that avoided a steep increase and was still within the range of similar mayor-led communities, such as Quincy.
The Town Council didn’t support the smaller number. Instead, after seven months of debate, councilors voted for an increase to $125,000, a figure more in keeping with the higher salaries on Braintree’s municipal payroll.
That increase will go into effect January 2014 and will be in place for future mayors.
Though Clifford’s conclusions went unsupported, the information still helped Braintree make a decision in a bigger context, he said.
“It also showed where Braintree stands in relationship with those like communities,” he said.
The research also delved into best management practices in other communities, and was not only useful in deciding what the Braintree mayor’s salary should be, but can also be used in the future to develop a master plan for the budget.
“If people take a look and we take advantage of [the research], the cost overall, if we implement those best practices and improve . . . it would be minuscule,” Clifford said.
For Councilor John Mullaney, previous chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, the cost of research Clifford asked for was too much.
“I go back to the fact that I was on the successful side of the argument and I spent nothing and did all the research myself on a computer,” Mullaney said, who initially suggested an increase to $130,000 and then later suggested the lower $125,000 figure.
“It was a simple issue — do we pay the mayor based on the compensation of other mayors, or do we do it based on the salaries given to executive secretaries and town managers. The argument was as simple as that, and we didn’t need all this other stuff.”
Mullaney said the majority of the research was irrelevant, including a spreadsheet that showed how the mayor’s salary increase would result in similar increases to other town employees.
He said that in his four-year tenure he never spent that much on auditing services. With the exception of the first full year of having an auditor, in which the Town Council spent $66,844 on research in fiscal year 2010, the total costs didn’t exceed $35,000 for the entire year in FY 2011 and FY 2012.
Though the council has a spending cap of $74,000 a year on auditor services, Mullaney said that it shouldn’t have to spend the whole amount and that he has already asked council president Chuck Kokoros whether the cap can be lowered.
He said Clifford initially wanted to go back and do additional research in the course of discussions. If it weren’t for Mullaney’s objections, that final research cost figure could have been higher, he said.
“You have a guy that wanted to do the best for the town and it cost them $22,000. I’ve already put a call in to Kokoros and I asked that he be responsible and restrict the [research] spending by Clifford in this new [issue] with the meals tax. I’m afraid we’ll have comparable expenditures,” Mullaney said.
Clifford would not comment on how his methodology of research might be better, but said that it would behoove the council to use expertise wherever it could.
“We have an auditor and a CPA, and we should be utilizing his expertise and bringing the benefit to Braintree. That itself is a gold mine. That analysis is a gold mine,” Clifford said.
Jessica Bartlett can be reached at email@example.com.