Braintree asks if mayor’s paid enough

Mayor Joe Sullivan
Mayor Joe SullivanCredit:

Debate about the Braintree mayor’s salary will most likely rage on for several more months as town officials analyze the pay of employees in the town and surrounding communities.

In the process, they have found 78 Braintree municipal employees who were paid more than the mayor in 2011, including 42 at the Braintree Electric Light Department and a now-retired police officer who made more than $130,000 in overtime.

The discussion about Mayor Joseph Sullivan’s salary began in August, when Town Councilor John Mullaney said that the mayor’s annual salary of $105,261 wasn’t nearly enough.

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Although other town employees have seen slight increases in pay the last several years, the mayor’s wages have not changed since they were set by the Town Charter in 2008, when Braintree changed to a city form of government.

Mullaney was also troubled by the number of town employees who made more than Sullivan in 2011. He proposed raising the mayor’s pay to $130,000.

Several councilors balked at the idea of giving a steep pay raise in troubled economic times. On Aug. 14, councilors sent the proposal back to committee for further discussion.

Before any vote can be taken, councilors need to nail down how to frame the discussion.

In an Ordinance and Rules Committee meeting last Monday, councilors proposed several potential guidelines for setting a new salary, but did not decide on an option.Councilors first suggested the number be based on salary increases for other town employees, but Mullaney objected, saying the mayor would then be negotiating his own salary increase.

Some councilors then suggested that the salary for mayor of Braintree (population 35,000) should be based on what other mayors in comparable communities make. By comparison, the mayors of Quincy (population 92,000) and Weymouth (population 52,000) make $123,000 and $110,000, respectively.

Other councilors want a comparison not just to mayors, but also to town managers.

Regardless, the new number will have to take into account the pay raises that have already occurred in the town.

“We could analyze what has transpired from the time since the government was created and look at what increments have occurred in management [since], and look at where the $105,000 would be today, and where it could be in 2016,” council president Charles Kokoros said. “That’s what we’re really looking at . . . what it will be in 2016.”

Councilors decided Monday to have the council’s clerk, Jim Casey, collect salary data on nearby towns to facilitate the discussion. Mullaney said he expects those discussions to continue in December.

In the meantime, the debate has brought attention to the top incomes in Braintree.

According to Mullaney, if councilors have a problem drastically increasing the mayor’s salary, they should look at what other people on the town payroll make.

“If you bring attention to the salaries of the people in Braintree, and imagine if you could work in your own town, walk to work, the salaries are incredible,” Mullaney said. “What I’m saying is if the [school] superintendent is making [much] more than the mayor, either the mayor is underpaid or Dr. [Peter] Kurzberg is overpaid.”

In fact, Kurzberg was the third-highest-paid employee for 2011, the latest year for which data are available, at $166,049.

According to records obtained from the town, of the 78 people who made more than Sullivan, nine worked for the schools, 42 for the Electric Light Department, and 22 for the Police Department.

Many of the top incomes included $20,000 to $38,000 in overtime. Additionally, out of that top 78, two worked for the Fire Department, three worked in Town Hall, and one worked for the Braintree Municipal Golf Course.

Peter Morin, chief of staff and operations for the town, said he doesn’t feel there is a problem. “If you compare other towns, the only [way] Braintree is different is . . . other communities that don’t have a municipal light department won’t have those individuals on those top salary lists. But those with municipal light departments do,” Morin said.

“I think that we’ve made adjustments [to town salaries] over the years, and we’ve made major adjustments with the new form of government, so I don’t think there’s plans for renewed effort to review other positions’ salaries, including mine.”

William Bottiggi, general manager of Braintree Electric Light, was the town’s second-highest-paid employee in 2011, earning $171,328. He defended his employees’ incomes, saying that they are competitive with investor-owned utilities.

“We are a town department, but we are an electric utility. We compete for our employees with the likes of NStar and National Grid . . . so we have to pay salaries on a scale of salaries they pay,” he said. “You’ll find that throughout municipal utilities through Massachusetts, and probably nationally.”

The overtime pay is also warranted because the company often responds to emergencies, Bottiggi said.

For police pay, Lieutenant Michael Moschella, who is interim police chief, agreed that for an emergency response team, overtime pay made sense.

“I know if you break it down into total hours worked, you have a lot of police officers working 50 to 60 hours a week — that factors into the equation,” Moschella said. “In this line of work, it’s a 24-hour operation, so you have overtime jobs that occur within the department as well as external jobs.”

The town’s top earner in 2011 was a police officer — patrolman Brian Hickman — who was paid $190,644, with $133,892 in overtime. But he’s the outlier, Moschella said. “That’s the exception to the rule. . . . I don’t know how he did it.” Hickman, who has since retired, could not be reached for comment.

While his pay has been debated, Sullivan has declined to comment, and Morin said the mayor has not been consulted about a raise.

Kokoros said the mayor’s salary needs to be changed, but the discussion shouldn’t affect others. Because of the special qualifications needed for certain jobs, Kokoros said, “I don’t have a problem with the superintendent or police or fire chief making more money than the mayor. I [just] think there should be some equity to the fact that [the mayor] gives up [his] entire life to be mayor. That’s the scenario.”

The Committee on Ways and Means and the Committee on Ordinances and Rules will study the issue and make recommendations to the council. Per the charter rules, an increase would not go into effect until the election after the council has approved a raise.

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