Mayor vs. ex-mayor

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YNN — The 2009 campaign for Lynn mayor was bitter and partisan, with one of the closest outcomes in the city’s political history.

Edward J. “Chip” Clancy Jr., the eight-year Democratic incumbent, lost by 30 votes — out of more than 16,000 cast — to Judith Flanagan Kennedy, a 10-year Republican city councilor.

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Kennedy’s razor-thin win capped off months of verbal jousting over taxes, a residency requirement for city workers, and the economic future of Lynn, the largest city in Essex County with just over 90,000 residents.

Kennedy, 50, now is running for a second, four-year term. And she is still battling Clancy, only now the setting is Superior Court.

In “City of Lynn v. Edward J, Clancy Jr.,” Kennedy is challenging Clancy’s contention that he was owed $33,488 in salary and benefits, including unused vacation and sick pay, when he left office on Jan. 4, 2010. She has withheld the payment until the case is resolved.

A trial date has not yet been set. So far, the city has spent nearly double that amount — $62,421.28 — on legal fees paid to Regnante, Sterio & Osborne, a Wakefield firm Kennedy hired to represent the city. The figures were released after the Globe filed a public records request.

In an interview, Kennedy said the legal costs are justified.

“I’m looking to protect [taxpayers’] money,” she said, seated on a couch in her office. “I’m looking to make sure their money is spent legally, and properly. . . . I am not convinced that paying the outgoing mayor $33,000 would be in accordance with the law.”

After Kennedy filed the lawsuit, Clancy struck back, filing a counterclaim accusing Kennedy of “selective enforcement” of city ordinances by denying him the same benefits paid to at least two mayors who served before him: Albert V. DiVirgilio, who is now a Lynn businessman, and Patrick J. McManus, who died in 2009.

“I didn’t dream this up,” said Clancy, 62, who served 12 years on Beacon Hill, four as a state representative and eight as senator. “I was paid the same way they [McManus and DiVirgilio] were.” DiVirgilio did not return a call seeking comment.

Along with the $33,488, Clancy is seeking attorney’s fees and a jury trial. Under state law, he is eligible for triple damages if he prevails.

At issue is how Lynn pays its mayor. State law requires a city council to set a mayor’s pay. Kennedy is asking the court to determine how the city charter and ordinances impact salary and benefits. “I’m asking the court ‘How should we pay the mayor of the city of Lynn?’, ” she said.

Since 1988, Lynn mayors have received a salary set by the City Council, and the same benefits — including vacation and sick time — received by city department heads.

The benefits are the same as those given to a group of City Hall administrative workers represented by Local 3147 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The City Council approved the benefit structure in 1988, when both Clancy and McManus were council members, court papers show.

But Kennedy thinks the ordinance is flawed. “It just never sat right with me, that department heads would get to benefit from things negotiated for a local union,” she said. She also does not believe the mayor should be considered a department head, despite a 1997 ruling from City Solicitor Michael J. Barry affirming the status.

“Mayors are on duty 24/7,” she said. “You can’t look at them as employees of the city.”

Kennedy’s lawsuit on behalf of the city also declares that Clancy was “wrongfully paid” during his tenure as mayor, and seeks to recover an unspecified amount. His salary increased from $113,092 in 2002 to $147,582.98 in 2009, according to court papers.

The case has been assigned to Middlesex Superior Court Judge S. Jane Haggerty to avoid any conflict in Essex County, where Clancy’s brother is an assistant clerk magistrate.

In court papers, lawyers for Clancy question the motive behind Kennedy’s complaint.

“The city filed its claim for an ulterior, or illegitimate purpose, as the current mayor openly displayed a dislike for Mr. Clancy,” court papers state.

Kennedy denied that assertion. “This is not personal,” she said. “Absolutely not. I’ve been complaining about this since before he was mayor, and I was finally in a position to do something about it.”

A 1998 ordinance set the mayor’s salary at $82,500, and no other ordinance has been passed to change that, Kennedy said. “That is what I am accepting as mayor,” she said.

In 1999, the city agreed to educational incentive pay for City Hall workers who were members of Local 3147. Kennedy, as a city councilor in 2000, sought an opinion from the city solicitor as to whether the mayor should receive an educational stipend, court papers show. The solicitor determined that like other department heads, the mayor is eligible for educational incentive pay, according to a copy of his opinion.

Salary increases, longevity pay, and educational stipends were among the factors that boosted Clancy’s compensation to an average $142,454.38 for his last three years in office, according to city payroll records. Longevity pay ranges from 4 to 16 percent of base pay, depending on years of service; Clancy was eligible for $13,200 in longevity pay in 2010.

“There were times when I didn’t take pay raises,” Clancy said. “When the economy was bad, and we had some very deep budget cuts, I didn’t think it was right to take raises.”

Clancy noted the mayor’s pay is included in the city budget, which must be approved by the City Council. As a councilor, Kennedy would have voted on those budgets, Clancy said. “Why didn’t she raise questions then? I was paid the same way my predecessors were.”

Kennedy said that as a councilor, she told colleagues she thought the pay structure might be illegal. “Nobody was interested in changing it,” she said. “Their response was, ‘It’s fine. We’ve been doing it for years.’ ”