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Ex-state senator Brennan waives pension benefit

Sought credit as a Malden library trustee

By Sean P. Murphy
Globe Staff / April 4, 2009
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Beacon Hill lobbyist and former state senator John A. Brennan Jr. said yesterday that he will give up $22,000 in annual retirement benefits after enduring criticism for claiming pension credit for 19 years he served as a volunteer on the Malden Public Library board of trustees.

Brennan said in an interview that he wanted to end negative publicity about his pension that he believed was harming the Malden library.

"That library is a great jewel for the city of Malden, and recent stories about me have cast it in a not-so-great light," Brennan said. "Hopefully this will mean there will be no more negative fallout."

In a letter to the State Retirement Board, Brennan wrote, "I hereby waive the inclusion of any and all claims for service as a library trustee to be included in my retirement benefits." He also said he will repay about $3,000 in payments that he has received since he began collecting the pension in February.

Brennan will continue to collect about $19,000 annually in pension benefits based on his 17 years as a state representative and state senator in the 1970s and 1980s, when he represented Malden.

"It is a good thing for the city and for Jack Brennan to get beyond this distraction and to get back to business," said Councilor Neal J. Anderson, who was among the members of the Malden City Council who began proceedings this week to challenge Brennan's pension.

Brennan's pension sparked controversy when the Globe reported on Feb. 11 that he is the only library trustee in the state to ever benefit from a 1998 law that was quietly passed by the Legislature without public hearing or public notice. The law for the first time made library trustees eligible for credit toward pensions, so long as the provision was also adopted by the local city council or board of selectmen.

In an interview in February, Brennan declined to say whether he asked his former colleagues in the Senate to insert the provision. But he spoke in favor of unpaid trustees being eligible for pension credit at a library trustee meeting in 1998, months before the Legislature passed the bill.

Mayor Richard Howard of Malden said in an interview in February that Brennan called him asking for support for the measure.

The city of Malden, however, began a challenge this week to the validity of Brennan's claim, relying on a legal opinion by its lawyer, Kathryn M. Fallon, saying that the Malden library, while operating as a public library, is actually a private corporation, governed by library trustees who are outside the definition of the 1998 law. On Tuesday, the Malden City Council voted, 10-0, to rescind the local adoption of the law allowing credit for service on the library board.

The state Senate, meanwhile, unveiled a plan this week to overhaul the pension system, including elimination of library trustee service.

Brennan also wrote a letter addressed to his former colleagues on the Malden board of library trustees. He pointed out that he and his wife annually make a donation to the library for the purchase of books for children. The Brennans have contributed about $2,000 a year to the fund since 1998, which bears the Brennans' name, library records show.

"The library is highly esteemed in our community," he wrote. "It was my honor to serve as a trustee and to contribute my time, efforts, and financial resources to the library during my 19 years of service."

"Growing up in Malden, I always enjoyed going to the library to borrow and read the great books and research material," he wrote.

Brennan joined the trustees in 1989, one year before he gave up his Senate seat. At the time, Brennan, a Democrat, was third-ranking in the Senate and considered to be a protégé of former Senate president William Bulger.

Brennan, 63, went on to build a lucrative lobbying business, with a wide assortment of clients and a deep set of contacts among legislators.

Sean Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com.