Raising a stink at Boston City Council

Resolved: There is no good time and it never looks good for elected officials to propose and vote on their own raises.

But, really, doesn’t City Councilor Bill Linehan, in rejecting an 11 percent proposed pay hike from a mayoral commission, make it look worse by bemoaning the ability to afford bananas (about 60 cents a pound, according to the federal government, down 4.1 percent over last year) on a salary of $97,000?

“We don’t go to the supermarket scientifically,” Linehan said about the data presented in the report from the Compensation Advisory Board that determined a $9,700 boost was sufficient when comparing Boston to similar size cities. “But we know the value of a banana; we know the value of a stick. This process and the articulations around it have undervalued the Boston City Council and its councilors.”

Give that sticks are pretty much free, it’s hard to divine just what Linehan meant, other than the proposal was nowhere near the $20,000 pay hike he wants and plans to offer this week. It will be the second face-off in less than a year between the council and Mayor Martin Walsh over what constitutes appropriate pay for a body that meets on Wednesdays and whose power has been watered down substantially over the years.

Linehan and some of his more vocal supporters on the council aired their hurt feelings over the report that compared the Boston council salaries to that of same-sized cities with similar-sized budgets such as Virginia Beach, Virginia, emoting that pushed the Globe‘s Yvonne Abraham to nominate Linehan for a Profile in Courage Award, albeit tongue firmly planted in cheek.

“Rarely have we seen a public figure so determined to do what he believes is right in the face of near-unanimous public disapproval, to press a cause with unabated passion, even though doing so makes him seem the quintessential tone-deaf throwback,” Abraham said in her faux nomination letter. “Any public servant can push for a giant pay raise for himself in January. It takes a man of true conviction, and, yes, courage, to do it during election season.”

A number of councilors point out how bold they are in pushing for a raise with the election on the horizon. What they don’t point out is how few of them face a challenge. Five district councilors are running unopposed, only two have preliminary opponents, and there is just one outside candidate challenging for one of the four at-large seats. The sole at-large candidate, Annissa Essaibi George, points out the council has had more debate on pay raises than they have on education and public safety combined.

The council pay-raise debate often focuses on how much work the councilors actually do. The Globe‘s Andrew Ryan posted a picture to Twitter of the councilors’ marked and empty parking spaces in the City Hall garage at 11 a.m. the morning after their debate over the pay hike report.

At-large Councilor Michelle Wu tweeted back to Ryan she was in her office at 8:30 but no one else responded. Wu is one of four councilors who voted against the extreme hike last fall, upholding Walsh’s veto. It’s unknown if the four opponents – Wu, Ayanna Pressley, Josh Zakim, and Matt O’Malley – will band together again but it’s likely Walsh will veto any measure that is above his commission’s recommendations, requiring one more vote to uphold it.

In the meantime, the pro-wicked big hike majority on the council will be in for a rough time, at least from observers if not voters.

“Shameless – that’s the best word to describe City Council President Bill Linehan’s continuing push for a huge pay raise for members of the Boston City Council,” the Herald writes in an editorial. “Oh, we can think of a few other words, too. Greedy. Tone-deaf. Petty.”




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