Within minutes of commencing today’s hearing on a potential salary hike for its members, the Boston City Council hinted at how awkward if not comical such personal proceedings would inevitably be. At the suggestion of Council President Bill Linehan, who proposed the $25,000 pay raise, all members were asked to raise their right hand in acknowledgment that their individual financial interests were at stake. As if anybody needs to be reminded.
Following that bold reassurance, Linehan proceeded to list reasons why councilors deserve $112,500 a year. First there’s the fact they haven’t had a raise since 2006. If that’s not enough, Linehan offered comparisons to Philadelphia and Chicago, two political establishments we should always strive to emulate. You almost have to respect the shamelessness of the South Boston councilor, who is either adequately full of shit or legitimately confident enough in his job performance to spearhead such a garish campaign. Doing his best Sally Struthers schtick, he even noted how the cost of feeding the council is currently as miniscule as $9 for every Bostonian.
It’s not surprising that some harder-working members who may actually deserve a raise stood up against one, or at least avoided embarrassing themselves like Linehan. Councilor-At-Large Ayanna Pressley said the proposed dollar amount was “too high,” as did Councilor Michelle Wu, who raised important questions about when such hikes would take hold, and how the body’s actions could affect raises in the future. Longtime Mattapan Councilor Charles Yancey simply acknowledged that salary hikes are “by far the most difficult and awkward vote we are asked to take.”
In his turn, Dorchester Councilor Frank Baker took one for the team. “I’m a yes vote,” he said, “because I know what I do every day.” According to Baker, the only folks complaining about him potentially pocketing 30 percent more money are “people hiding behind screen names” and trolls on conservative radio who “live 50 miles outside of the city.” Not to be outdone, 18-year Councilor Steve Murphy made Baker sound modest. The city, he reminded his colleagues, “doesn’t run without our input.” Noting “all due respect to the media,” which has largely mocked the pay proposal, Murphy then went on to illustrate the comic book version of Boston, in which caped heroic councilors routinely swoop in to save the day.
To his credit, first-term Councilor Josh Zakim acknowledged that his year in office hasn’t warranted such riches, while Allston-Brighton Councilor Mark Ciommo joined the “how great it is that we get to address this issue” chorus. When they finished volleying that Oscar Meyer stick, the floor opened to invited city attorneys versed on salaries and labor relations. In order to understand what happened from that point on, you would need a law degree that costs approximately what Linehan thinks councilors should take home annually.
While it’s encouraging that there’s excitement for the chance to hammer out this complicated issue once and for all, the joke is that the membership could cut through all the nonsense and embarrassment with ease. All they need to do is relinquish any power over their own purse. Bam! No more conflicts of interest, no more reporters and the public thinking they’re a bunch of spoiled bureaucratic brats (well, not on this issue at least). I’m not sure it was necessary for the council to play inside baseball with the city’s law department over such a ludicrous matter, but in the midst of so much legalese, one expert did manage to note the most important point of all: “Most employees,” he said, “don’t set their own salaries.”
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.