Henry Luthin, assistant corporation counsel, had some bad news today for city councilors fretting they're falling behind their counterparts in other cities and the local police and fire commissioners: They can't increase their pay without breaking state law.
At a hearing this morning, Luthin said councilors are municipal employees covered by a state laws that ban workers from getting directly involved in discussions that would benefit them directly - and more specifically from accepting pay raises the same year they're approved. Because of that, he said, the council could only approve raises for the "new" council, elected in 2015 and scheduled to take office in January, 2016.
Luthin said that under his reading of both state law and the city charter, the state laws take precedence over a section of the city charter that gives the council the ability to set pay levels for certain municipal employees, such as themselves.
He spoke at a hearing on a proposal by Council President Bill Linehan to increase council salaries 29% to $108,500.
Linehan didn't buy Luthin's argument and noted that he was not speaking officially because the council had not formally asked the city law department for a legal opinion.
Councilor Frank Baker (Dorchester), who has been a strong advocate of the raise, asked what would happen if the council disregarded Luthin's advice and approved the raises anyway, to take effect in 2015. Luthin said councilors could be facing fines of up to $10,000 each and jail time.
At the hearing, all councilors acknowledged how "awkward" the discussion was. Several said, however, they deserved their first raise in eight years. At-large Councilor Ayanna Pressley said the amount was just too high.