Newton city councilors voted Monday to override a mayoral veto and give pay increases to Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and themselves.
The City Council voted, 22 to 2, to override the first mayoral veto in 20 years, according to City Clerk David Olson.
The council had approved the raises in a similar 22-to-2 vote Sept. 16, but they were vetoed by Fuller 10 days later. On Monday night, the board voted to override the mayor’s veto of the City Council and mayoral raises, but took no action on her veto of the School Committee raises.
City Council President Marc Laredo said that by adding cost-of-living increases to the wages of elected officials, he hoped a more diverse population would be encouraged to run for office and be able to afford serving in these roles.
“We talk a great deal in this city about the importance of having socioeconomic diversity — I believe very strongly in that and I believe we are a better city because of that,” Laredo said in a phone interview. “If we want to encourage people to run for public office, we at least have to give them some compensation.”
Currently, city councilors and School Committee members receive an annual stipend of $9,750 and $4,875, respectively. Mayor is a salaried position that pays $125,000 a year.
The council formed a Blue Ribbon Commission at the end of 2018 to study the compensation issue. In May, the commission recommended a 44 percent raise for the City Council, a 54 percent raise for the School Committee, and a 12 percent raise for the mayor.
On Sept. 16, the council voted for larger raises than the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations: 59 percent increases for both the City Council and the School Committee, which would bring their stipends to $15,500 and $7,750, respectively. The mayor’s salary would increase by 24 percent, reaching $155,000.
With Monday’s vote, the City Council wage increases will take effect in January 2020, and the mayoral increase in January 2022.
Though the City Council originally voted to raise the School Committee stipend by 59 percent, no motion was made Monday to override the mayor’s veto. The issue of School Committee compensation will be voted on later this year.
Stipends were last increased for the City Council in 1998. The mayor’s salary was boosted 28 percent to $125,000 in 2012. Laredo said though there is no easy political moment to give raises to public officials, waiting 20 years is too long.
In Fuller’s veto letter to the city councilors, she wrote that though she did support appropriate compensation, the proposed raises were inappropriate at this time in the budget cycle.
Several unions in Newton are currently negotiating with the city to settle collective bargaining agreements, and are working with expired contracts. Negotiations with the Newton Teachers Association, for example, have been contentious and, to protest, teachers have refused to speak in faculty meetings.
Ward 2 Councilor at-large Jake Auchincloss and Ward 7 Councilor at-large Becky Grossman, both candidates for Congress and reelection, said they don’t believe a pay raise is appropriate given the outstanding union contracts.
“City Hall collectively sends a message about its priorities when it takes a vote to raise elected officials’ pay without raising teachers’ pay,” Auchincloss said. “Public education is the beating heart of Newton and teachers are the beating heart of public education.”
Steven South, Teamsters Local 25 vice president and business agent, said the union has been working on a collective bargaining agreement with the city since January. He said negotiations haven’t made much progress and the employees he represents found the wage increases to be “outrageous” at this time.
“We do believe that all employees from the city do deserve to get a raise every year; but we don’t think that the leadership should get 24 to 59 percent raises while none of the actual workers in the city who are out there working in all weather conditions, in all different circumstances, don’t have a contract and haven’t had a raise in years,” South said in a phone interview. “We find that to be unacceptable.”
Andrea Streenstrup, who served on the subcommittee that collected data for the Blue Ribbon Commission, said that the City Council should have allowed greater time to factor the wage increases into the budget by deciding on the raise but not implementing it until the next term.
“It would take two years but what’s the rush?” she said in a phone interview. “If they did it in the next cycle, they could decide on the raise and it still doesn’t go in effect until the next election cycle so then there would be time to budget for it.”
Samantha Drysdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.