, Newburyport, MA

June 27, 2013

Vote on pay raises for council, mayor delayed

McClure objects to measures, postponing decision until tomorrow

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY — In a last-ditch effort to prevent a vote to raise the annual salaries of the City Council and the mayor, Councilor Donna McClure invoked a provision in the city charter allowing her to object to the measures and postpone them until the council’s next meeting.

As a result, the council voted to schedule a third special meeting for tomorrow at 6 p.m. at a location to be determined — most likely at the Costello Transportation Center — where the issue will be settled once and for all.

McClure said the reason she objected to the vote was because she felt that passing raises for the council and for the mayor was the wrong thing to do at this time and that it would send the wrong message to the residents.

“I would hope that they may reflect and see their way clear to do the right thing for the people of Amesbury,” McClure said. “I’m hopeful that will happen.”

At issue are two proposals put forth by Council President Anne Ferguson, one which would raise the annual salaries of the city councilors and the other, the annual salary of the mayor. If approved as proposed, each city councilor’s salary would increase from $3,000 to $7,500 and the council president’s salary would rise from $4,500 to $9,500. Similarly, the mayor’s salary would increase from $80,000 to $97,000.

Last week, the Finance Committee endorsed a scaled-back version of the original proposals, recommending that the council raise its own salaries from $3,000 to $5,200, the council president’s salary from $4,500 to $6,500 and the mayor’s salary from $80,000 to $90,000. Both recommendations passed by a 5-3 vote, with councilors McClure, Jim Kelcourse and Joseph McMilleon voting no.

Originally, the councilors were expected to take a vote during a special meeting immediately following that Finance Committee meeting, but after the meeting ran past 10 p.m., councilors moved to schedule another special meeting for last night. That would allow a vote of the full City Council, since Councilor Christian Scorzoni was absent from the meeting.

Now, with McClure’s objection, another meeting will be scheduled, and because the city charter dictates that any proposal to change the salary of the council or the mayor must be voted on within the first 18 months of the term, the meeting needs to be held by June 30, which is Sunday.

Specifically, McClure invoked Section 3.7.C. of the charter, which allows a single member of the council to object on the first occasion an item is brought to the council for vote. That pushes the vote until the next regularly scheduled or special meeting of the council. The procedure cannot be used more than once, according to the charter.

McClure previously invoked this provision to delay a vote on the $5.9 million DPW project, which ended up passing a month later by an 8-1 vote.

The provision also allows that a bill be pushed to the next regularly scheduled meeting of the council if two members of the council object, and given that the next regularly scheduled meeting isn’t until after the June 30 deadline, then hypothetically either Kelcourse or McMilleon, who both oppose the measure, could have killed the bill had they chosen to join McClure in her objection.

Kelcourse said the reason he didn’t do so was because he felt the measure deserved an up and down vote one way or the other. McMilleon, on the other hand, said he does not “strongly” oppose the proposal and that it’s the timing of the raises he has a problem with, not the concept.

After the meeting, Councilor Bob Lavoie said that McClure has the right as a city councilor to object to any vote under the city charter, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

“What’s the outfall, we torture ourselves to come here on Friday at 6 p.m.,” Lavoie said. “Will we? Yes, because that’s part of the job. Are we pleased about it? I’d think no.”

Councilor Bob Gilday summed up his thoughts much more simply.

“It’s changed my Friday evening’s plans,” he said.

For her part, McClure said she wasn’t trying to be difficult, and that her only goal was to do everything in her power to do right by the people of Amesbury.

“I’m not trying to make everyone’s life hard, I’m trying to do the right thing in the position that I have,” McClure said. “And for me, the right thing is not passing raises at this time.”