Even as the absence of one town councilor pushed the vote for an updated mayor's salary into February, some consensus emerged Tuesday night on how to compensate the position in the years ahead.
A new proposal by Councilor Leland Dingee would put the mayor's salary at $123,225.18 starting next January. That is the high end of a professional management pay scale whose use Dingee says will help keep the politics out of salary raises and set a fair standard for future mayors.
Newly-elected mayors would revert back to the beginning of the top grade of the management scale, or $105,333.32 (approximately what Mayor Joseph Sullivan earns now), under Dingee's proposal. They would then advance through the scale in increments up to $123,225.18 depending on time in office.
Re-elected mayors would see their salaries increase by the cumulative increase of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) of the previous four years, capped at 6 percent. That increase would not be tagged to the cost-of-living raises that the mayor determines for other employees.
"I was looking for a standard so that future councils and future mayors know what the pay will be without any bias," Dingee said.
Members of the Committee on Ordinance & Rules voted 3-0-1 to recommend the proposal to the full council. Later Tuesday evening the full council continued the matter until its next meeting, citing the absence of Councilor Tom Bowes, who they said preferred to be present for a vote.
The delay moves the salary discussion into its eighth month, following an intitial pitch by Councilor John Mullaney in July for an updated salary of $130,000. Mullaney called the increase an opportunity for Braintree to invest in talent that could meet or exceed the performance set in his first term and a half by Mayor Sullivan.
On Tuesday, Mullaney said he still preferred a higher salary, such as the , and said he was concerned that starting a new mayor at $105,000 would not meet the need to attract highly-qualified candidates.
"For better or worse, the charter wanted to place the burden on the council," Mullaney said. "Vote the pay raise and see if you will get re-elected again."
Still, Mullaney said he supported Dingee's proposal in order to move the issue along. Councilor Sean Powers also voted in favor of the plan.
"Compensation has always been among the most spirited and passionate discussions," Power said. "No one likes to give out a raise because of the optics of the situation in a down economy."
Councilor Paul "Dan" Clifford voted "present" in committee Tuesday night, as he did when the $125,000 proposal moved out of Ways & Means. Clifford said his vote represented his desire to learn more about compensation for municipal leaders and come up with a solution built on process.
With help from Town Auditor Eric Kinsherf and others, Clifford put together a lengthy document comparing statistics from dozens of towns, such as mayor or town manager compensation, town budget, bond rating, population and road miles.
Clifford said that he has a number in mind, but declined to share it. He did come down hard against moving the mayor's salary from $105,000 to $123,000 in 2014, asking his fellow councilors how they could justify a 17 percent increase.
"It is a big increase," Dingee said. "But it's a one-time anomaly used to rectify a situation we think is inappropriate."
Sullivan has declined to comment on the discussion.
The Braintree Charter allows the Town Council to adopt an ordinance changing the mayor's salary during the first 18 months of a term, such as the one that began in January 2012.