City Council passes resolution supporting Mass. State Ethics Commission, but vote is not unanimous
By Steve Freker
When you are looking at a city budget of $215 million, one salary of $105,000 annually does not stick out too much. But when you are talking about that being the annual salary of the City of Malden’s top executive post, it does command attention.
There has been one major constant in the top echelon of Malden municipal government for over a decade: Gary Christenson has been Mayor of Malden since January 1, 2012, after winning the election in November 2011. If reelected to another four-year term this November, he would be in line to become what is believed to be the longest-serving mayor in the city’s history. There’s another constant: When Mayor Christenson first took office on the first day of 2012, his annual salary was $105,000 annually.
Remarkably, today, Mayor Christenson’s annual salary remains unchanged: still $105,000 annually. At that figure, Malden’s Mayor is one of the lowest paid full-time municipal chief executives in Massachusetts, particularly for a city the size of Malden. Additionally, it is believed that Mayor Christenson is the only full-time employee of the several thousand in the city of Malden who has not received a pay increase since 2012. According to some quick research, the Mayor’s position and the pay rate of the 11 members of the Malden City Council ($17,500 annually) are the only pay rates in the entire city budget which have remained unchanged in the same time frame – since 2012.
Furthermore, according to 2002 municipal salary records, not only is Mayor Christenson’s salary among the lowest in the state, there are over 300 city or school employees who earn higher salaries than the Mayor in the city of Malden. In the Malden Police Department alone there are 78 officers and/or patrol personnel who earned more than the Mayor’s $105,000 salary in 2002. There are 59 employees of the Malden Fire Department who earned more and over 40 salaried employees of the City of Malden – non-School Department personnel – who earned higher than $105,000. It is estimated there are close to or over 100 Malden School Department employees at or over the Mayor’s salary.
According to an ordinance change proposed by longtime Malden Ward 5 Councillor and present City Council President Barbara Murphy, the salaries of all Malden legislative employees, including the Mayor, City Council and also School Committee, could be on the rise. Councillor Murphy’s resolution calling for a salary increase ordinance change would mean a raise of $45,000 for the Mayor’s post – up to $150,000 from $105,000 (47.5%); an annual increase of $7,500 for each of the 11 City Councillors – up to $25,000 from $17,500 (42%); and a raise of $4,500 annually for the seven members of the Malden School Committee – up to $12,000 from $7,500 (60%).
“It’s time to have this discussion, especially when you look at these salaries in comparison to other surrounding communities,” said Ward 3 Councillor Amanda Linehan.
“We should be where other communities are, when we are considering future persons in those offices,” Council President Murphy said. “We have to be comparable to encourage qualified candidates to seek those positions.”
By a unanimous 11-0 vote, the Councillors voted to send the paper on proposed pay raises for legislative posts to a Joint Committee on Finance and Ordinance, on the motion of Finance Committee chair and Councillor-at-Large Carey McDonald. Voting in favor of the proposal to raise the pay of the Mayor, Councillors and School Committee members were Councillors Peg Crowe (Ward 1), Paul Condon (Ward 2), Linehan (Ward 3), Ryan O’Malley (Ward 4), Murphy (Council President), Stephen Winslow (Ward 6), Chris Simonelli (Ward 7), Jadeane Sica (Ward 8), Craig Spadafora (at large), McDonald (at large) and Karen Colón Hayes (at large).
Vote not unanimous on Council support of state Ethics Commission
A vote stating the Malden City Council supports the work and decisions of the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission, which was proposed as a resolution sponsored by Ward 8 Councillor Jadeane Sica, Ward 7 Councillor Chris Simonelli and Councillor-at-Large Craig Spadafora, passed on a majority vote of the Council at its last meeting on September 6. But the vote supporting the Ethics Commission was not unanimous, as had been expressly urged by both of the Councillors in speaking on its behalf.
The resolution read: “Resolve: That it is the sense of the Malden City Council that we support the work done by the Mass State Ethics Commission to educate our employees and enforce Mass State Ethics Laws, and that we will respect and stand behind the bipartisan work done by this and all state agencies in carrying out their mission. Be it further resolved, that the Malden City Council will support all employees participating in providing testimony to any state agency and discourages the public criticism of any employee who has provided such testimony. “
After some discussion, the second part of the resolution was omitted when some Councillors expressed concern over a possible free speech infringement, so the final resolve read: “Resolve: That it is the sense of the Malden City Council that we support the work done by the Mass State Ethics Commission to educate our employees and enforce Mass State Ethics Laws, and that we will respect and stand behind the bipartisan work done by this and all state agencies in carrying out their mission.”
“This resolution should pass 11-0 as is,” Councillor Spadafora said. “The State Ethics Commission is bipartisan and investigates independently.
“I have seen some innuendos and claims against the State Ethics Commission rulings and also statements where our own city employees have been chastised for their testimony to the Ethics Commission,” Spadafora said. “That is a dangerous lie. We cannot allow any city official to publicly chastise our employees. It is unacceptable.”
The Mass. State Ethics Commission had ruled Councillor Colón Hayes was found to be in violation of conflict of interest laws regarding the hiring and subsequent payment of family members and others during her former position of supervising the Malden Mayor’s Youth Summer Employment Program (MYSEP). She signed a statement agreeing to the violations and also agreeing to pay a $7,500 fine, which had been reduced from $15,000 on her appeal.
“Councillor Colón Hayes has strongly criticized the Ethics Commission and also our own city employees,” Councillor Sica said. “It is troubling.
“Councillor Colón Hayes should acknowledge it and we should expect better,” Councillor Sica added.
Shortly after discussion began on the resolution, Councillor Colón Hayes left the City Council Chambers and did not return until after the vote was taken. Ward 4 Councillor Ryan O’Malley left the City Council Chambers shortly after Colón Hayes left and also did not return until after the vote was taken.
The final vote on supporting the State Ethics Commission was 8-1. Councillors Peg Crowe (Ward 1), Paul Condon (Ward 2), Barbara Murphy (Council President), Stephen Winslow (Ward 6), Chris Simonelli (Ward 7), Jadeane Sica (Ward 8), Craig Spadafora (at large) and Carey McDonald (at large) all voted in favor. Ward 3 Councillor Amanda Linehan voted against the resolution, which passed, 8-1. Councillors Ryan O’Malley and Karen Colón Hayes were absent and did not vote.