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Herald on Mayor Warren’s salary: ‘We would assume the people of Newton would be horrified’

2012 April 20
by Greg Reibman

The Boston Herald follows yesterday’s article about Newton  Mayor Setti Warren’s salary increase with a editorial today. Here’s two excerpts:

We were beginning to wonder how much Setti Warren cared about his job as mayor of Newton, given his frequent weekday conference calls with the media organized by President Barack Obama’s re-election team (two this week alone). Then there was the plan to run for U.S. Senate, which Warren launched after just a year at Newton City Hall (he ended his campaign last fall).

But now we learn that Warren cares so very much about his job that, well, he deserves a 28 percent raise!..


…We would assume the people of Newton would be horrified. Then again they’re the ones who spent $200 million to rebuild one of their two high schools, giving them ownership of the most expensive public school in state history, so who knows.



39 Responses Post a comment
  1. Chuck Tanowitz permalink
    April 20, 2012 07:29 AM

    Read the comments. One in particular is HILARIOUS. An excerpt:

    “I know a few people in Newton, they actually believe their children deserve this new high school (wonder why we have an entitlement society)

    “Now their complaining some of their elementary schools are in desperate need of repair, some schools can’t hold all the students.”

    The rest of it is as well-written and punctuated. Perhaps that commenter could use a Newton education?

  2. Hoss permalink
    April 20, 2012 08:52 AM

    More free name recognition. (And isn’t the median household income in Springfield around $30k?)

  3. Bill Brandel permalink
    April 20, 2012 11:16 AM

    See, when you assume…

    Greg: Rockin’ the preview…

  4. Jerry Reilly permalink
    April 20, 2012 11:42 AM

    “Greg: Rockin’ the preview…”

    Now I might have better than a 50/50 chance of inserting working links in my comments

  5. Gail Spector permalink
    April 20, 2012 11:52 AM

    Ridiculous editorial written by people who don’t know anything about Newton but feel the need to badger regardless.

  6. tom sheff permalink
    April 20, 2012 12:44 PM

    Isn’t it a good thing to understand and objeectively see how people view us from outside of Newton? I think it is.

  7. Gail Spector permalink
    April 20, 2012 12:51 PM

    Tom –
    Do you think this editorial is truly representative of how people view us from outside of Newton?

  8. Jerry Reilly permalink
    April 20, 2012 01:19 PM

    I would assume that the employees, readers, and stockholders of the Boston Herald “would be horrified” that the tabloid’s top executives make substantially more than the mayor of a city of 85,000 people – even after his well deserved raise.

  9. Ted Hess-Mahan permalink
    April 20, 2012 01:27 PM

    Newton is an easy target for ridicule in the tabloid media and talk radio because our problems seem so “first world-y” to most people outside the Garden City. When I travel or meet people from other parts of the country, they mostly admire what we have going for us here. Of course, the kinds of people I meet are not a representative sample of “Real Americans” as Mama Grizzly would say.

  10. Hoss permalink
    April 20, 2012 01:42 PM

    Let’s not overlook that some Garden City inhabitants think certain proposals are elitist manure used to strike up the band and get political attention. Happens on a regular cycle here, papa said.

  11. Jerry Reilly permalink
    April 20, 2012 02:14 PM

    @Gail – “Do you think this editorial is truly representative of how people view us from outside of Newton?”

    As someone who moved here relatively recently from West Roxbury I can tell you that the stereotype of Newton as a hotbed of effete, elite, politically correct liberals is alive and well … and to that I say “pass the brie, while I light this candle with a $100 bill, so I can see my braised free range tofu please”

  12. April 20, 2012 02:43 PM

    People outside Newton love to make fun of us and at times it is justified. But I think many of them also wish they lived here.

  13. Ted Hess-Mahan permalink
    April 20, 2012 04:39 PM

    @Hoss, don’t knock elitist manure. It helps make gardens grow.

  14. Gail Spector permalink
    April 20, 2012 04:47 PM

    Jerry – I’m sure people outside Newton do judge us as a “hotbed of effete, elite, politically correct liberals,” and I don’t blame them, at times.

    But, my question was directed at Tom, who asked,

    Isn’t it a good thing to understand and objeectively see how people view us from outside of Newton?

    I don’t believe the Herald editorial tells us anything except that there are Herald editorial writers who wanted to slam Mayor Warren. Their point wasn’t to criticize Newton; it was to take a cheap shot at our mayor. If not, they wouldn’t “assume the people of Newton would be horrified.” If they knew the people of Newton, they’d know that we pay our public servants what we believe they deserve.

  15. Ted Hess-Mahan permalink
    April 20, 2012 04:52 PM

    @Jerry, I might agree with you except for the third paragraph of the excerpt above. The Boston Herald is always hating on Newton.

  16. Ted Hess-Mahan permalink
    April 20, 2012 04:53 PM

    Excuse me, that last comment was meant for Gail. Welcome back, stranger.

  17. Gail Spector permalink
    April 20, 2012 05:07 PM

    Ted –
    Point taken, and thanks. I’m better rested and more relaxed than I’ve been in years!

  18. Ted Hess-Mahan permalink
    April 20, 2012 05:20 PM

    Glad to hear it, Gail. Because your avatar looks white as a sheet!

  19. Hoss permalink
    April 21, 2012 10:39 AM

    It was proposed in an earlier thread that this salary set 2005 be revisited. If the Blue Ribbon suggestion of $125,000 effective for 2005, then COLA for each year forward based on PERAC retirement formula limited to 3% for any year was in place (which it is not) — the relevent compensation for 2012 would be $144,763. The relevant stipend for BoA would be $14,463. (All assuming I read the tables correctly; and understand how the 3% limit is applied)

    By comparison, Lowell’s mayor makes $140,000 and that position is called a “ceremonial” position because Lowell also has a city manager making $145,000.

    This kind of figure — $144,763 — feels right for Newton. Does the BoA need another commission to update things?

  20. Hoss permalink
    April 21, 2012 10:47 AM

    Ted Hess-Mahan said “@Hoss, don’t knock elitist manure. It helps make gardens grow.”

    Since that’s such a great play on words, I’ll leave it alone. Good one.

  21. Ted Hess-Mahan permalink
    April 21, 2012 12:25 PM

    Hoss, I agree that another Blue Ribbon Commission is not necessary, but I would use a different assumption for annual salary growth. Instead of a 3% annual increase in salary, I would use the same approach the Mayor used in the most recent round of collective bargaining, that is, a 2.5% annual increase in total compensation, including both salary and benefits. That would result in an equitable and sustainable rate of growth. I also like the idea of setting the BOA and SC salaries at 10% and 5% of the Mayoral salary, respectively.

  22. Hoss permalink
    April 21, 2012 01:43 PM

    Ted Hess-Mahan — I wondered about the 3% v 2.5%, but (1) because the COLA is capped at such a low number and (2) because some years will have no increase (two such yrs since 2005), the one-half percent difference might get the index out of whack rather soon with a few years of inflation.

    The only point I think I differ with your overall thinking (in blog comments) is that in my view compensation (and stipends) for elected positions should be at a level that does not attract a position to be used as a career.

  23. Ted Hess-Mahan permalink
    April 21, 2012 02:04 PM

    Hoss, I actually think that politics as a career, for the right reasons and the right persons, makes a lot of sense. Term limits hurt constituents because, let’s face it, the first few terms you are still trying to figure out where the restrooms are let alone how to navigate parliamentary procedures and insider politics. Most elected officials don’t hit their stride until they achieve a leadership position, and you don’t join the leadership until you have been around for a while and proved yourself to be capable and/or influential. Why is it that we value experience and long term commitment in every other career except, perhaps, public service?

    The problem you may be concerned about is entrenchment. I agree with you that it is not a good thing. But as a number of powerful politicians with modest salaries have shown time and again, they can make a lot more money wielding their power than doing the job itself (ask yourself why only members of Congress are immune from laws against insider trading). In other words, I don’t think a more generous compensation package has anything to do with promoting either incompetence or corruption (although the obvious exception to that rule is the sweetheart pension deal known as the “one-day rule” that has been eliminated).

    At any rate, I don’t think $14,000 a year for aldermen or $140,000 a year for the Mayor will bust the budget or create a sufficient incentive for creating a raft of sinecured politicians in Newton. But it might just be enough to attract and keep some good ones.

  24. Hoss permalink
    April 21, 2012 02:16 PM

    Ald Hess-Mahan — “Why is it that we value experience and long term commitment in every other career except, perhaps, public service?”

    Are the non-elective positions such as police chief and school super not public service? If Newton had a city manager — the price should be twice that of mayor, at a minimum. (Maybe I’m trailing from the original post)

  25. mgwa permalink
    April 21, 2012 03:16 PM

    I agree that it’s good Mayor Warren has taken this step.

    As to retroactively calculated pay raises, I’d use the actual increases in salaries over the past few years rather than an arbitrary number. Many of us had flat salaries followed by maybe 1% raises since the economic downturn started. I’d be ecstatic if someone awarded me 3%/year for the last 8 years.

  26. Hoss permalink
    April 21, 2012 03:51 PM

    mgwa — if you were retired under PERAC you would get much more than the increase I calculated (because of the cap). In the private sector, some organizations prohibit (through plan limits) retirees from getting greater increases than working peers.

  27. Jerry Reilly permalink
    April 22, 2012 10:44 AM

    Today’s Boston Globe had another article about the mayor’s proposed raise. In this one though they report that he has wide spread report in Newton with quotes random citizens, Ted Hess-Mahan, Jeff Seidelman, Scott Lennon and even a mention of the Village14 poll

  28. Dan Fahey permalink
    April 22, 2012 11:54 AM

    My guess is that, for the many in Newton who don’t really follow the local political scene, they would be surprised to learn the mayor’s job HAD paid < than $100K per year.

    I'm not a fan of automatic pay increases, but there's a problem when slaries don't get reviewed on some type of regular basis. We should cast about for a "best practice" on this.

    I asked this before, but no one took the bait. Why do we compensate SC positions at 1/2 that of the BOA? From what I have observed, both jobs require a huge commitment of time and energy, and it's certainly not because the SC has little of importance on its plate. And there's only 8 of them.

  29. Hoss permalink
    April 22, 2012 12:29 PM

    Dan Fahey — It’s a stipend set based on standards of other communities. The stipend includes health insurance which if taken makes the total package not one-half for school committee, but a greater percentage. I don’t think community members get stipends for things like little league coaching, greeting hospital patients, managing a food pantry. And those folks don’t get the benefits of business development which elected positions enjoy. There is no relationship of a stipend to efforts made — that’s why the nomenclature it used.

  30. Dan Fahey permalink
    April 23, 2012 12:03 AM

    I’m not understanding your explanation, Hoss. Both aldermen and school committee persons get health benefits, so how is that an offset?

    Is there something intrinsically “higher level” about the functions of an alderman vs a school committee person?

    Others seem to have been arguing that if we were to reduce the size of the board, we could increase the “stipend” since there would be more work per remaining alderman. With only 8 SC members, with a lot of work on their plates, why doesn’t that play a role in the stipend calculation?

    Not trying to be argumentative; i just don’t understand the calculus.

  31. Hoss permalink
    April 23, 2012 07:39 AM

    Hi Dan — I believe the stipends for BoA is $9,750 and for SC is $4,875. I don’t know the current value of health insurance or the contribution (if any) of members. Let’s say that value is $10,000 net of contribution. That makes the total package for BoA $19,750 and for SC $14,875. The SC package is thus 75% of BoA.

  32. Ted Hess-Mahan permalink
    April 23, 2012 07:55 AM

    @Hoss, I was talking about elected officials, but the same could be said about anyone in public service. In some of the debates around the nation concerning the collective bargaining rights of public employees, there has been widespread demonization of public employees, particularly those who belong to unions. The underlying assumption is that they are somehow overcompensated in both salary and benefits. Knowing as many public employees as I do, and having worked in both the public and private sector for 30 years, I don’t see it that way. And their salaries are always subject to public scrutiny. Unlike public employees, how many private employees would tolerate having their W-2 info published on a website for the whole world to see?

    Back to my original point, however, in the Globe articles Jerry Reilly referred to above, one of the comments was that being an elected official should not be a “career.” I hear that a lot, including on the blogs. My question is “why not”? If someone is good at it, performs their job faithfully, and is reelected year after year by voters, how is that not a good thing?

  33. Joanne permalink
    April 23, 2012 08:09 AM

    Do members of the SC and BOA get a pension also? Or is it just health insurance for life? ANd if so how many years do they have to serve to get the lifetime Health Care?

  34. Hoss permalink
    April 23, 2012 09:15 AM

    Ald Hess Mahan– We agree with respect to pay for most public employees, particularly those that sit in City Hall. Each of them is drastically underpaid without exception. Many of the technical positions (finance, DPW, legal, etc) are highly tied to gov’t thus giving them a ball and chain to municipal gov’t. We disagree somewhat on what I mean by career, but i understand your points.

  35. Ted Hess-Mahan permalink
    April 23, 2012 11:50 AM

    Hoss, this has been a very interesting conversation. Thank you.

    Joanne, the state publishes a retirement guide that I believe has the answers you are looking for.

  36. mgwa permalink
    April 23, 2012 01:52 PM

    Hoss – what does being retired have to do with it? I’m talking about my salary for my job, not my retirement (non)-benefits (which is another story – most of us don’t get pensions these days).

  37. Jeffrey Pontiff permalink
    April 23, 2012 10:34 PM

    The Mayor of Newton deserves a lot more than $100K. This is the consensus in Newton, and why should we care what the media thinks? For similar reasons, I have no complaints about the school superintendent’s salary.

    Alderman are another story. Why would we want to increase compensation on 24 elected officials who often win elections against nonexistent opponents? Some don’t even show up for board meetings.

  38. Joanne permalink
    April 24, 2012 09:50 AM

    Ted- I cant seem to find it on the Retirement Guide. I guess not being a public employee I am finding it hard to figure out the 52 page document.

    Since you are an alderman can you just let me know the answers to those questions? Or maybe someone else can post the answers.

    Do SC and BOA collect a pension?

    Do they have lifetime Health Insurance? And if so how many years do they have to be elected to get that benefit and is it for them and their spouse and family?

  39. Ted Hess-Mahan permalink
    April 24, 2012 11:11 AM

    Joanne, there is no simple answer (which is why it takes 52 pages to explain) but I will try to give you the basic outlines.

    Aldermen and School Committee members are eligible to participate in the city’s retirement system. They have to pay in to be eligible for pension benefits. There is a formula based on years of service that determines what those benefits will be upon retirement. Pension benefits are based on the average of the highest annual salary over three years.

    For those who began their public service after January 1, 1978, participants are eligible for retirement benefits after 20 years of service or 10 years of service at age 55.

    Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) include health plans. Retired Aldermen or School Committee members with 20 years service or 10 years service and are 55 or older can receive retiree benefits just like any other city employee. Retirees participate either in the city’s health plans or Medicare. More information is available in the most recent OPEB Valuation as of June 30, 2011.

    Every Alderman’s and School Committee member’s particular situation may be different. For example, some Aldermen and School Committee members participate in the retirement system and health plan and others do not. Who participates in the retirement system or in the city’s health plan is private information, so I cannot provide that to you. Where it also gets complicated is where laws against “double dipping” i.e. receiving retirement benefits from more than one source kick in. So I cannot give you a straightforward answer that will be true in every situation.

    I hope that responds to your questions. Perhaps there are other city or school employees or retirees who can provide more information, but those are the facts as I understand them.

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