Social and Political Commentary

Was the Mayor's raise a case of "show me the money?"

... did the possibility of the Mayor's accepting another job spur the Aldermen's approval?

by Joe Sullivan

Mayor Rob Dolan's salary will increase to $125,000 starting
January 2014.

A reason frequently cited for the urgency to approve Mayor Dolanís $25,000 pay
raise was that, by law, the Aldermen were required to do so before June 1.
There could be another reason, too, and that is that Peter Hechenbleikner,
Readingís Town Manager for 26 years, will retire June 1.

Rob Dolan, according to a circulating rumor, was one of the candidates under
consideration to replace him. The Town Managerís salary, at least for Mr.
Hechenbleikner, is $140,000. Mayor Dolan had received an increase in January to
just under $100,000. No one has said that Dolan is even a candidate never mind
selected for the Reading job, but if he is selected, how could anyone expect
him to turn down a $40,000 increase?

This possibility added to the urgency to approve a raise for the mayor. If
Dolanís selection as  town manager wasnít announced until May, for example, the
Aldermen would have almost no time to make what would amount to a counter
offer. The next increase whatever the amount, if approved after June 1, could
not be paid  until January 2016.

Adding to the apprehension that Dolan may move to a higher paying job was what
happened  with the former Mayor of Malden, Richard Howard. Howard, sixteen
years as Maldenís mayor, did not seek reelection in 2011.

Howard gets a big raise to be Town Manager  

In October 2011 the Winchester Board of Selectmen announced that Howard had
been unanimously selected as the Town Manager.  The Malden mayorís compensation
is $114,000. The Winchester town managerís compensation is $150,000. Richard
Howard was getting $36,000 more in his new job.

Howardís big increase gave a certain credence to what some thought was an
exorbitant amount that was being sought by Dolan. The evidence was that moving
from a mayorís job to a town managerís job would result in a big increase in
salary. Moreover, Howardís move showed that this was not just a hypothetical

What Dolanís request implied was that $125,000 was an amount that would
insulate him from accepting a high-paying town managerís job. If he was
actually a strong contender for the Reading managerís job, it meant that this
was more than an implication.

There was a risk for Mayor Dolan, too. The town that was allegedly considering
him could be alienated if it thought he was using this candidacy to jack up his
pay as mayor. In addition, if the Aldermen voted no to the raise he would lose
out on both the job and the raise.  

That he was actually a contender was something unknown. It was only a rumor. It
was a strong one, nevertheless, that had been circulating among city employees.  

Whether it was true or not did not exclude the rumor from being a reason to get
a $25,000 plus raise for the mayor.

The issue facing the Aldermen

What was facing the Aldermen was not whether $25,000 was too much, too little,
or just right, but a risk. Would the mayor take another job if he didnít get
the money? Was the justification for the amount based not on the value of the
job but that $25,000 was an increase in pay that would keep Rob Dolan mayor of

On the other hand, was there really a risk if, in fact, Dolan was not a
candidate for a town managerís job?  Or, even if he was a candidate, would he
leave if the Aldermen voted him a smaller raise?

What is interesting is that this issue never emerged during the intense debate
that took place at either of the Aldermen meetings that preceded the vote to
grant the Mayorís increase. No Alderman ever said, ďIím voting for this $25,000
increase because I think the mayor will take another job if I donít.Ē

An Alderman couldnít say that unless he knew that Dolan was in fact a
candidate. If it was a bluff that the Alderman would find out the hard way if
he voted no to the raise and Dolan walked.

Eight Aldermen vote for increase

The remarks from eight of the eleven Aldermen indicated that they were not
going to take the risk of voting no to the $125,000 salary or vote for a
reduced amount. The possibility of Dolanís leaving was not entirely ignored but
only general references were made like supporting the increase because they
didnít want to lose him. The Richard Howard move from mayor to manager was
cited as an example.

There were other generalities cited, like the necessity of adequate pay to
retain competent people or to provide pay adequate to attract capable
candidates to run for election. But those were observations. Neither addressed
the issue at hand which was, how much money is needed to provide an adequate
pay for the job of  being mayor of Melrose?

The Aldermen who voted for the raise did not cite reasons that would justify a
compensation of $125,000 for the office of  Melrose mayor. Instead they
substituted accomplishments of Rob Dolan during his service as mayor. This was
a mayor that was both popular and effective and, although there was an
emotional tone to the Aldermenís descriptions, nobody could say these
descriptions were inaccurate. But these were reasons why he should be re-
elected not reasons that show how much he should be paid.

These were reasons that Rob Dolan deserved a raise but nobody offered evidence
that these were reasons that justified the mayoral job itself to be worth
$125,000. During all the discourse the pro-raise Aldermen could not tie those
two issues together. No one had established that, first, the mayorís job was
worth $125,000 and, second, that Rob Dolan deserved it.

Three Aldermen say no

This absence was at the heart of the criticism of the three Aldermen who voted
against the raise. Aldermen Lavender Bird said the process being used was about
an individual not a job. Aldermen Conn objected that the issue was not about
how good or how bad a job the mayor was doing and cautioned that the
proceedings were moving much too fast. Alderman Mederios' objections echoed
those of Conn. She pointed out that other municipalities who were working to
settle this same problem had been working on it for months.

The objection of the consequences of haste was born out by examining the data
that the mayorís office had submitted to the Aldermen. This was a two-page
addendum that was supposed to support the claim that the mayorís salary was
glaringly deficient when compared to other top officials in the area.

The conclusions were supported by taking the average pay of 30 city or town
mayors or managers which was $132,000 and comparing it to Dolanís pay which
was only $99,000. Dolanís pay, you could conclude, was $33,000 below the

Mixing mayor apples with town manager oranges

The discrepancy resulted because of the calculation that was being used. It
combined the salaries of mayorís with those of town managers. But when you
limited the average pay calculation to only the mayors on the list the
resulting salary was $117,000. Doing the same for only the managers shows that
the average pay for them was $146,000.

What this calculation shows is that mayors, as a group, are paid significantly
less than managers. Arriving at a $33,000 pay deficiency in Dolanís current
salary required a calculation that included salaries of individuals who were
not mayors. Using a calculation that includes managers distorts the average pay
of mayors.   

A more glaring example of the distortion resulted when Mayor Dolanís salary was
compared to the other top-job officials in the group known as the Middlesex
League. This, too, was part of the two page addendum that accompanied the
Mayorís request for  his raise.

The Middlesex League was described by City Solicitor Doug Van Campen as a group
of cities and towns which were very much alike in their size, population,
budgets, etc. The 11 League members were listed with their appropriate top
executives and their respective salaries. Again the average salary of this
group is $136,000. Not only did it exceed the $99,000 Rob Dolan earns now it
even exceeded his proposed salary of $125,000.

Again, this was a list composed of mayors and managers. This list, however, did
not identify the executives as which were mayors and which were managers.

Only two mayors in Middlesex League

Identifying which of the League 11 members are town managers and which are
mayors leads to another significantly different conclusion about the alleged
deficiency of DolanĎs current salary. Thatís because only two on the League
list are mayors, the other 9 are town managers. The two are Woburn, whose mayor
is paid $73,000 and Melrose, whose mayor is paid $99,896.

If you take the League list at its face value then you would have to say that
Rob Dolan is the highest paid mayor in the Middlesex League.

The Aldermenís never explained why justifying a salary of $125,000 for the
Melrose mayor depends on comparing it to the salaries of town managers. The
salary data the administration submitted to the Aldermen showed that town
managersí salaries are significantly higher than mayorsí salaries. The
Aldermen never explained the reason for the difference.

Whatever the failings or benefits of a more careful analysis, the mayorís
request for an increase was passed by an 8 to 3 vote.

Instead of analysis voters saw a political operation. It used some big-hitter
local personalities who supported the raise. It used a lobbying group who urged
supporters to attend and speak out at the Aldermen meetings where the raise
would be decided. It used newspaper coverage in both Boston and locally that
carried the Mayorís reasons for his raise and the coverage coincided with the
Aldermen meetings. It allowed little time for analysis and explanation. In all,
it would be difficult to find a more outstanding, successful way to get Rob
Dolan a nice, fat raise.  

As an example of a body of elected officials that was supposed to justify to
its citizens the reasons for increasing the mayorís salary it was lacking.  
Nothing was provided that would allow a watching voter to conclude that the
Mayorís job justified a $125,000 salary and that Rob Dolan deserved it. There
was an absence of evidence that would allow a voter to conclude that $125,000
was far too much to pay anybody for the job to be Melrose Mayor, Rob Dolan
included. And, if Rob Dolan did have another wonderful opportunity somewhere
else, this was the time to say, "Thank you, Mayor for your past service. Good-
bye and good luck."

March 1, 2013  



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