Social and Political Commentary

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Why the so-called list of "Top 50 highest-paid city earners" is so misleading.

... two different methods are used to determine who is on it.

by Joe Sullivan

The Melrose Weekly News January 9 feature story was about how the city’s
road projects in 2014 benefited members of the Melrose Police Department.
The story went on to show how the resulting policemen’s pay enabled so
many of them to be included in the city’s top 50 wage earners for 2014.
According to the information the News received from city hall 34 of the top
50 wage earners in 2014 were policemen.

To use this list as a way to know who are the city’s top 50 wage earners is to
be misinformed. If anyone ever puts together a list that shows the “Top 50
ways to mislead Melrose citizens” the “Top 50” wage earner list is sure to

The situation that produces the misleading conclusions is that police pay
doesn’t come entirely from the taxpayers. Their pay includes money received
from the contractors performing construction projects in the city. A police
presence is needed to handle the traffic disruptions that the road projects
cause. Working these is known as a “special detail.”

An apples and oranges paycheck.  

What is important to note is that the police person involved is paid for this
work by the contractor, not the city. A police man’s compensation is made
up of apples and oranges. The apples are the pay he or she gets from the
city which is supplied by the taxpayer, the oranges is the pay he or she gets
from the contractor which is not supplied by the taxpayer.

The question arises, if a policeperson is paid by the contractor how does this
payment appear on a paycheck issued by the city? The reason is that the city
charges the contractor a 15% administrative fee which includes paying the
policeperson. The result is a larger paycheck when the apples are combined
with the oranges. This contractor payment program is how so many
policemen get on the “Top 50” list.

It’s important to know when forming conclusions based on the “Top 50” list  that the money involved doesn’t all come from the taxpayers. In 2014 it
included over $750,000 that came from contractors. The list doesn’t
represent a collection of employees who are paid exclusively by the
taxpayers, but that’s the implication.

A big chunk of a policeperson’s pay

The pay from the contractors is a significant part of a policeman’s total
compensation. The Weekly News story shows policeman David Mackey’s
detail pay was 45% of his total pay. The high percentage of detail pay is
typical of all the policemen whose total pay was more than $100,000 in

Using policeman’s detail pay as a way of packing the “Top 50” list has other
consequences, too. It invites comparisons with other high-paid city
employees whose compensation is paid entirely by the taxpayers. It also
pushes these employees farther down the listing in the “Top 50.”

A real question is how many high-paid city employees who are not
policemen are pushed off the “Top 50” list entirely by the $750,000 paid by
the contractors. The city website lists 26 departments and each has a department
head. The “Top 50” only accounts for 16 of them, 13 really, since John
Scenna is head of the City Yard, Public Works, and Water Departments.

No way to know about extra income.

Unlike the policemen there is no way of knowing if any of the department
heads earn any income in addition to their taxpayer-paid salary. If they do,
like the police, maybe this extra income will qualify them for the “Top 50”.

It should not be left out that using police to perform the special detail work
is a controversy in itself. More than once claims have been made that the
entire practice is unnecessary, the contractors themselves could handle any
traffic problems, it enables police patrolmen to make more money than the
mayor, and other opinions that the practice should be limited or eliminated.

There have been questions, too, as to the alertness level of police who work
so many hours to be able to, as they once described it, “chase the buffalo.”

Whatever the opinions, what is beyond doubt is that contractor payments for
special details cost the taxpayer nothing and earns the city $134,000 to
implement administration of them. Including these contractor payments as a
way  to form a list that proposes to identify the highest-paid city employees
is to misinform Melrose citizens who are entitled to valid information.

It is a practice that produces a “Top 50” list by using two different methods
to determine who is on it.

Melrose taxpayers would be much better informed if two lists were published,
one that showed every policeman’s compensation and a second list that
shows the same information for each city department head.

Don’t wait for them.

February 6. 2015

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