For the second time in consecutive years, Belmont's Town Meeting representatives voted down an attempt to significantly increase the pay of Town Clerk Ellen O'Brien Cushman on the third night of the annual Town Meeting.
The reps voted 127-110 to accept an amendment to Article 5 – the annual item that sets the pay for elected officials – by the Warrant Committee to increase Cushman's current $60,000 salary by 4 percent or $2,400.
The vote effectively defeated a move approved by a majority of the Board of Selectmen that would have increased Cushman's salary to $72,499 or a 21 percent jump.
This has been the second time Town Meeting defeated a move at Town Meeting to increase Cushman's pay to what supporters consider a more appropriate pay level for, who even opponents recognize, a very popular and hard working town employee.
Emotions began running high as the measure came before Town Meeting members. Gerald Natalie from Precinct 8 said data provided by the Warrant Committee in defending the limited pay increase was meaningless as Cushman "is one of the best town clerks ... and should be given a salary for what she does" and is "a fair wage."
Robert McLaughlin, a Precinct 2 representative and who is active in town government as an attorney, said the process of determining the salary of a town employee by 300 residents "is unseemly" and that he would rather have the town devise a salary-setting process that would eliminate what was "a popularity contest."
The issue of "a process" for determining salary increases and, just as crucial, the value of the work the town clerk and town treasurer provides the town.
Board of Selectmen Vice Chairman Mark Paolillo, at a meeting before the Town Meeting, firmly believes the town must set up a new process for determining a proper pay classification plan for the full-time-elected positions.
During a short meeting at Belmont High School on Monday, May 9 – an hour before Town Meeting reconvened – the selectmen discussed the upcoming Article 5 that asked to fix the salary and compensation in fiscal year 2012 for Town Moderator ($200); BOS chairman (($5,000); two other selectmen ($4,500 each); Town Clerk ($72,499); Town Treasurer ($$89,145); Chairman of the Board of Assessors (($2,748); and the other two assessors ($2,424 each).
With Cushman and Town Treasurer Floyd Carman in attendance at the meeting, Chairman Ralph Jones said he’s not sure all the members of the Warrant Committee realize exactly what the jobs of town clerk and town treasurer entail.
It’s not so much the actual number of the yearly salary that’s questionable, said Carman.
“The bigger issue is that there’s no process (for determining the two salaries) and is just an arbitrary decision,” he said.
Carman added that what he and Cushman are driving at is there needs to be a process whereby the two people holding the positions of clerk and treasurer are compared with their peer group.
The selectmen, along with Cushman, Carman Human Resources Director Diane Crimmins, reviewed historical data showing salaries for the two elected positions.
It shows that Carman, when elected in 2005, began with a salary of $67,000 and Cushman, when elected in 2010, started at $60,000.
Selectman Angelo Firenze pointed out Town Meeting votes on the salaries of elected officials.
“Why are we treating elected officials differently from others in town?” he asked in reference to Crimmins explaining the salaries of the two positions were adjusted in this year’s budget to reflect a step equivalent.
“That’s what we want, too,” Cushman said to Firenze.
In 2002, the town hired consultant DMG Maximus to perform a job classification and compensation study. Mel Kleckner, who was Belmont’s town administrator at the time, asked the consultant to perform the same evaluation and classification for the town clerk and town treasurer positions.
In March 2003, Kleckner wrote a letter to the selectmen that stated the consultant determined the job duties and responsibilities of both elected positions are similar with management positions assigned at Grade 18.
Belmont’s FY2010 “Position Classification and Compensation Plan for Management Level 18” had the following salary range: minimum of $69,711; midpoint of $83,654;
Paolillo said he thinks the town clerk’s position is lower than it should be and the responsibility falls to the board to have a new study completed and then set up a process for having a pay classification plan in place.
But in the end, a slim majority of Town Meeting representatives sided with the Warrant Committee's analysis – that used three methods in calculating a pay raise for the town clerk – that limited the pay increase amount to 4 percent.