Forget higher pay

Boston's City Council needs an extreme makeover
By ADAM REILLY  |  February 23, 2006

In a week or two, the City of Boston’s compensation board will propose hiking the salaries of Boston’s mayor (who currently makes $150,000 annually) and city councilors (who pull in a cool $75,000). According to Larry DiCara, the ex–city councilor and mayoral candidate who heads the compensation board, higher pay would help attract top-tier talent to the electoral realm.

DiCara’s point is worth pondering, even if it’s hard to feel an abundance of sympathy for anyone with a $75,000 salary. That said, the thinking here is that several other changes would do far more to attract good candidates and shake up Boston’s moribund political scene. Here’s this reporter’s wish list.

Term limits all around Tom Menino has nowhere else to go, so he stays put. The city councilors all want Menino’s job, so they stick around, too. Rewrite the city’s charter so that mayors get two four-year terms, tops; as for the councilors, give them four two-year tours of duty, and then show them the door.

More at-large seats The council’s current framework — four at-large spots, nine district seats — was supposed to bolster minority representation. That hasn’t really worked. Now that Boston’s a majority-minority city, it’s time for another big change: redraw the district maps so there are seven district and six at-large seats, or even (gasp!) five district and eight at-large slots. Political opportunities for Boston’s communities of color would increase overnight — and since at-large contests invariably generate more excitement than district campaigns, so would election-year buzz and general interest in city politics.

More power Compared with their counterparts in other cities, Boston city councilors have precious little power; most notably, they can’t increase individual line items in the city budget. Amend the charter so they can — and then, just for the hell of it, give them another big responsibility, like appointing department heads or picking school-committee members. Absolute power may corrupt absolutely, but near-absolute impotence isn’t pretty, either.

Transparency, dammit! If more Bostonians knew what goes on at the city council’s weekly meetings, pay hikes would be a nonstarter. The councilors file in embarrassingly late; then, once things are under way, they spend more time talking to each other than tending to the business at hand. (Seriously, it’s like an especially chaotic junior-high classroom.) Put a live broadcast of every council meeting on the city’s Web site, so viewers can see how late meetings are starting or how much time councilors are wasting with flowery, vapid oratory. Then archive the video of these meetings for posterity.

The odds of any of these ideas becoming reality? Let’s call them slim. But hope springs eternal. If any councilors want to take up the cause, they’ll get some good free media courtesy of yours truly. What say you, Sam Yoon?

  Topics: This Just In , Politics, Local Politics, Tom Menino,  More more >
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