The Charter Committee of the Peabody City Council met on April 25 and reviewed the articles in the city’s proposed charter regarding the Peabody Municipal Light Commission. Specifically, they requested a legal opinion regarding whether there are limitations to changing term length and salary of the commissioners.
“Currently, any change in compensation or length of term requires the approval of the legislature,” said Assistant City Solicitor Brian Barrett. “It is my opinion that as part of the overall charter amendment process which will ultimately require the legislature’s approval, the authority to set compensation and term of office could be delegated to the Council.”
But, they still have questions on the legality of six-year terms and whether the council has the ability to reduce terms of light commissioners from six years.
Presently, the five members of the Peabody Municipal Light Commission (PLMC) serve a six year term and receive a $5100 yearly stipend, are eligible for City of Peabody health insurance, and, after ten years of service, commissioners are eligible to receive a state retirement pension.
The City Charter Review Committee was formed in 2018 by Mayor Ted Bettencourt to work with the Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts Boston to revise the city’s antiquated 107-year-old charter. Regarding the PLMC, the review committee called for four-year-terms for commissioners and that the City Council be required to review the compensation of the commissioners at least every five years.
Councillor Stephanie Peach, a member of the City Charter Review Committee, said “It was a a running theme of recommending fewer longer terms.”
PLMP Commissioner Ray Melvin spoke at the April 25 meeting, asking “Why they (the charter commission) thought now to do this?” – change the length of term.
Councillor Anne Manning-Martin explained the five-year process to date that is re-writing the City’s Charter. “It should have been done a long time ago. It’s nothing new,” she said.
The Review Committee that reviewed the existing charter in 2017 determined, with recommendation from Collins consultants, to re-write the City’s Charter rather than update the antiquated sections and language of the original. I served on the charter review committee with: Joseph Travaglini, Deborah Strabone Baglio, Kevin Connolly, Stephanie Stuart Forte, Christopher Gilbert and Stephanie Peach.
Councillor Ryan Melville, the chair of the Council’s Charter Committee, said that letters to Light Commissioners and Trustees of the Libarary were sent soliciting comments to be heard at their next meeting, likely May 16.
Neither the existing nor proposed charter items reflect the original 1951 act of the legislature, seventy-two years ago.
Assistant City Solicitor Brian Barrett shared the legislation’s history in Nov. 2022. “Chapter 286 created an initial three-member board with one member serving two years, one for four years and one for six years. Upon expiration of the initial two-year and four-year terms, they became six-year terms. There have been no subsequent amendments addressing length of term.”
The compensation for commissioners was introduced by an amendment in 1974 and increased by more amendments in 1995 and 2018. The commission’s last pay hike raised the stipend from $4,000 and made PMLP commissioners eligible for public pensions after ten years of service, as their annual stipend was raised to exceed the state’s threshold of $5,000. It took three attempts in five years to get a pay raise.
The City Council sought a home-rule petition in order to get the raise. That’s because the light plant and commissioners were created as a municipal utility under state statute in the 1880s, changes in compensation must be approved by lawmakers.
In 2018, Peabody’s commissioners were some of the highest paid among the state’s 40 municipal utilities. “Many other commissioners are paid far less or nothing at all, with the exception of Taunton, which offers a $6,000 stipend. This largely reflects the organizational structure and varying degrees of autonomy at each utility,” reads an editorial in the Salem Evening News, July 8, 2018.
Includes (scroll down) – 1951 legislation, amendments, and 2019 Charter Review Report.
Peabody City Council – Nov. 8, 2018
Peabody City Council – Oct. 2018