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    Thursday, May 30, 2024

    OPINION: New London mayoral candidates compete for a whopping new salary

    It’s curious to me that Connecticut pinches pennies when compensating state lawmakers, pretending that $44,000 a year is enough to pay “part-time” legislators who preside over all government decision making.

    No wonder the legislature is full of retirees, rich professionals who don’t need more salary, ambitious, lobbyist-courting opportunists or, as one lawmaker succinctly put it, young people living in their parents’ basements.

    When it comes to paying the salaries of municipal leaders, though, all bets are off, with big salaries that would make executive recruiters in private industry blush.

    It’s a little unseemly, too, when a poor city like New London, with a poverty rate of 24%, decides to pay its chief executive three times the median household income in the city.

    The City Council last year put that big salary carrot into place for this year’s mayoral contest, voting unanimously for a head-snapping 45% raise ― who else out there got a raise like that? ― from $110,000 to $160,000, for whoever wins this year’s election.

    That will put New London’s mayor among the highest paid municipal executives in the state, more than New Haven or Danbury, a little less than Hartford and on a par with Bridgeport.

    I wouldn’t bet against the incumbent Democrat Michael Passero winning in November. He is being challenged by Republican Beloved Grace Carter and Green Party candidate Leon “Eddie” Long.

    Democrats now hold all elected offices in the city, and I don’t see anyone prying their fingers off the levers of power.

    I reached out to Passero this week to ask him about the prospects of a big raise and how that might supersize his pension, given all his years of service as a city firefighter.

    He responded by email, writing that he’s not in it for the money. I believe him on that.

    “It’s no secret that I love my job and the compensation is not one of the contributing or relevant factors to my job satisfaction,” he wrote.

    Still, I was surprised when he also said he can’t remember what the council raised the salary to and that he has no idea how the new salary would impact his pension.

    The office of State Comptroller Sean Scanlon, which manages the municipal employee pension programs, was equally unhelpful in calculating the mayor’s ultimate pension, in the event he starts collecting that big new salary.

    I spent a week trying, starting on Monday and gave up by Friday. When the comptroller spokesperson said they don’t do hypothetical calculations, I asked for and got the math formulas but then for two days they said they couldn’t tell me one of the main numbers to use in the formulas, his best three years of firefighting salary. I gave up as Friday’s deadline passed.

    Government pensions are ridiculously high. No wonder no one wants to discuss them.

    Passero’s deputy, Steven Fields, the city’s chief administrative officer, collected $133,000 in pension money last year, for his many years of service with State Police, in addition to his New London salary.

    He and the mayor, if he is reelected, will be taking home a lot of fat government-funded checks next year. It puts new meaning in the notion of a City Hall executive suite.

    This may even be a good time, so early in his reelection campaign, for the mayor to offer donating some of that new raise ― since he doesn’t even know how much it is ― to a worthy city charity.

    For many of the rest of us, who do know how much it is, 45% seems like too much.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.

    d.collins@theday.com

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