Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wedding Bells are Ca-chings for City Clerks

Boston City Clerk Rosaria Salerno is earning$68,000 in cash, over and above her roughly $100,000 salary, by performing as a Justice of the Peace at City Hall during her normal working hours. As the Boston Herald points out, that may be legal, but what she earns could hire a teacher or a firefighter for the city.
Elsewhere, city clerks also function as justices of the peace, but Salerno does more than anyone else given the population of Boston. City Council President Mike Ross wants to review the practice, and that makes sense.

The Ethics Commission years ago found there was no conflict of interest, even if city clerks perform the wedding ceremonies during regular business hours. State law seems to be silent on whether a city clerk acting as justice of the peace can pocket the money or whether it goes into municipal coffers.

Newton City Clerk David Olson says he does one or two marriages a week, at most 104 per year, and charges $75 each, adding to his salary some $7800. Considering the time he spends on many night assignments covering meetings of the Board of Aldermen, this doesn’t seem particularly problematic and is hardly a blip on the screen compared to Salerno’s extra income, which is nine or ten time times more.

Lowell Clerk Richard Johnson does about 100 marriages a year, at a cost of $100 apiece. He and his assistant share the nuptial ceremonies and split the $10,000 proceeds. Again, you’re not talking a lot of money even if it were to be redirected into city coffers.

(Of course, if you don’t want to pay the $75 or $100 fee, you can always get a friend or family member do the honors. A one-time special permission to marry you is only $25.)

For the privilege of picking up the extra income and performing the service, city clerks pay $25 a year for their justice-of-the-peace licenses. Non-municipal individuals wishing to be justices of the peace pay $75.

For most communities, the fact that the clerk gets to pocket a small amount of money for marrying couples wouldn’t even rise to the level of a tweet, much less a blog. But in the big cities it can add up, as the Herald points out, to the salary of a librarian or public safety officer. If the Boston City Council seeks to capture the revenue for community purposes and they really want to make it count, they could raise the $60 Salerno now charges to the $100 allowed by state statute. That would raise an additional $45,600. Add it to the $68,000 she’s now getting from the marriage business, and Boston could actually save a couple of the civilian community liaison workers the police department is now having to lay off. Even if she split the proceeds with the city, she could save a job!


  1. It seems they forgot to mention the Mayor of Lawrence, who is also the current state representative for the district, and judging from the fiscal problems in the city is not doing too good a job as mayor. I don't know what the voters were thinking, electing him while he was serving in the other office.

  2. ACF, You're right. Lawrence has had so much to deal with. Hizzoner, the mayor and state rep, is a walking case of double jeopardy!

  3. I saw a discussion of the case on Emily Rooney's "Greater Boston" tonight, and learned a couple of things I should have known before I spoke, earlier. One was that he apparently has been on the job for only a month, so that's a little too soon for me to have judged how well he's doing his jobs. Another concerns his Latino background. I think the Latino voters of Lawrence are so enthralled by having one of their own as mayor that they have been willing to overlook the possibility that there are multitudes of conflicts that can affect his ability to do the job they need and deserve.

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  5. The Assistant City Clerk performs marriages as do one or two other staff of the Offices of the City Clerk and Assistant City Clerk of the City of Boston.

    We need a City Clerk and Assistant City Clerk for Boston who are knowledgeable and up to date with the technology that makes public records of our city more accessible. The stenographic machine record of the public meeting of Boston City Council should be more readily available. Closed captioning on City Council webcasts is needed for people with hearing loss.

  6. There is an unavoidable conflict built in to the municipal-clerk-as-marriage-official practice outlined in the article.

    I don't care what the ethics Commission has ruled in the past: city clerks should be expected to perform only their public duties while on public time and at their place of public employment. That said, most reasonable people wouldn't mind the clerk's office performing a few marriages on an infrequent, case by case basis. So where do we draw the line? Is $7,800 ok? How about two clerk officers splitting $10,000? I'm not in a quandary with Rosaria Salerno's excessive private earnings of $68,000, is anyone?

    This is not a revenue raising issue; this is a public confidence issue. The practice, as currently sanctioned is wrong!