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Police officers pave way of Melrose’s highest paid

Posted by Marcia Dick  May 29, 2009 11:45 AM

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By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff
Twenty-three city of Melrose employees earned $100,000 or more last year, with police officers dominating the ranks, along with a handful of school department administrators, according to a Globe review of public payroll records.

Fifteen Melrose police officers earned more than $100,000, much of it due to overtime and lucrative detail jobs that added tens of thousands of dollars to their total pay for the year, according to the review.

In Melrose, a Globe review found that Lieutenant James Mulrenan was the city’s highest-paid employee, earning $145,209. The amount includes a base salary of $80,723, plus $42,319 in detail pay and $12,667 in overtime. Other payments, such as holiday and longevity pay, totaled $9,499.

Mulrenan did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Mayor Robert J. Dolan said overtime and detail pay routinely make police officers among the city’s top earners. ‘‘A police officer really can make as much money as they choose to make,’’ he said.

Still, one fiscal observer noted that big paydays don’t sit well with taxpayers.

‘‘There is both a fiscal and political issue surrounding the very high compensation many police officers receive,’’ said Michael J. Widmer, chief executive of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a nonprofit watchdog group. ‘‘The fiscal issue, of course, is the enormous financial pressures facing virtually every city and town.’’

Police aren’t alone at the top of the municipal payroll, however.

School Superintendent Joseph Casey, who earned $141,110, was the city’s second-highest paid employee. Melrose High School principal Joseph Dillon, who earned $112,700, was the city’s 10th-highest paid employee last year, according to the review. Gregory Zammuto, the school department business manager, had a salary of $103,920.

Fire Chief John O’Brien made $116,600, and John Scenna, public works engineer who oversees snow plowing, earned $113,501, an amount that included $37,407 in overtime. Auditor Patrick Dello Russo, who earned $108,238, was the highest-paid City Hall department head.
Dolan — whose salary of $96,174 made him the city’s 29th-highest paid employee — said he believes the city’s salaries are reasonable.

‘‘I make a fair wage,’’ said Dolan, whose pay increased 11 percent last year. ‘‘There have been years when I haven’t taken any raise.’’

He added that the pay for the school superintendent and auditor are comparable with salaries paid in other communities in Middlesex County. ‘‘In Joe Casey [school superintendent] I think we have a good deal,’’ said Dolan, also a member of the School Committee. ‘‘We have a quality superintendent at a reasonable rate.’’

Casey could not be reached for comment.

Dello Russo, the city’s chief operating officer, did not return a call seeking comment. But Dolan called Dello Russo ‘‘the best in the business. ... He’s my top partner here running the city. He makes a fair wage.’’

In public works, Scenna was the highest-paid employee, and the ninth-highest in the city, with help from Mother Nature. As the director of snow operations, Scenna works overtime on every snowstorm. ‘‘Snow overtime is something that just happens,’’ said Robert Beshara, the public works director.

Over the last three years, detail work for police officers was plentiful. City streets were torn up to wire for high-speed Internet access, and to install drain pipes under Main Street and Converse Lane.

‘‘We’ve torn up the whole city. We’ve rewired the whole city,’’ Dolan said. ‘‘There was a lot of detail work available. But a lot of the work is finished. ... Last year was a pretty light year for those guys [police].’’

Sergeant David Mackey, the city’s third-highest earner, made $132,179, including $43,064 in detail pay. Other police officers who ranked among the top 10 highest-paid employees were Lieutenant Paul Norton, $128,756, including $26,565 in detail pay, fourth; Officer David Roy, $120,572, including $39,754 in detail pay, fifth; Officer Stephen Dennis, $116,682, including $34,360 in detail pay, sixth; Lieutenant Richard Morrissey, a former police chief, $114,186, including $19,848 in detail pay, was eighth.

Despite the hefty pay, most police officers earned less money in 2008 than in 2007, the data show. Mulrenan, for example, had a 27 percent drop in total pay last year, compared with 2007.
In 2007, Mulrenan earned $198,065, an amount that included $74,405 in detail pay. In 2008, Mulrenan’s detail pay dropped to $42,319.

A change in the city’s detail policy is likely the reason for the steep decline. Chief Michael Lyle said a rule created last year limits the amount of hours a police officer can work in a single day to no more than 18.5.

‘‘Before, they could almost work unlimited hours,’’ Lyle said. ‘‘Now they’re restricted.’’

Lyle said concern about the ‘‘fatigue factor’’ led to the restriction.

‘‘You have to worry if someone is alert enough to do the job after they’ve worked an excessive amount of hours,’’ he said.

The city also cut back on details used on public works projects. Projects on major roads still have a police officer on detail. But projects on secondary roads no longer do, officials said.

‘‘On a main thoroughfare, you absolutely need a uniformed police officer,’’ Dolan said.

‘‘But if the job is on a side street, we’ll shut down the road. We can’t afford a detail on every local job.’’

Kathy McCabe can be reached at

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10 comments so far...
  1. So What !!!!, this is the same old tired Globe reporting and comment from Michael Widmer
    Bash the police, is that the agenda this year. When someone is trying to break into your house in the middle of the night, you dial 911 not Michale Widmer or the Globe. Most of the these guys work long hours, weekend, holidays. Leave them alone and put your energy to stopping Welfare Fraud, Tax Cheats, and Health Care Fraud. It's getting old. Leave the Cops alone.

    Posted by TDOG May 30, 09 04:55 PM
  1. Why even publish stuff like this anymore.
    In MA, cops make a ton of money to drink coffee and do work that the other 49 states have deemed safe for meth addicts. Its a political give away to the police union, in exchange for votes and money.
    Thats the way this state works. Its no longer news.

    Posted by Jim May 30, 09 05:34 PM
  1. Last year I received no raise and no company laid off a few hundred employees as well...meanwhile the mayor of Melrose thought it right to collect an 11% raise

    Posted by johny99 May 30, 09 05:50 PM
  1. Seriously, who cares. People deserve to make money. This is non-news and you're trying to create a controversy and there isn't one. So maybe we shouldn't have cops at traffic details - but really you'd have to pay someone else that money. And finally, is it really bad to pay people who lead schools a decent salary. A $100,000 today is not that huge of a salary for crying out loud! This story is stupid>

    Posted by Tom May 30, 09 07:07 PM
  1. C'mon, $74,000 in detail pay. When did that guy sleep? Something smells to me.

    Posted by skeptical June 25, 09 07:03 PM
  1. WOW - you must all be jealous! Who cares what they make? Police and Fire should make tons of money - They put their lives on the line so we can be safe - if you are that jealous - take the test and get the job - oh wait let me guess - you dont want that job right? Shut up and get over yourselves!

    Posted by whocares June 26, 09 03:56 PM
  1. This story ticks me off! I've lived in Melrose for almost three years now and the cops are NEVER around. In my time there, I've seen a cop pull someone over just ONCE! People fly around the town and the cops are no where to be seen. I'd have no problem with their wages if they were actually doing something. My neighbors were broken into in the middle of the night while they were asleep and the cops took forever to show up and never caught the perpetrator. Maybe they were too busy doing detail work to deal with crime. These wages are B.S. And to justify it by saying that they are laying their lives on the line, please. First, no one is forcing these guys to be police officers and second, Melrose is not exactly a battle ground.

    Posted by Upset June 29, 09 10:37 AM
  1. Cops and Firefighters should make more then what it says there....they put their lives on the line everyday for you and me. When someone is doing wrong who do you call? when a house is a blaze and a loved one is trapped inside, who do you call!!! leave them alone..They inspired me to take the test to become a police officer. This has nothing to do with wages. I want to stop crime and make everyone safe.....god what a place we live in....

    Posted by Are You Kidding Me? July 16, 09 11:22 AM
  1. People hate the police. Writing about what the police make for money sells newspapers. People writing anonymous remarks in newspapers stories does nothing to fix problems or upset anyone. To that guy who was laid off I have a suggestion. Do what most of the police who are hired in these times do. Join the military and get deployed to a warzone. When the next civil service test comes up take it. You will get veteran's preference and get hired as a probationary appointment. Go to a six month police academy and then you can go to work as a police officer unless you get laid off. What a dream life the police live. I am not a Melrose cop but have to say God bless them for putting up with the snobs in this city.

    Posted by Tom Downing July 26, 09 01:40 PM
  1. When are people going to wake up to the ripoff that is the police union? Melrose has a population of 26,708 in 2008, which was a decrease of 1.6% since 2000. So for the last decade, the town has been shrinking, yet the fatties on the police force had 15 -- yes, 15 -- of their finest making more than $100,000 in compensation last year.

    Yes, I realize that a lot of them fattened their paychecks with "detail" work. But the reality is, with a shrinking population, this type of over-the-top compensation is NOT sustainable for the town of Melrose. Public sector jobs should not pay exorbitant salaries, as the trade-off in the public sector is job security vs. the layoffs roiling the private sector.

    Posted by The Ultimate Authority August 29, 09 05:22 PM