The awakening of the city council

Tuesday afternoon in the Council Chambers at city hall, 1:00 p.m. marks the time when the Boston City Council regains some of its lost relevancy as it takes up the first of a number of measures dealing with the firefighter arbitration ruling.

That recent ruling giving Boston’s firefighters a 19% raise amounting to $20,000 checks for nearly every firefighter has inspired a great deal of talk among taxpayers, homeowners, businessmen and among public employees as well.

Actually, much more than talk has been inspired.

In fact, outrage has been expressed by thousands of Boston residents who have been struggling with the brave new world unfolding since the recession hit us three years ago.

The furor over such a large increase in salary and so large a one time payment to make up for the past three years against a backdrop of a high unemployment rate and a vastly cut city budget, has resonated throughout the city but most of all, it has caused the city council to awaken from its slumber.

Council President Mike Ross shook the earth inside the council chamber two weeks ago when he said he would not vote for the firefighter pay-raise and what’s more, that he was urging all his colleagues on the council to do the same.

Ross joined Mayor Thomas Menino as the only elected public officials in Boston to stand up and to tell the firefighters that agreeing to drug testing does not warrant such a generous reward from the taxpayers.

In addition, Ross and Menino add to their voices a growing chorus of city councilors who want the arbitrator’s decision to be thrown out because, frankly, it makes no sense.

How is it that salaries and wages have been frozen or dropped, benefits have been cut, and a hiring freeze put in place by the city of Boston and firefighters are scheduled to receive a 19% pay raise?

How is it the ship is sinking and in this instance an arbitrator has made an award that is the equivalent of pouring tons more water into the sinking ship?

Most of us outside of government do not understand the logic of so large a raise for firefighters who are so well paid in the first place.

We are not going to fall into the fire fighter stereotype heaped upon those of us in the local press demonized by the fire-fighters union for speaking out against them.

We are not against fire fighters. We are not against highly paid and pensioned fire fighters. We are against substantial pay raises when none are being granted – and we are against a city government that says nothing about such raises and does nothing for the beleaguered taxpayer tired of such giveaways.

We are unable to understand the mentality of an arbitrator who has made a 19% award at a time when 5% would have been a lot.

Given the rocky state of the local economy, that arbitrator ought to be made to go back to the table with the fire fighters.

We applaud Councillor Ross’s political courage and common sense – and we applaud the mayor as well, as he has been leading this fight for years.