Proposed Bill to Ban City Clerks from Collecting Marriage Fees on Work Time
The bill, proposed by state Rep. Marty Walz, would also prohibit all public employees from using their government offices to perform marriages at any time if they keep the fees.
State Rep. Marty Walz, D-Boston, filed legislation on Wednesday that would ban city clerks, and other public employees, from pocketing marriage fees they earn on work time.
The bill comes as the Boston City Council chose former City Councilor Maureen Feeney, who abruptly resigned in November from her City Councilor position, to be Boston's clerk. On Wednesday, she was elected by the Boston City Council as the the new city clerk come the New Year. The job pays about $102,000, plus the opportunity for more by officiating weddings.
Feeney begins her new job on Jan. 2.
Under current law, city and town clerks who are also justices of the peace are allowed to perform marriages during their working hours and keep the fees. For example, the current City Clerk in Boston is reported to have earned more than $60,000 a year performing marriages at City Hall during her work day.
The legislation filed by Rep. Walz requires the fees be retained by the government because the work is performed during the work day or in government buildings. The bill would cover all public employees in municipal, county and state government.
“Public employees should not be running their own businesses during the work day or out of their government offices. By keeping the fees, they are essentially double dipping – earning their salaries and keeping the marriage fees, which can add up to tens of thousands of dollars every year. Those fees, like all fees paid to obtain government services, belong to the taxpayers,” said Representative Walz.
“Under the state’s ethics laws, we don’t allow public employees to run their own businesses while they are at work, and neither do we allow them to use their government offices after hours to supplement their salary. City and town clerks should be no different. These kind of special deals are why voters are so cynical. Those who work for government should not be turning their offices into private business ventures,” said Walz, via press release.
Rep. Walz’s bill goes significantly further than an internal rules change proposed by Boston City Councilors Stephen Murphy and Mike Ross. Walz’s bill covers all public employees in the state, not just the Boston City Clerk, and prohibits public employees from keeping fees gained from any marriage they perform at any time in a government building.
A proposal pending before the Boston City Council would allow the City Clerk to keep the fees for marriages performed in the clerk's office outside of working hours and during lunchtime. Under the state ethics law, chapter 268A, section 23(b)(2) "other public employees are not permitted to use their offices during non-working hours or lunchtime for their private benefit."
Clerks and other public employees would be permitted to keep fees only if they perform a marriage during non-working hours in a public park (for example, they could keep a fee for performing a marriage on a Saturday afternoon in a local or state park).
Said Walz about the new Bosotn City Clerk chosen on December 21. “I am announcing this legislation today so the new clerk knows that the days of using the Clerk’s office as a private for-profit wedding chapel are numbered."