Walz Files Bill on Municipal Clerks Not Keeping Marriage Fees

December 28, 2011

State Rep. Martha M. Walz (D-Boston) announced last week that she is filing legislation banning all public employees, including city and town clerks, from pocketing marriage fees they earn on work time.

The bill would also prohibit all public employees from using their government offices to perform marriages at any time if they keep the fees.

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 is reported to have earned over $60,000 a year performing marriages at Boston City Hall during her workday.

The legislation filed by Walz requires the fees be retained by the government, since the work is performed during the work day or in government buildings. The bill covers 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,” Walz said. “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.

“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,” Walz said.

Walz’s bill goes significantly further than an internal rules change proposed by members of Boston City Council for the city clerk. 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.

The proposal pending before the Boston City Council would allow the city clerk to keep the fees for marriages she performs in her 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).

The Boston City Council is expected to select a new City Clerk on Wednesday, 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,” Rep. Walz concluded. The Boston City Clerk received an extra $60,000 in marriage fees last year in addition to the $102,000 salary.

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