Friday, March 1, 2019

Dollars for Democracy: The hyperbole of Council salary recommendations

Rory Gowler and Bob Thompson, two of the five members of
a committee that was tasked to review City Council compensation issues 

If the undercurrent to the discussion on Council salaries of Monday night is any indication, the main takeaway from a report on proposed salary increases for the mayor and council, is that somehow those recommended pay bumps are going to be an instrument in preserving democracy.

The quotes of Monday from some around the Council chamber leading us to believe that the salvation of our democratic ways may best be served by the delivery of currency and seemingly some pretty impressive amounts of it.

"It's not for us, it's being fiscally responsible for the future and the future of our democracy for our town as well, and attracting the right candidates that are not exclusively to those with strong economic standing that would be able to afford to maintain this position with all of the hours that are involved with this outside of council meetings" -- Councillor Reid Skelton-Morven

"That is exactly how I have been trying to approach this, my rationale in voting for the public interest its how can we encourage the greatest cross section of people to run for this office, we don't want income, or their job status or their occupation to determine whether they can represent their community or speak up for their community" -- Councillor Blair Mirau

"We have to think about  the position and what the conditions of that position are and what that means for our local democracy and encouraging the best candidates that we can get, so that people are not excluded because of financial circumstances"  -- Committee member Bob Thompson

That is a sample of the viewpoints that were delivered following the delivery of a report that included recommendations on changes to the status of the Mayor's position and a significant boost to compensation levels for both Council members and the Mayor.

The report also made for part of the theme of a Facebook post by Mayor Lee Brain Following the February 25th Council session.

The Mayor's use of Facebook for his update on the salary committee findings was a somewhat familiar thing when it comes to the compensation issue, as that is where the genesis of the Committee concept came from back on October 29th of last year.

First as an invite to his Facebook followers seeking members for what was then known as the Blue Ribbon Select Standing Committee on remuneration.

Along the way the name had changed and been shortened by November to just the Select Standing Committee, with the hoped for report to be delivered by the end of 2018.

That deadline slipped by and now as the Mayor noted on Monday in his Facebook update, the review came by way of an Independent Committee of Residents with that rebranding coming sometime after the membership had been selected and the work was underway.

Normally when a committee is put together, there is a public announcement of welcome, a listing of the members and an explanation as to their work ahead, in this case it would seem that everyone just jumped into their work without the need for all those formalities.

Among the members selected for the Independent Committee of Residents to work with Senior City staff on the salary review were: Rory Gowler, Rosa Miller, Bonnie Rudderham, Scott Farwell and Bob Thompson.

Some of the members like Ms. Miller and Mr. Farwell have served on other civic bodies such as the small business committee, or that of Tourism Prince Rupert.

Or as is the case of Mr. Thompson as an appointed member of the Board for the City of Prince Rupert owned communication company, CityWest.

Most of the five also have current, or past experience with the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce.

As Ms. Gowler delivered the final report on Monday evening, Council heard of the five recommendations that the committee members had decided on following their work.

Retain the Mayor's position as full time, though no full review was conducted related to the position, as it was beyond the scope of the committees terms of reference. 

Update the Mayor and Council salary structure to include annual salary adjustments as per the bylaw of 1994. As well, with Council not having taken a wage increase since 2014, they recommended that no wage freezes be taken by council going forward.

Address the lost tax exemption change from the Canada Revenue Agency, by increasing the adjusted salaries to result in the same after tax net income as would have been found under the previous taxation rules.

Set a Gross salary level of $75,000 for the Mayors position and set a Gross Salary level for Council at 25 percent of the Mayor's salary listed as $18,750. The effect to the budget for those changes will be $55,600.

Create a two tier Per Diem schedule dependent on travel destinations

Tier One -- Vancouver, Lower Mainland, Whistler and Victoria with a $100 Per Diem for full day of travel, $50 for half day

Tier Two -- All other areas in British Columbia with an $80 dollar Per Diem for full day of travel and $40 dollars per day for half days 

The committee conducted a review of compensation in other communities to help with their findings, a data search which consisted of nine other municipalities including Terrace and Kitimat, two communities which held down the lower end of the salary compensation table.

The Committee's Council compensation comparison list
(click to enlarge)

Their work and data makes for a good start towards the discussion for any salary change, but the committee may have been instructed to reach a bit too far by providing for hard recommendations, as  opposed to offering a range of options as part of their report.

And when it comes to instituting any changes, Council itself may want to put a bit of distance in place when it comes to making a final decision on the the themes that were reviewed.

If anyone is to have a say in what the final salary should be, or whether the Mayor's job is to be a full, or part time occupation, it probably should be the people who are paying the salaries.

Much of the work of the Independent Committee of Residents was done in the background with no updates from Council to advise the public that it was underway.

It also moved forward without any direction for the committee to ask residents what they may have wanted to contribute to the review, some context that seems missing from the exercise.

For the most part, Monday's final report is probably the first that many in the community had even heard of the committees work.

The largest of the issues is of course the status of the Mayor's position, which previous to 2014 was considered part time and only raised to a full time position by Council in 2015, that shift taking place without consultation from the public, or endorsement from them for that matter.

The job was moved  to full time status by way of a little bit of behind the scenes financial manoeuvring by city council through planning for Major Projects, that money delivered through the ever mysterious Legacy Fund.

At no time during that period did anyone on the council of the day put the idea to the public, basically establishing the concept of full time status and full time pay for the Mayors job in place on their own.

With that money now having been removed owing to a sunset clause as of December 31st, the new plan it would seem is to once again secure the Mayor's position and salary compensation as that of full time.

The compensation to be provided through the budgetary process as the Council members themselves are paid, and again, no one has explained why it must be so, nor have they asked the public if the top job in the City should be in fact be a full time one.

The scale of the compensation that has been proposed may also give cause for some residents to gulp down some water.  Bottled perhaps, if you are someone who may not yet be convinced of the status of the city's water supply after the lifting of the Boil Water Advisory in January.

If the recommendations move forward the salary for the Mayor will be jumping from the $61,300 noted in 2017 to $75,000 per year proposed for 2019,

And not mentioned in the committee report were the additional salaries that the holder of the top elected position in Prince Rupert and other nominated members of Council can access through Regional District and Health Board positions.

The proposed jump in salary looms large by comparison to values of 2014, when then Mayor Jack Mussallem was paid a salary of $40,762with the road to 2019 bringing close to $35,000 dollars more to the post.

Proposed Council increases while less dramatic, may also make for some discussion during the two consultation sessions of March, particularly with the recommendation that the lost tax free portion of the salaries be covered off by the taxpayer, a tax free provision which was something that most of the city's taxpayers have never had the luxury of claiming on their tax returns.

The path to consultation on the pay issues is now to be considered through the two City Council sessions in March on the 11th and 25th, where the public can offer up their thoughts on the recommendations. 

The quest for the salary bump and full time status and pay for the Mayor comes after a fairly optimistic budget presentation from the City's Chief Financial Officer, so no doubt, the Council members will be hoping that the city's residents will be in a receptive frame of mind as they explore the salary themes.

Though how much resource material residents will have to use is not really known.

So far, only a short update on the City website and the Mayor's Facebook post have alerted the public that the salary discussion is on.

Those that are truly dedicated to exploring the issue, can review the report from the Committee through the Council Agenda of Monday (see here)

But what the City really should do is provide for a full overview for the website (much like they have done with Hays 2.0 and other programs) posting it as soon as possible before that first meeting of March 11th.

Included as part of the documentation should be some expanded background on the findings of the committee work and how the Council has handled the salary issues over the last four years.

Considering that the tax issue had been know for over a year, Council members let some valuable consultation time slip away before the new CRA rules came into effect on January 1st.

What should have probably happened to best address the issue was for Council to have tackled all of this review program before last October's election and well before the current council members had settled in for the start of another four year term.

Had that been the course of action they could have made the recommended changes part of a referendum question for the electors; asking residents if they wanted to increase the Mayoralty position to Full time status. 

As well as to offer up a range of potential salary options (from low to high) for the public to vote on, with the voter's decision to be adopted by Council to take effect as of January 1st of this year.

Besides providing for public endorsement of the shift to a Full time mayor, those results would have given Council its guidelines for the required vote on salary structure and maybe even have helped to increase the vote count on election day.

Thinking back to all of the flowery language on the theme of democracy of Monday night, perhaps that referendum option may yet bet their best course of action to pursue true transparency.

By allowing the people to have the final say on compensation levels and job status; the City Council members may actually offer up the strongest nod that they can towards the pursuit of the Democracy that they believe needs to be nurtured.

You can review the discussion from Monday through the City's Video Archive, starting at the forty minute mark.

Some past notes on the committee approach can be reviewed below:


January 30 -- As Mayor reverts back to previous salary status; City's Council pay issues to be reviewed as part of budget process


December 21 -- Updates on Mayor's Blue Ribbon Select Panel on pay review few and far between as deadline news
November 9 -- City changes application notes on Council remuneration Committee
October 29 -- To this point Mayor Brain's Blue Ribbon Committee on Civic compensation remains a Facebook only invite project
October 24 -- Mayor Brain to call for participants in Committee to review Council remuneration issues

For more items of note from Monday's City Council session can be found through our Council Timeline feature,  a wider overview of Council discussion themes is available here.

To return to the most recent blog posting of the day, click here.

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