Council member threatens to walk out of chambers and call a press conference to spill the beans on staff pay increases.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  Match 6, 2012  Things got a little feisty at the Budget meeting at city hall last week.

Councillor John Taylor said he was not going to allow a budget committee to go into closed session to talk about how much the city was going to allocate for staff salary increases and that if he was found to be out of order he was going to walk out of the Council Chamber to the atrium and hold a press conference and spill the beans.

That is exciting stuff for Burlington.

The Dean of Burlington Council members, Ward 3 Councillor John Taylor fights for what he believes in. One of the things he wants is more openness and more transparency. He didn't get it this time out.

Councillor Taylor was talking about salary figures that were well known and discussed at the Regional level, Committee chair Rick Craven kept intruding and telling him that he was getting very close to the line on what was permitted and what was not permitted in terms of talking about specific matters.

Taylor would lose his train of thought and while the two bickered back and forth, they eventually went into closed session and sent everyone out into the foyer for close to an hour.  That gave everyone sent out of the room time to get caught up on the gossip.

Taylor was making an very significant point.  The matter was how much of the tax money collected goes into staff salaries and how much does what Burlington pays its employees?

Taylor started off by pointing out that the Region had gone public and openly discussed salary increases and said the Region was not going to go above 2% increase in their 2012 budget.  Taylor felt Burlington should fall into the same line.   At that point chair of the meeting Rick Craven cut in and advised Taylor that he might be crossing a line and beginning to talk about a matter that wasn’t permitted by the Burlington Procedural Manual.

A staff report had recommended more than a 2% increase but that document was kept confidential.

That wasn’t going to deter Taylor – he then began to talk about comments made by an Ombudsman’s report that said council members should be generous and broad in their interpretation of what is confidential and what isn’t.

That wasn’t going to deter Craven who said that he was following the rules as set out in the Burlington Procedural Manual and he didn’t want to have to rule Taylor out of order.

What Taylor wanted to do was put forward a motion to decrease the amount to be allocated for salaries in the 2012 budget.

That was enough for the rest of the Council.  They decided to go into Closed Session and everyone was asked to leave the room.

Once everyone was back in the room Taylor’s motion to reduce the amount set aside for salaries and wages by $455,820 was voted on and defeated.  Taylor then put forward a second motion for a reduction of $152,000 and that was passed.

The $455,820 would have meant a 1% increase in salaries and wages for city staff; the $152,000 meant the increase was going to be just 2% ; not the more than 2% staff was recommending.

Municipalities pay their people very well and the benefits are also very good. The pension – a defined one – is amongst the best in the country.

Taylor pointed out that 90% of the money raised in taxes by the city, which amount to $125 million, is spent on salaries and benefits and he wanted this to be discussed in public.

The discussion got to the point where Taylor and Craven were sparring over phrases and wording in the city Procedural Manual.

The heck with what is in the Procedural Manual:  why does a budget committee go into closed secret session when discussing how much they are going to increase staff salaries by?  They aren’t talking about an individual’s  pay – they are talking about how big the increase is going to be for all staff during a specific budget year.

Folks that’s your money; 90 cents of every dollar is paid out as salary or benefits.  If open, transparent government means anything telling what you are paying your staff is part of that business.

The province has a Sunshine list that calls for municipalities to report the name and amount paid to every person earning more than $100,000 a year.  That information then gets published.  If the province is prepared to let the public know who is earning more than $100,000 why can’t the city say how much they are going to increase salaries by?  What is confidential about discussing the increases?

That young lad, second from the left is THE Lord Acton who took part in a Halton agricultural tour last year. The Acton name is famous for that powerful political dictum: "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.." One can expect this picture to get used in Taylor's next election campaign.

A Burlington city staff report that was confidential had set out an increase for staff salaries that was in excess of 2%

These discussions are at committee level and have to go to Council meeting to be made final March 19.

One Council member pointed out that the staff report, which wasn’t public, uses what other municipalities pay their people as  “comparators” and Taylor was arguing that it is unfair to use other municipalities as comparisons – that the city should be using what the butcher, the baker and the candle stick maker are earning – these are the guys paying the taxes and Taylor was arguing that they aren’t getting much more than 1%

One the day that Burlington was having this noisy debate the Premier of the province was telling teachers that their new contract would have a 0% increase for the next two years and that the practice of being able to get paid out for sick days that had been banked was going to be pared back.

Burlington might want to pay attention to the reality the province finds it has to face – it’s our reality as well.



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