Long hours, many late nights and the pay isn’t the greatest either. But we elect them and here is part of what they do for you.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  January 4, 2013   They are just bears for punishment – or perhaps they want to have more time to do the city’s business while they are “live” on Cogeco Cable TV  – which ever – City Council meetings will start at 6:30 p.m. in 2013.  The traditional start time was 7:00 PM

Historically, standing committees (Development and Infrastructure, Budget and Corporate Services, and Community Services) would meet at 6:30 p.m., while council meetings began at 7 p.m.

“Two separate start times can be confusing for residents,” said Grant Bivol, manager of committee services. “Starting council and standing committee meetings at 6:30 p.m. makes it easier and more convenient for everybody, particularly members of the public who are unfamiliar with the city’s three-week meeting cycle.”

Is this crowd worth just over three quarters of a million each year?  We are getting good value for the money we pay these people.

The council-approved change takes effect on the first council meeting of the year, Jan. 28, 2013.

There will however be occasions when a committee will not meet in the evening; Development and Infrastructure has such a heavy work  load that they will now meet in the afternoons and in the evenings. Committee meetings which,  committee chairs never tire of telling their audiences, is where all the “heavy lifting gets done.  Much of what is done at committee gets rubber stamped by Council – although there are occasions when a committee decision will get reversed by Council.

Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison takes a break during one of his long bike rides. He pushes for bike lanes wherever he thinks he can get one put in; he also pushed his council members last year to allocate more money to the “shave and pave” process that saves on the cost of repairing our roadways and streets.

When everything that comes out of the committee meetings gets to city council meetings – the Mayor rushes through the reports and explains that the “heavy lifting” got done at the committee level.  You never get told how each council member voted at committee.  No record is kept by the city on those votes.

Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven digging out a business card for provincial Liberal leadership hopeful Sandra Pupatello.

Media have a difficult time figuring out whom voted which way; the clerks don’t ask for a clear count nor do they announce what the count is.  Sometimes council members will slip their hand up – hoping the people at the media table won’t see how they voted.

Development and Infrastructure is getting busier; most of the challenging stuff has been slid over to General Manager Scott Stewart.  That Standing Committee will now meet in the afternoon and in the evenings.  One assumes those items that have significant public interest will be put on the evening schedule.

The city is currently on a three-week cycle for their committee meetings.  The next week the cycle is run is the week of January 14th when they face four days of meetings.  Two weeks later a city council meeting takes place to confirm everything done at the committees.

The most senior member of Council Ward 3 Councillor John Taylor is the most vocal on ensuring the public is informed. He gets emotional at times but he is bar-none, the hardest working council member the city has. Also the most transparent and the guy that should have Mt Nemo named after him – his consistent, tireless efforts at both city council and Regional Council ensure the provincial government never forgets – no road through the Escarpment.

Because each council member is also a member of the Regional Council, our significant seven have to haul themselves over to Oakville where they gather with the Council members from Oakville, Milton and Halton Hills.

City Council meetings are broadcast live on Cogeco Cable TV.  Next to watching paint dry these have to be the dullest thing you use your eyeballs for.

The city does web cast all the committee meetings and while they aren’t live they are usually on the web site within 36 hours.  And it is now easier to find a listing of the web broadcasts. Link  If that gets changed – go to www.burlington.ca – choose city hall from the tabs near the top of the page and look for web casts on the right. If it’s really late and there isn’t an infomercial that tickles your fancy log into the web cast listing and pick a date and watch how they get their work done.

Some call her disruptive, several of her colleagues think she asks far too many questions but Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward has certainly changed the way this Council operates. She advocated for more public involvement and she has brought about real change. Is she an effective politician or a populist aiming for the top job?

Council members are paid about $50,000 by the city and close to that amount by the Region for the work they do; which amount to something in the $100,000 range.  There are a number of Executive Directors running sports organizations in this city who earn that much.    The Mayor is paid just under $160,000 annually.

Ward 6 Councillor Blair Lancaster may not know as much as she needs to know but she does understand what a photo op is. Is that enough ?

There is committee of citizens who determine what the city remuneration is to be.  That committee has not met for some time.  Burlington’s citizens consistently begrudge the reasonable amount we pay the seven people who run our civic government.  Some do work harder than others; several have other jobs but, except for one, taxpayers get good value for their money.  Despite what Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison maintains, being a council member is not a part-time job.  He will say that he gives the job 120% – not true.

While these men and woman are entitled to a small increase you won’t hear a word uttered by any of them about what they are paid, which is really poor management.  They are worth more than we pay them and that has to be recognized.

Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman can be smooth as silk and tough as nails – he chooses which he wants to be to suit his purpose. The original bluster we saw during his first year in office has moderated a bit.

It is time for the Mayor to create another commission and give that Commission the task of setting a remuneration level for council members for the next term of office which will begin in late 2014.  That Commission should be renewed every four years with the task of setting the remuneration level for the council that will be elected each term.

Currently council members are given a $9000 expense allowance (there are rules in place on what they can spend those funds on); the Mayor has a $31,300 expense budget.  Goldring tends to not spend much of his expense allocation.

All seven members of Council are provided with a parking space and participate in the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement fund the way any other city employee does.  They get all the health benefits every other employee gets.  The Mayor is also provided with a leased vehicle.  Every member of Council is provided with a cell phone.

Mayor Rick Goldring: He doesn’t hunger for power, he doesn’t have a politically motivated agenda – but he does want to see a better Burlington; a city he loves – the city he has lived in all his life.  Nothing complex about the man.

If you think these are easy jobs with decent pay and worth taking a run for – give that a second thought.  It is a hard job and the people who do it aren’t paid well enough.  Some like the power and the public exposure the job gives them – and they certainly do have power locally.  They get to make decisions that directly impact the quality of the life you live in this city.  They also get to advocate and push ideas of their own.  Dennison pushes for more bicycle use; Taylor is going to die defending the Escarpment.  The Mayor, mis-guidedly at times, wants better ideas for the city and will give more than most on the environmental issues.

There was a time when people ran for public office because they genuinely wanted to “serve” – they still tout the term but there is less “serving” today than there was 20 years ago.

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