With Council member pay scale on the table – listen for the howls. The good ones are worth every dime we give them.

November 11, 2013

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  Early in 2012 city council decided they could no longer make fools of themselves when it came to accepting pay raises that had already been voted upon.  After deferring the actual accepting of pay raises more than once and then bickering over whether or not they should pay for the parking spots they get right outside city hall they threw the problem over to a Committee that would come back with a set of recommendations.  And by, did this committee ever come back with a solid set of recommendations.  A couple of the people on that committee might serve the city rather well were they to become council members.

The Committee made up of Fay Booker (Chair), Robert Bisson, David Tait, David Gore, Sheila White a representative from the city’s bankers and Diana Tuszynski who also sits on the Theatre Burlington Board.

Collectively they did a fine job.  They met six times during the five months they took to prepare their report and went beyond just setting the compensation for members of Council.  They suggest that the city Customer Service Team to develop a plan to educate the public on how best to deal with the City to resolve issues through the appropriate staff prior to contacting the office of the Mayor and Council.  Many tax payers will be surprised to learn that there even is a Customer Service Team.

We now know what a Committee of respected citizens think these people should be paid next year. How many of them will be around to collect those pay cheques?

The Committee wants to maintain the compensation for Councillors at $53,095 per year and the Mayor at $121,676 per year and adjust annually on April 1 by a percentage equal to the average annual change in the all Ontario consumer price index (CPI) for the twelve month period October to September with the provision that the increase is to have the following banding:

Mayor Goldring: Is there an event he won’t attend? He doesn’t have to get out to everything – but he usually does.

Any increase cannot be greater than the increase determined for budget purposes for non-union staff compensation;

No increase can be granted in the event the Ontario CPI amount is less than 1%;

Any increase cannot exceed 65% of the calculated Ontario CPI percentage;

When no increase is taken in a year, the amount cannot be carried over and aggregated in future years, that is, no carry-over of forfeited increases from any year to another.  

Rick Craven: Best committee chair the city has; not big on the warm fuzzy stuff through. Needs a hug badly.

This is a well thought out approach to paying the people who make the decisions.  It is fair, should the CPI rise significantly in any one year the would not see their pay rise at the same rate – they would be limited to just 65% of that increase.

Burlington Council members are also members of the Halton Regional Council.  They are paid a salary as Regional Council members that was $45,827.  and an expense allowance of $5,130 per term.

Meed Ward: She drives them all bananas and talks too much but she asks the questions and genuinely wants to see things changed. Not a member of the old boys club.

Each Council member has an administrative assistant, which the committee says should continue until at least 2017, when perhaps the new customer service process might lessen the need for those assistants.  Don’t expect that recommendation to go very far.  We have a couple of council members who couldn’t do their jobs without their assistants.

There is a need for one additional staff member to serve the Council members and that is a qualified research person.  The administrative assistants are clerical in nature.  Most of them do exceptionally good work but they are not trained researchers.  Municipal government is now very complex and the public cannot expect the people they elect to office to know everything.  Add a researcher to the staff compliment.

John Taylor; Dean of this city Council. Has announced his intention to run – why so early? Does he want to scare off any competition? Real competition might be good for him.

The parking perk stays as does the expense allowance of $32,000 for the Mayor and $9000 for each council member.  They cannot carry this allowance forward from year to year and they are being asked to show what they spent those expense dollars on.  No mention of miscellaneous being an unacceptable category.

The committee wants the current level of pension and benefits for Mayor and Council maintained and disclosed and described on the City’s website.

Dennison, on the left, explaining the budget to a resident. will Dennison be back at council next term? Not if the people in Roseland decide who is going to represent Ward 4 next term.

The Committee wants the Burlington Hydro Board to change the appointment of the Mayor to the Hydro Board and have that appointment rotated each term; and ask Hydro to provide no compensation to members of Council appointed and make a similar request to any other board that provides compensation to Council members appointed by Burlington City Council.

The Mayor was getting a fee for every board meeting he attended as well as a fee for committees he attended; double dipping at its worst and something the Mayor should have been ashamed of – the least he could have done was to give the money to some charity if he had to take a fee or just not cash the cheque.

Councillors Sharman and Lancaster – both first term members. Will they both be returned?

If compensation must be made then the payment should be made to the City of Burlington and added to the general revenues.

The City Clerk is asked to draft a Code of Conduct for members of Council which addresses, donations, fundraising, sponsorship, entertainment and the acceptance of gifts by members of Council as well a s other standards clauses included in Codes across the Province. The Code of Conduct for members of Council should not be less stringent than the Code of Conduct established for City of Burlington staff.

The Committee suggested that Council may, if it wished, adjust the calculated increase within the banding to a lesser amount than that determined while meeting the other provisions.

They should pull that one.  Given the rather foolish behavior on the part of this Council when they last talked about what they are to be paid – it is a mistake to let them have any say. 

A committee of respected citizens have come in with a fine report.  Adopt it as it is and add the final recommendation: that the Executive Director of Human Resources presents information on the compensation.

There is another re[port that this Committee might be asked to provide and that is a review of the size of the current city Council and a restructuring of the existing Standing Committee structure and a through review of the procedural bylaw that sets out how meetings are to be conducted.

This Council is too small and every Council member does not have to sit at the Region.  Burlington has seven seats on the Regional Council, which has a total of 21 members.  Burlington could increase the size of its Council to 10 and have the Mayor and six of the most senior Council members also serve at the Region.

We had three new Council members elected in 2010 and all had to get through a very steep learning curve as Council members.  To add a Regional role on top of that for an inexperienced Council member is pushing it.

Finally, get ready for the chorus of people who will stand up on their hind legs and howl at how much we pay these people for what should really be a part-time job.  It is a full-time job, these men and woman work hard.  Yes there are a couple who have other business interests; specifically Jack Dennison and Blair Lancaster.  Dennison feels he can run a major sports/health club operation and still serve his constituents as a council member.  Well, if you live in Ward 4 and want to see your Council member be prepared to see him at his Cedar Springs office – which is not professional.

It is a full time job, these men and woman work hard.  Yes there are a couple who have other business interests; specifically Jack Dennison and Blair Lancaster.When I want to see my Council member I want to see him at city hall.

It might be interesting to have each member of Council be available for evening meetings for people who have to work during the day.


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4 comments to With Council member pay scale on the table – listen for the howls. The good ones are worth every dime we give them.

  • Mr. Wonderful

    Pay levels for politicians are too low, and if the pay was higher there would be greater potential to attract higher quality political talent, especially for those individuals who have to rely on a salary to live a normal life and park career paths on a temporary basis. There are exceptions however, such as the Mayors of New York City and the City of Toronto, who do not work as politicians for the money. These roles need to be treated as being full time jobs.

    In theory, if you attracted more capable individuals, any incremental increases made to the current pay scale levels, would be more than offset by the savings made by better financial and business management in conducting City business. Take the recent pier expense losses for example.

    As for learning curves; if you attracted qualified individuals with strong business and political senses, the learning curve could be cut short. Pay more, and get better results.

    • Susan Lewis

      Oh, Mr. Wonderful. I respectfully disagree with everything you said.

      In my opinion, the pay level for politicians is where it should be. The last thing I would want is a “high quality” (?) politician. I’d rather have someone knowledgeable about our City who is attracted to the job because they CARE about our City, not someone who’s just in it for the paycheque or someone just using the job as a stepping stone to move into Provincial politics.

      As I see it, one of the main functions of a Municipal Government is to spend money, not to make a profit as is the main purpose of a business. The main problem is not how much we pay in taxes, it’s what they spend our tax dollars on. (The Pier comes to mind.)

      It’s been my experience that you often don’t get good quality just because you pay more.

    • Greg S

      I agree with you comments, Mr Wonderful.

      These are intensive full time jobs. Increasing the pay rate makes it a viable option for more people, which will increase competition. Keeping the pay low risks getting people trying to make money other ways (influence on property development, other business interests for example).

      Ms. Lewis suggests that we get someone who cares. I agree with her, but just because they care doesn’t mean that they will be able to do the job effectively. Let’s raise the bar, let’s get people who care and people who are extremely qualified with strong social and business acumen.

      It’s up to the residents of Burlington to make sure we don’t end up with someone who is just out for the pay cheque.

      Also, Ms. Lewis, if we had qualified people leading the show the pier thing wouldn’t have happened. Spending money and making profit are tied together. The less you spend the more you make. Many businesses operate with fixed revenue streams and rely on cost control to make a profit.

  • Joan Gallagher-bell

    This is a very insight filled article and should be mandatory reading for all Burlintonians. This will help all in an informed decision in October 2014’s election decision.
    This article will be distributed in my world.