Council approves salary raise, debates level of engagement 

Councillors to receive $19,000/year based on 20 hours work per week

The debate over how much time Whistler councillors should be spending at their job and how much money they should make is not over.

At Monday’s meeting council approved a $1,000 pay increase for all six councillors amid a discussion which questioned their level of engagement in the job.

The pay increase, which brings each councillor’s annual pay to $19,000 based on a 20-hour workweek, also raised some concerns about the financial barriers to participating in public office.

Though four councillors spoke out about these concerns, only Councillor Caroline Lamont voted against the remuneration policy at Monday’s council meeting.

"It has nothing to do, in my opinion, in what I needed, this has very much to do with what I think the community wanted," said Lamont after the meeting. "I think our community expects council to be a little more engaged than I think some on council believe."

In early June a three-member committee made up of private citizens reviewed council’s pay. Based on interviews with council and comparative data from other communities, the committee recommended that councillors’ salaries be bumped up to $19,000, an increase of $1,000, while the mayor’s salary was to remain the same at $53,400.

They presented their conclusions to council at the June 20 meeting.

But as council set the policy on Monday night, the questions of increasing workload and their level of involvement in the job were raised again.

Lamont would have preferred the committee had come up with a model such as the one used in Banff, where councillors receive an annual salary as well as a fee for each meeting they attend.

"Right now (in Whistler) you could simply get elected and do nothing," said Lamont, adding that statement does not apply to the current council.

"Some of us really feel that we need to really understand the issues… (and spend) more than just five hours every Monday."

Other councillors echoed her concerns about the workload, which is only expected to grow in the lead up to the 2010 Olympic Games.

"I think we’re going into a highly active time," said Marianne Wade.

And Gord McKeever said he was disappointed with the committee’s results, adding the recommendations could have been a bit more imaginative.

His concerns are two-fold. Not only does the $19,000 salary fortify a barrier to participating for a significant portion of the population, it also sets up a situation where you have a council who doesn’t have the time or motivation to be highly engaged.

In short it’s a half a job with only a quarter of the pay packet he said.

But Mayor Hugh O’Reilly and Councillors Ken Melamed and Nick Davies thought the recommendations were appropriate.

Melamed said council could be more effective and efficient if they stayed on target and did not get caught up in the details of overseeing the municipality. If they focused on governance and setting policy he said it would solve a lot of the issues at the council table.

"Our job as councillors is to set policy," he said. "We have plenty of staff and we have the budget to support them."

Melamed also said the job, and its pay, will create barriers for some people to run for council. But he had to make sacrifices too to do the job.

"Yes, there are going to be barriers for some people," he said. "It’s not for everybody."

Davies said he hoped the committee would not think council critical of their report. He added that if council wants a big change, it has to come from the council table and not from a citizens committee.

He said: "The courage (to make change) has to be at this table."

But admittedly it’s a difficult topic.

"It’s an uncomfortable situation where you’re taking taxpayers money and telling them how much you think you should get paid," said Lamont.

In the end council approved the increased salary which will begin in the next term. Councillor Kristi Wells ensured that the salary would be reviewed at the end of the next three year term rather than in 2011 as originally proposed.

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