Maxed Out 

Process, process, process

Before I actually wade into this week’s column, whatever it might be about, I just wanted to pass on a personal note to Dave Brownlie and Doug Forseth, people I’m proud to collectively call "Boss". Guys, assuming I’m going to be working for you again this season – an assumption I never take for granted – I just wanted to let you know I’ve decided to give myself a raise. Effective when I return, my pay is going up 30 per cent, not whatever trifling amount you’ve decided the cost of living increase is for a guy like me who has gone as far in the organization as he can. I think in light of recent events on the municipal front, you’ll both agree 30 per cent seems modest. What can I say; I’m a modest guy. And I thank you in advance.

Oh, if only it were so easy. Of course, it is if you’re deciding your own remuneration. Which none of us are… except for the people we so gleefully elected to run Tiny Town last November.

Going boldly where no council has gone before, our current council – let’s call it the Bold, Brash Council, BBC if you prefer – decided they needed a 53 per cent raise in their honorarium, er salary. They also decided the mayor, who already made more than councillors did by a long shot, only deserved a modest 46 per cent pay hike. So they voted for it. All in favour, aye, all opposed… all opposed… going once, going twice. Wow, what a surprise, nobody opposed. Passed.

Those of you who pay attention to current affairs may have said to yourself, last week when this was reported in Pique, "Hey, didn’t council just get a raise?" Well yes, yes they did. Sort of. Last fall, during the heat of municipal elections, a remuneration committee recommended councillors get a $1,000 increase and the mayor not get any increase. I’m not sure what they had against the mayor but maybe they were miffed at Aloha O’Reilly’s premature evacuation. For the math-challenged, an extra grand would have only been a 5 per cent increase.

The council of the day – the Planning for the Future Council – recommended the incoming council do a review of their remuneration and do whatever the review suggested, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

The BBC, no fools they, took the hint. Instead of striking a committee of concerned – and dare I say, unpaid – citizens to review the review and make recommendations on remuneration, they took matters into their own hands. Literally.

At this point, it would probably be worthwhile to remind ourselves that the issue of council pay has, in the past, generally been reviewed by a panel of independent, appointed citizens. Not so this time around. The BBC formed a new Finance and Audit Committee. It was made up of councillors Nancy, Eckhard and Bob, two muni staff members and, let’s see, nobody else. Well now, isn’t that cozy.

So, what lessons are we to learn from this exercise in enlightened self-interest? We could surmise the last two citizen-led review committees, both of whom recommended modest pay increases, were largely comprised of misers who clearly didn’t understand the time and effort councillors put into their work, not to mention their intrinsic value. We could decide the myth of the 20-hour work week for councillors is simply passé and they need a big raise to compensate them for the time they’re putting into doing the job. We could, as easily, learn the wisdom of the old adage about not letting the fox guard the henhouse.

But none of those are really the most important point. Let’s face it, the money is chump change. An extra ten grand each and twenty-five large for the mayor doesn’t even add up to half a Jim Unit. We can barely build a bus shelter for that kind of money in this town.

The real issue is, once again, process. Faced with a right way to proceed and a wrong way to proceed, our elected officials unerringly chose the wrong path. And worse yet, not a single one of them stood up and said, "This isn’t right."

"THIS ISN’T RIGHT!"

Someone had to say it.

I don’t care if Parliament does it. I don’t care if the U.S. Congress does it. It isn’t right for elected officials to set their own remuneration. This isn’t a grey area. It’s wrong. Period.

More to the point, it underscores the disappointment a large number of people, myself included, are feeling about this council’s performance to date. It wasn’t that many months ago we were all feeling pretty jubilant. We’d elected new councillors who seemed more in touch with the mood of the people living here, councillors who, as candidates, all expressed a strong bias for open, transparent government and who placed a high value on citizen input. We’d elected a new mayor who had demonstrated a clear community commitment and who better mirrored the people he represented.

What we didn’t elect, and what it seems more and more like what we’re getting, is a form of imperial governance. While this council is actually deciding things – full marks for improvement in that area – it doesn’t seem to grasp the other half of the challenge of governing. Making a decision is only half the battle, guys. You have to sell the decision as well. No finer example of that truism exists than the P3 debacle. You made a decision. I’m certain it wasn’t made lightly. But you never sold the people living here, the people who elected you, on that decision. You never explained why it made sense. You never addressed the big, hanging questions around it. You ignored the opposition. You got your collective ass handed to you.

And the saddest part of that exercise in futility may lie in the letter Mike Wintemute wrote. It seems Mike was in favour of the P3 route. He was upset that his voice, and those who felt as he did, wasn’t going to be heard. He wanted the issue taken to referendum.

Well, Mike, so did everyone else. Everyone except for muni staff, who were taking their marching orders from council, and council themselves, who seemed to think they could pull a fast one by opting for the democracy-lite route, assuming those opposed could never conjure up the signatures required, let alone twice that number. Everyone wanted it to go to referendum in the first place. But the people who trusted us to elect them to office seem to have trouble trusting us on other issues. And even more trouble trusting us to understand how and why they come to the decisions they make.

I don’t understand where that mistrust comes from or why they don’t understand the importance of selling us – and I don’t mean those self-serving, full-page, misinformation ads – on their decisions. But with so many contentious issues coming up for decision soon, trust and selling are intertwined skills they’d better learn.

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