BLOG #706: While many Londoners are enjoying a well-earned summer vacation, city council is meeting this week to discuss increasing member’s expense budget by 71 per cent – just because they can.
London, July 23, 2012
It’s a oft-used tactic in Ottawa and at Queen’s Park: When the government has to deliver negative news, drop it late on a Friday afternoon when most of the media heavy-hitters have gone home for the weekend.
City council doesn’t have quite the same opportunity. But you might characterize sliding a decision sure to rile a sizeable chunk of the citizenry onto the agenda in mid-summer about the same way.
And that’s certainly the case with the recommendation coming to city council Tuesday night from the finance and administrative services committee to raise individual expense accounts for councillors to $15,000 from the current $8,750.
That’s a 71.4 per cent increase. Wow! For the 14 council members that’s a total of $87,500. And when you add the $40,000 extra the mayor got this year, plus the increase council got last year, this gang is costing us as much as the 19-member council did before board of control was eliminated.
So much for saving money.
Perhaps ironically – with this bunch you never know for sure – the proposal to jack up expense accounts is on the same agenda as the third attempt to set a budget target for 2013. The mayor is pushing for another zero increase.
Two previous votes, held on nights when a zero supporter was missing, have drawn 7-7. If everyone is in his or her seat Tuesday night, zero will almost certainly pass despite warnings this will likely result in service cuts and perhaps significant layoffs.
Now there may be a good case why our councillors need extra expense money. Unfortunately – perhaps shamefully – the governance working committee which made the original recommendation hasn’t tried very hard to make it, leaving citizens in the dark about why a job that surely hasn’t changed that much in two years is suddenly costing us so much more.
The official justification offered you can find in Appendix B of this document.
The report argues council members get lots of phone calls, emails and requests to attend functions. They claim to attend on average two meetings a week for a total of 12 hours and they deal with, or are supposed to, any number of constituency matters. For this they are paid about $32,000 a year, one-third of which is tax free.
Has that work load increase 71.4 per cent over two years?
Also, councillors are part of the new ‘At Your Service’ corporate mission. But in all honesty, are you getting any better service from your councillor than you got last year?
Are you getting 71.4 per more service?
At least week’s finance and administrative services committee meeting, acting city manager Tim Dobbie was trotted out to defend the hefty ask.
“You are the poor cousins of large city, single tier councils,” said Mr. Dobbie, whose hefty contract with the city end shortly. “If I look at Ottawa, Hamilton, Toronto, you are absolutely way behind. Hamilton, for example, has an executive assistant for each member of council. They all have offices at City Hall, they have a receptionist, a supervisor, they have communications help, IT help. I know this is an unpopular thing to vote for, but I have no difficulty in supporting it.”
London council also has a receptionist and administrative assistance – four full-time people in fact. They all have offices. The proposal on the table Tuesday night would add communications and IT help too.
Not for the first time, city council seems to be having difficulty realizing it should be working to the same rules it is imposing on everyone else paid on the taxpayers’ dime. And that rule is, whether you like it or not, learn to get by on less.
And really, council should not be in charge of its own compensation. Its pay, expenses and even its City Hall amenities should be determined by a panel of citizens from the community, representatives of the people for whom council works.
This proposal has been made before to council. They seem less inclined to believe this suggestion has merit.
NOTE TO READERS
With city council on a reduced schedule until September and City Hall thinned by summer holidays, The McLeod Report is on a reduced schedule until after Labour Day. The report will be published once a week, usually (but not always) on Monday – unless urgent issues dictate otherwise. You can also find a second print version of The Report Thursdays in London Community News.