What a yucky topic to talk about. So how did we get here, where are we and what has happened?
Let me pause for a second and tell you something you may not know. When I ran for council, I didn’t think that I would be successful. I am so honoured that my community elected me to represent them, but even up to Election Day, I didn’t think I would win. I knew that I had done well, and on the way to the London Convention Centre, my husband asked me what I was going to say. I told him that I was going to say “I am so proud of the work that I am done and that I took away some of the votes that the incumbent would have received. This is going to make the Councillor for our ward have to work really hard for our community over the next four years, and I am happy for that.” I could tell by the signs and the community response that I was going to make a dent, and really open up the community’s eyes to the fact that Ward 10 wanted more from their Councillor. I was going to effect change even by losing. Instead, on October 27, 2014, I was as surprised as anyone when I was elected to represent my community.
Now, let me be clear, when I took this position, I knew full well what the stipend was to be a councillor. I did not come into this position with a mandate from the public or a personal will to create a change in compensation for councillors. In all honesty, I would do this job for free. I love it, and I love helping my community and changing London to be a more positive place for everyone.
Government is slow, but change is happening in our community. We are a leader in many things across this country, and that is good. We are going to keep working at elevating London’s status, and demonstrating how respectful and fulsome debate can lead to policy change that helps Londoners. We are not here to create jobs, we can’t. We are here to govern and to set the policies which impact our city, and our city’s reputation. Those changes, when positive, elevate our reputation and in turn will continue to help our local economy grow. We will become the go to city. The place where people and businesses want to be, and that is what will help our economy, our community, and our children to have a positive future.
Let’s get back to compensation. Can you think of anything more embarrassing to discuss? How do we truly evaluate what the role is worth? As I said, this is a yucky topic. I don’t want to talk about it. Most of my colleagues don’t want to talk about it. The fact is that the committee I chair, Governance Working Group was tasked with talking about it.
At the Governance Working Group we heard from the past chair of the Council Compensation Task Force. I took from his statements that the task force felt that it was a waste of time. They volunteer many hours, only to have politicians shoot down recommendations. I don’t know that I want to ask our citizens to make recommendations just for us to stand up and politicize it. Politically it’s very easy and gets a lot of “points” for any politician to stand up and say “I knew what the stipend was….” or “I’m not giving myself a raise”. At the end of the day, I don’t “need” an increase. My family has made many adjustments and we are doing just fine. We will experience a loss of about $100,000 in income over the course of four years should I continue the leave from my job. This is no small sacrifice for my family, but we are happy to do it and serve Londoners. We made the decision for me to take a leave because I knew that to serve the community in the way that they need, I needed to be available to the community.
Unfortunately there are many good and qualified people who could not make such a sacrifice. They are precluded from serving their community in the way that I am able to. This is not right. This is the policy decision that needs to be fixed.
London is a big city. Compared to the other big cities across Canada we do not compensate our Councillors as such. If we want to continue to be seen as a big city, we need to make the changes that are going to put us there. I can point to other cities which have stipends that are reflective of the role, and have the resources to serve their communities to the fullest. London does not. We are limited in resources, and many of us are working long hours to do the preparation and research that is required to make good decisions. Do you know that the only thing that Councillors are required to do, once elected is to show up to a council meeting once every three months? That’s it. As long as you show up ONCE every THREE months, you continue to get your stipend. In the past we have seen Councillors who do the bare minimum. Who pick up an agenda on the way into their meeting, speak without reading the reports, and leave. They are not accessible to the community. They are not thoughtful or researched in their decision making. This is not good governance. It is however one of the consequences of improper compensation. When we cannot compensate individuals to a degree that allows them to fully focus on the job before them, they are forced to split their attentions.
This brings me to the motion I brought forward last night. I intentionally stated, before introducing this: “Colleagues, here is a motion for your consideration”
Here is the motion I moved last night:
October 26, 2015 – Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee
Agenda Item #4
Moved by: V. Ridley Seconded by: J. Zaifman
That, the following actions be taken with respect to the remuneration for the Councillors:
- a) the Civic Administration BE DIRECTED to report back with the necessary amendments to Council Policy 5(32) Remuneration for Elected Officials and Appointed Citizen Members, to:
- i) provide for the adjustment of the Councillors’ remuneration to reflect the average salary compensation of Councillors in Canadian Municipalities whose population is between 300,000 – 700,000;
- ii) provide for the annual adjustment of the Councillors’ remuneration to ensure that the remuneration ratio remains consistent with the median income of Londoners;
iii) the adjustment noted in i) above come into effect December 1, 2015; and
- iv) Councillors to have the option of applying the increase provided for in i) and ii) above, for the period of December 1, 2015 to November 30, 2018, to the Council Members’ Expense Account to allow for the purchase of additional contract assistance and support; and,
- b) the Civic Administration BE DIRECTED to make the necessary amendments to Council Policy 28(2) Council Members’ Expense Account to reflect the change outlined in a) iv) above.
So what does this mean?
Here it is:
Hey colleagues, I don’t know if a task force is the right way to go. Perhaps our staff could give us a report that shows what the average salary is.
Once we get that report, we could decide to implement changes now.
Instead of talking about this time and time again, once we find the number, why don’t we say let’s not talk about it again, and let’s change it annually based on the local economy. If London’s economy is doing great – it will go up. If our economy goes down it will go down.
If people don’t want to implement whatever change we decide on, then they can put the extra into their expense account – they can use that account to pay for additional staff to help them do the work that needs to be done. If they don’t use that money, it goes back into the general purse.
My intent was to start a discussion. There are many ways we could do this, and this was one suggestion, which I stated to my colleagues was open to amendments. If there is a better formula – put it out there. We could tie it to the number of voters, or a ratio of other public offices. We could tie it to the median wage of Londoners, or of City of London Workers. If you want to implement it for the next term of council, make the change. It is neither here nor there for me if the change is implemented now, or later. The amount is to be determined. Once we received the information from our staff, we would be able to have a discussion, and engage the public. We could then make a decision, which would allow us to not have this conversation over and over again, because hopefully we would get the number right. It would mean a change, and that was going to be hard politically. I am not naïve in this, but I believe that getting this right once and for all is the right thing to do. Once that happens we can stop having the embarrassing conversation. Over, and over again. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Since last night, already I have received feedback. Positive, negative, and other. I pride myself on being open to receiving feedback from you. In fact that is a principle that I ran my campaign on. I am here to represent you, my community. Please, provide me with your feedback. We are not always going to agree, and that’s ok. I am open to changing my position, and representing the will of the community. Without your feedback, I can’t do that.
So here is where we are at: this did not go to a vote last night, instead there was so much discussion, we referred it back to the governance working group to be discussed. We will determine how we are going to look at compensation. We will again have this yucky conversation. Let’s do the right thing, in the right timelines. Then let’s not do this again.