Not quite ready for professional politicians

There are good things, and some not-so-good things, about city council’s decision this week to increase pay for their successors.

Firstly, Prince George council handles the delicate jobs of voting itself a raise in, probably, the best way possible. It picks an independent committee to examine the issue, which then makes a recommendation to council.

Council can then accept, or reject the recommendations. This year it balked at the recommendation of a six per cent increase for city councillors and dialed back a recommendation to move the mayor’s monthly car allowance from $300 to more than $1,000 … choosing instead to set it at $700. Four years ago it rejected any increase at all.

But most importantly, the increase (or decrease, as if that would ever be considered) doesn’t take effect until the new year, after a new council is in place. Granted, many of the same faces will be sitting around the table, but, technically, they aren’t giving themselves a raise. There is a possibility, however slight, that none of the nine people who voted Monday to give mayor a council a raise will be there next year to cash in on their own decision.

Not every municipality does this.

Now, on to one of the not-so-good items. While striking an independent committee is a great idea, one of the parameters given the committee isn’t so great. It seems that almost all things municipal are based on our neighbours. We always have to keep up with the Joneses and politicians’ remuneration is no different.

One of the large, determining factors is ‘what to similar-sized municipalities pay?’ As Coun. Jillian Merrick pointed out Monday, Prince George is the smallest of the group of municipalities that are used for the peer pool. That means we’re likely to be a little bit behind (except in senior staff salaries, which Citizen editor Neil Godbout has aptly pointed out this week).

One of the problems of continually being afraid of being something less than someone down the street, is that it leads to an ongoing game of leapfrog. Prince George increases remuneration because it doesn’t want to be behind Nanaimo … Kamloops then increases its remuneration because it doesn’t want to be behind Prince George … Kelowna then increases its remuneration because it doesn’t want to be behind Kamloops … then Prince George increases its remuneration because it doesn’t want to be behind because it doesn’t want to be behind Kelowna. And round and round it goes.

Why not take a more human resources-based approach to how we pay mayor and council? Rather than trying to match what someone else is paying, why not match the pay to the rigours of the position?

That leads more to the question Coun. Albert Koehler posed Monday: “Why are we here?”

Why not develop a ‘job description’ for the mayor’s position and for the councillor’s position and develop a compensation package accordingly.

I don’t think there’s much doubt that Prince George needs a full time mayor. The question is more surrounding city councillors and whether those positions should be full time, something Merrick has suggested for a long time, but other councillors not so much. After Monday’s decision, city councillors will receive $37,466 per year … for a lot of people that’s a full time job. What is often lost in the discussion, but thankfully was driven home by Coun. Terri McConnachie Monday, is that being on city council is a public service.

The whole idea of compensating city councillors, at least originally, was so that they weren’t out-of-pocket because of that public service. It should also be pointed out that most of the increase approved Monday was to compensate for a federal decision to, essentially, clawback a benefit that was afforded to politicians to, ironically, help offset out-of-pocket expenses. However, thirty-seven grand covers a lot of out-of-pocket expenses … and let’s not forget councillors can claim actual expenses on top of that 37K.

There’s no doubt there are a lot of demands on a city councillor and the time demands are enormous, but I don’t think I’m ready for it to taken over by professional politicians.