The big question this election campaign

The big question in this year’s municipal election race is will anyone challenge Lyn Hall for the mayor’s chair?

Conventional wisdom says anyone seriously considering a challenge should have announced their intention to run long before now. With the election moved up a month (October 20), the campaign period is much shorter and anyone wanting to unseat Hall will have to do a lot of campaigning.

That doesn’t mean the campaign isn’t without interest or issues. So far we have nine candidates putting their name forward for eight seats on council, so we will have at least two, possibly three, new faces on council.

And the high priced help at City Hall is shaping up to a major issue, even though residents seem generally pleased with the current council and how it has managed to get things moving in town. But, oh, the high-priced help.

There are two issues a play here.

It was a jaw-dropper for most us earlier this year when we learned that senior management was paid overtime for the work they did during last year’s wildfires. I, like a lot of people, have been a salaried employee for most of my life and getting paid overtime just didn’t happen. Time off in lieu was usually the method of compensation. Exempt staff at the city, however, are entitled to benefits under the Exempt Employee Overtime Administrative Procedure, which pay out cash. According to the Citizen, that works out to $235 per hour for city manager Kathleen Soltis who booked 70 hours of overtime.

The second issue at play is a consultant’s report recommending Soltis get a 15 per cent pay increase.

Hall gave a political answer to these questions last week when he announced he would seeking re-election.

He said it will be up to the next council to determine whether it wants to review those remuneration policies.

Coun. Brian Skakun, however, was very blunt, and direct, in where he stands on what has transpired.

“If re-elected I will look at the entire compensation package of senior admin and will not support a 15 per cent wage increase for the city manager,” he posted on Facebook this week.

“… City Hall has remained silent on the important issues and council is left to fend off questions and issues on its own without administrative communication support,” “There needs to be improved communication between the city council and the city manager.”

He is upset that council, like the public, has to wait until the annual Statement of Financial information is posted in late June to get the information about staff overtime.

Council candidate Dave Fuller, who makes a living going into analyzing businesses, highlighted the overtime to senior staff as an issue when he announced his candidacy.

“Taxpayers are paying for salaried employees to take overtime,” he said. “That’s a big issue for people and it’s something that, if I get in, I’m definitely going to take a look at.”

Other candidates haven’t weighed in on this issue yet, but they will certainly be asked about it. Newcomers will have an easy answer because they can say they will look at it. Incumbents, however, will have a tougher time because this has happened under their watch.

When this council took over, it reorganized the senior structure at City Hall, which meant many of the senior managers are making a lot more now than they did three years ago.

Here’s how the wages for senior staff breaks down over the past three years (bear in mind that roles have changed and the 2017 amount includes the overtime):

  • Kathleen Soltis, city manager: 2015 – $223,415; 2016 – $239,983; 2017 – $284,480.
  • Dave Dyer, general manager of engineering and public works: 2015 – $153,741; 2016 – $185,637; 2017 – $208,218.
  • Gina Layte Liston, director of engineering and public works: 2015 – $149,392; 2016 – $173,485; 2017 – $203,207.
  • Adam Homes – director of engineering and public works: 2015 and 2016 (not listed),  2017 – $155,771.
  • Rob Whitwham, general manager community services: 2015 – $178,496; 2016 – $189,243; 2017 – $212,661.
  • Walter Babicz, general manager administrative services: 2015 – $185,951; 2016 – $189,957; 2017 – $207,620.
  • Kris Dalio, director of finance: 2015 – $149,984; 2016 – $167,292; 2017 – $183,961.
  • Rae-Ann Emery, director of human resources: 2015 – $160,472; 2016 – $176,382; 2017 – $198,453.
  • Ian Wells, general manager of planning and development: 2015 – $178,060; 2016 – $199,156; 2017 – $210,299.
  • Rob Van Adrichem, director of external relations: 2015 (not listed); 2016 – $177,124; $199,911.