BY BILL PHILLIPS
The issue of wages and overtime pay for senior City Hall staff drew the most responses from council candidates at the first all candidates forum of the election season Tuesday.
The issue were the only topics that drew some interaction between candidates as several incumbents directly rebutted answers from former councillor Cameron Stolz.
“I’m certainly supportive of taking (the overtime pay for senior managers) policy back to the new council for review,” said Hall to the standing room only crowd at the library.
The issue arose in June when, through the city’s yearly release of financial statements, it was revealed senior staff were paid overtime for dealing with the influx of evacuees to the city in 2017.
Hall, whose challenger Willy Enns was a no-show, said that when it comes to salaries, the market will dictate what senior management receives.
“The trouble we’re seeing with salaries for senior management teams, and this is throughout the province, is the market is really dictating what we’re paying,” Hall said. “I’m seeing CEOs in much smaller communities that are making exactly, or just a few dollars less than what our CEO is making.”
The competition is difficult, he said, adding over the next term council will have an opportunity to look at overtime and salaries.
Council candidate Murry Krause said it’s important to acknowledge the current policy, regarding overtime pay, was adopted in 2011.
“Senior management did nothing wrong, they complied with policy,” he said, adding when he was president of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities the discussion was often around the difficulties municipalities have in recruiting and keeping senior managers.
The city, he added, has 800 employees in a political environment.
“It’s not an easy task,” he said.
Stolz also acknowledged that senior staff was only following policy. However, the issue is more complicated than that.
“Where (senior staff) got extra money is there are pay brackets that they are allowed to increase in after they’ve been there for so many years,” he said. “As each period of time goes by they get increases in those pay brackets. That’s on top of whatever they’re percentage increase for cost of living.”
He said the pay brackets need to be reviewed. He also said paying overtime for senior staff is the exception, not the norm.
“In my experience in retail, my managers get paid a salary and they get time off when they want it,” he said. “During Christmas they work extra hours and then they get time off in lieu. That’s pretty normal for most of us who work normal jobs. I would have expected the same approach for city council to take with their senior staff.”
The bigger question, he said, is why the senior staff were the ones who were managing the emergency services during last summers’ fires. He said in other areas the Red Cross and volunteers managed must of the emergency work.
That drew an response from Frank Everitt, who has negotiated many contracts during his working career, who said the overtime policy was a suggestion from the provincial government in 2011.
“(Time off in lieu) may be an option at (Stolz’s) operation as to what that is, but if people are entitled to overtime, it’s their choice as to whether they get the pay or take time off,” Everitt said. “That’s how the city dealt with it.”
He pointed out the city was in a state of emergency during the fires.
“We had people step up to the plate,” he said. “You can’t just put people into a position and say because we’re in a state of emergency you should do this work. You need to have qualified in place and doing the job.”
Brian Skakun said the overtime policy needs to be reviewed and that pay for senior managers should also have a performance aspect to it.
“Our senior managers are getting a lot of money and we expect a great performance for the dollars they get,” he said, adding the city has hired an emergency manager who did much of the work this year.
“I understand people were upset when they did all that volunteering and they found out people were getting paid the rates they were,” he said. “Our managers made some overtime money, but they could have volunteered too.”
The overtime policy needs to be reviewed, said Chris Wood, adding the first year was an extraordinary situation but the city should have learned and did things differently this year. As for pay, they should get a cost of living allowance.
He added there are plenty of people ready to replace the senior staff and council.
“If one were to leave, we have an applicant pool within town that can do that job,” he said. “If (a staff member) is going to leave because we did not give them a pay raise, were they really loyal to Prince George?”
Paul Serup said he would like to know the justification behind reclassifying many senior staff positions in 2016 which lead to wage increases.
“I don’t know if mayor and council were involved in the process and to what degree and if they were not, the question would be why they were not,” he said.
Terri McConnachie said the issue has certainly been a topic in the community.
“Last summer was an unprecedented crisis,” she said. “There was no blueprint how to mobilize and how to get this off the ground. There’s a lot more to running a city and then taking in 11,000 evacuees than one would initially think. It took an incredible amount of mobilization.”
The builders’ association will be holding another forum on October 9 at the Marriott and the Citizen, CKPG, and Prince George Chamber of Commerce will hold a forum October 16 at UNBC.