By Jason Menard
If you’re a casual outside observer of the City of London, you may think that the city is falling apart at its seams: job losses, closures, rioting in the streets, violence… So the time is right for council to give itself a raise, right?
Actually, yes. If the members merit it. And that review should be only the first step in recognizing that running this city actually requires a full-time commitment.
Last night, the city’s finance and administrative services committee voted in favour of keeping a 3.1 per cent pay raise, based upon the Consumer Price Index. And today – to be fair, last night as well – the hemming and hawing began in full force.
There are those who feel council shouldn’t get a raise with the city cutting services to meet its zero-per cent tax increase mandate; there are those who only feel comfortable with the idea, knowing that city staff finally received a raise back in January; and there are those who feel that council has been undervalued and deserves the raise.
Count me in the latter group – as long as the constituents in the Ward feel their councillors have lived up to their expectations.
It’s too easy and simplistic to say: No raises until X is solved. But, under that logic, we’ll always find a way to justify freezing wages. Deficit too high? No raise. Program cuts in the budget? No raises! City’s not perfect? No raises.
But we also have a responsibility to attract quality candidates and reward them for their efforts – like any good business. The way I see it, my councillor’s role is not to move mountains or solve all the city’s problems in one fell swoop. Instead, his or her role is to represent me and my neighbours to the best of his or her ability in council. A councillor’s role is to engage the Ward, solicit feedback, and ensure that the citizen’s best interests are being represented.
So let’s bring some business principles into council remuneration. Take away the voting for a blanket raise. Instead, set a bar and let the Ward members decide. What if the City set a five per cent maximum for council members’ raises. Then, through a city-wide survey, it solicits feedback from constituents? If council members are doing their job, it will be reflected in the results. It’s no different than 360-degree feedback in a business environment. You allow the city staff and mayor to determine half the raise; and you let the constituents speak to the other half.
It can’t be a popularity contest. The questions must focus on practices, not issues. Ask questions like:
- How easy do you feel it is for you to speak to your councilor?
- Do you feel your councillor effectively solicits the opinion of your Ward?
- Whether or not you personally agree with the political stance, how well do you feel your councillor represents your Ward’s collective interests before council?
Focus on engagement, accessibility, and advocacy – you know, the job our councillors are supposed to do?
An off-shoot of this is that once you start giving the citizens a say in the remuneration process, it’s going to incentivize community engagement for those councillors who see the ballot as the be all and end all. And you indemnify yourself from accusations that citizens “don’t know” what really goes on behind the scenes by allowing the mayor and the staff to reward that part of the job.
You have to be smart about putting together a survey of this nature. Obviously, you want to eliminate any questions that can be skewed by personal or political affiliation. This can’t be about whether you like your councillor’s politics, but rather whether or not you feel he or she has done the job they’ve been elected to do — representing the community.
That’s hard to do on a part-time basis, which is why the idea of full-time councillors needs to be addressed. After all, if we want this city to be efficient and run like a business then we need people who can prioritize the city – not make it something they do after work. It’s unfair to expect councillors to get more-than-full-time results with part-time hours and pay.
According to the London Free Press, council members will get about a $1,000 bump from $31,979 to $32,970, so we’re not talking about millions of dollars here. And until we realize getting to be the city we think we are requires a full-time commitment, it’s the system we have to work with.
But can we honestly say – and no disrespect to the existing councillors – that we’re actually attracting the best and the brightest? There are many people out there who would likely make wonderful Ward councillors, but don’t have the options or luxury to do it – or do it well. With a family, a councilor’s wage just won’t cut it. Having to balance a full-time job with family and the expectations of a city? Forget it.
That said, those who have the luxury or have chosen to make the sacrifice to represent our city in council chambers deserve to be rewarded for their efforts. And what better way to determine whether those efforts were successful than by asking the ward constituents themselves?
You want your city to run efficiently, like a business, then you have to start applying some business principles to it. Our system right now makes council a secondary responsibility to most councillors – their day jobs have to come first to make ends meet. I don’t know about you, but to me running this city shouldn’t be a hobby; it should be a primary focus.
Rewarding performance is a step in the right direction if it’s done for the right reasons; recognizing that the City of London is a full-time job would be an even better one.