Talkin ‘Bout Remuneration (Part I)

Mayor Cecil Clarke’s contention that discussing council remuneration in camera (and treating elected officials as “personnel”) is a longstanding CBRM practice sent me scuttling to the “CBRM Mayor and Council” clippings file at the McConnell library this past week, where the first thing I discovered was that controversy over the remuneration of CBRM mayor and council actually pre-dates the CBRM.

The first mayor and and council of what we (bless our hearts) were then calling the new “super city” were elected on 13 May 1995. For those of you who were here, but have perhaps forgotten some of the details of that first post-amalgamation election; or those like me, who were away; or those who are too young to remember an election in 1995, there were six candidates for the mayor’s chair (including one woman, Anna Steele) and 104 candidates for 21 councilors’ chairs.

Source: Cape Breton Post

Scanning the newspaper coverage from the months leading up to the election, I noted a letter to the Post from longtime Sydney Alderman (but failed regional council candidate) John Nardocchio bemoaning the loss of all but 25 of his 85 election signs which “cost $5 each.” I read that one former County councilor, Winston Abraham, planned to follow up his failed regional council run by leading a campaign to have Cape Breton become the eleventh Canadian province. (“I’ve done some checking and I’m confident we can legally become a province.”) I noted that one mayoral candidate, Hayes MacNeil, reported having lost 20 pounds on the campaign trail while another, Glen Muise, spent election night in the Cape Breton Correctional Centre where he’d been remanded earlier in the month.

What I particularly noted, though, was that of the 22 pols elected on 13 May 1995, all but two had held elected posts in the CBRM’s constituent municipalities going into the election. Those two, according to the Post, were “Trout Brook Road farmer Dannie Hanson and insurance salesman Ray Paruch.”

Mayor and council were sworn in on 23 May 1995, but the CBRM did not become an official reality until 1 August 1995, when council met for the first time — in Centre 200.

 

Mayoral election advertisements. Cape Breton Post, May 1995 (Click to enlarge)

 

This meant that for roughly two months, most of the councilors were serving in two capacities — as councilors for the new “super city” and as councilors for one of the eight municipalities, and as Tracey MacDonald reported in the Cape Breton Post on 6 June 1995:

Since CBRM Councilors sworn in on 23 May 1995, there has been some controversy on whether or not the newly elected members should be receiving simultaneous pays for their old councils as well as the regional council.

MacDonald reported that Cape Breton County and Glace Bay councils had “both decided to disallow the practice, while Dominion members have a verbal agreement against accepting two pays.”

However, the rest of the municipal units with members on both councils – New Waterford, North Sydney, Sydney Mines and Sydney – either have not discussed the issue at all, or have not yet come to a decision on the matter.

MacDonald then quotes the Mayor of Sydney Mines, whose name will no doubt be familiar to you:

“We haven’t discussed the issue and we don’t plan to,” said Sydney Mines mayor and regional council member Clarence Prince.

“There is still a lot to be done in the winding down of council and if I work at two jobs, I expect to be paid for both of them. Double dipping is when people are paid twice for the same job,” he said.

Mayoral election advertisement. Cape Breton Post, May 1995

Mayoral election advertisement. Cape Breton Post, May 1995

North Sydney Mayor Mike White agreed with Prince, telling the Post:

“I had a talk with Sandra Jolly (minister of Municipal Affairs) on the meaning of this term and I think it has to be clarified — double dipping is taking two salaries for the same job and so I don’t consider what we are dong to be that.”

However, Minister Jolly (who, it was revealed in another Post story, had taken to referring to the amalgamated municipality as “Cape Breton Metro”) told the paper:

“I’ve made it very clear before that people working for this regional government should not be paid by both councils and I’ll be very surprised if any members do,” said Jolly. “It is not generally accepted by the public.”

A week later, Mayor White had had a change of heart (sort of), according to a 13 June 1995 story by the Post‘s Chris Hayes:

Mike White won’t draw his pay as mayor of North Sydney for two months while he is also being paid as a regional government councilor “even though he doesn’t think it’s wrong.”

It’s not politically expedient to accept the $2,000 payments for June and July, although it would be morally and legally right as far as he is concerned, said White.

“The political fallout isn’t worth it,” he said on Monday, “so I’ll serve in the position of mayor for free.”

He blamed the CB Post for creating the impression there would be something wrong with it.

Sydney Mines Mayor Clarence Prince was not available for comment.

Fast forward a month and the question still hadn’t been entirely settled, with Hayes reporting on 20 July 1995 that Sydney Mines Councilor Murray Johnston “hasn’t decided” if he will accept payments for serving simultaneously as a Sydney Mines town councilor and a regional councilor. Murray tells Hayes the regional council was dealing with “more important issues than whether he is accepting two salaries from two municipalities.” Sydney Mines Mayor Clarence Prince also “declined to discuss the question.”

By that time, as Hayes reported, Sydney Mines was an outlier as the Cape Breton County, Sydney, Glace Bay, New Waterford and Dominion councils (which accounted for most of the 22 officials elected to the regional council) had “ruled [double dipping] out by motion or formal agreement.”

Unfortunately, the clippings trail goes cold here, so I never did find out if Johnston and Prince collected two salaries (but if I had to put money on it, I know where that money would go).

 

Out-of-pocket

The trail goes cold, in part, because the double-dipping controversy was replaced by another remuneration controversy.

The Province of Nova Scotia, which forced the amalgamation of the eight Cape Breton County municipalities, also established “salaries and stipends” for councilors and management. In the case of the mayor, that salary was set at $92,000. Councilors were to receive $30,000. At the time, the deputy mayor did not receive a higher salary but was given an additional $100 for any day he s/he filled in for the mayor.

Fax machine. (CC by SA 1.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0/deed.en via Wikimedia Commons)

Perks, 1995-style. Fax machine. (CC by SA 1.0)

During an 18 July 1995 meeting (one of a series of “council orientation” meetings leading up to the launch of the municipality), Councilor Jim MacEachern (seconded by Councilor Arnie Mombourquette), moved that a citizens’ committee be formed to review those salaries and stipends, but the motion was defeated.

At that same meeting, council voted to have staff order cell phones and fax machines for all councilors and to give each councilor a travel allowance of $5,000 for travel outside the CBRM.

Then, during a 27 July 1995 meeting of the corporate services committee (the minutes for which are not available online), council also approved a $40 per day allowance for “out-of-pocket expenses for Mayor and Council while traveling outside the Regional Municipality boundaries on Council business.”

These are the issues that sparked the next remuneration controversy:  just three days after the amalgamated municipality was established, Mayor John Coady was in the Post defending these council “perks.”

Historical references to “modern” technology are inevitably funny (they’re one of my favorite things) so I have to include Mayor Coady’s defense of the fax machine:

“We are in a day and age of modern communications,” said the mayor. “you’ve got a councillor in Port Morien, for instance, or Main-A-Dieu, or in North Sydney or Florence…you want to communicate with that person…you want them to read material you have — do you courier it to them or do you put it in a fax?”

The perks (and the salaries) needed to be approved by council during its first regular meeting, held at 7:00PM on 15 August 1995. (This, I would note, was the third Tuesday of the month, the date which had been set for regular monthly council meetings back when we used to have a set date for regular monthly council meetings. The meeting was held in the council chambers of the Regional Police Headquarters on Grand Lake Road — which had been the former County administration building —  as the Civic Centre in Sydney was undergoing renovations to accommodate the CBRM’s 21 councilors.)

That August 15th meeting began with a “minute of silence for deceased residents and former residents” of the CBRM “especially former political representatives and municipal employees,” after which councilors plowed through a number of issues (beginning with the province’s decision to cut funding to the Two Rivers Wildlife Park) before coming to the question of council remuneration:

Moved by Councillor [Mike] White, seconded by Councillor [Claire] Detheridge that Resolution RC2-Council Remuneration be referred to the Corporate Services Committee to determine Council’s jurisdiction before passing such resolution. Motion carried.

The Cape Breton Post reported the next day that White sent the salaries for review “on being told by Municipal Clerk Bernie White that it’s the opinion of legal experts that council did have final say on their salaries.”

Councilor White himself, according to the Post, “leaned toward a lower base salary with additional payments tied to committee attendance to give councilors ‘an incentive to show up.'”

But while they punted the question of their salaries to committee, council passed the $5,000 outside-the-municipality, receipt-based travel allowance and the $40 per day allowance for out-of-pocket expenses, for which no receipts would be required. The latter passed by a vote of 13 to 8 and the minutes note that “Councilor Ray Paruch went on record as strongly opposing the Motion.”

Council also, during that eventful meeting, elected Councilor Clarence Prince as deputy mayor, in which capacity, the Post noted, he would receive “extra daily remuneration of $100 for days he fills in for mayor.”

None of this went over particularly well with the public.

On 22 August 1995, the Cape Breton Post ran a story by John Campbell under the headline, “Council perks upsetting to seniors,” in which Dan Yakimchuk, chair of the Action Committee of the Cape Breton Council of Senior Citizens and Pensioners, stated:

There’s a need to immediately form a citizens’ committee to review the whole issue of salaries and perks.

What comes next is really interesting, in light of the current-day debate surrounding council remuneration:

[Yakimchuk] recalled that prior to the Aug 1 startup of regional government citizens were assured the $30,000 salaries ($10,000 tax-free) would be total remuneration.

Then councillors voted themselves an additional $5,000 in travel plus a $40 a day allowance for out-of-pocket expenses, plus fax machines and cell phones.

In fact, so poorly did all this go over with the public, by the end of August Mayor Coady was ready to resurrect the proposal rejected back in July, telling the Post’s Wes Stewart he would seek formal approval during the September council meeting to establish a citizens’ committee to “look at several monetary issues including salaries and remuneration for members of the regional council.”

 

Citizens’ committee

At the 19 September 1995 council meeting, the following resolution was introduced:

Source: CBRM 19 September 1995 Council Minutes http://laserfiche.cbrm.ns.ca/WebLink8/1/doc/1453/Page1.aspx

Source: CBRM 19 September 1995 Council Minutes (Click to enlarge)

 

I think it’s worth underlining here, again, in light of current discussions about council remuneration, that not only did the original CBRM Council discuss salaries in public, it appointed a committee of citizens to review those salaries.

Mind you, if you’re picturing (as I did, for some reason) a committee representing a broad base of CBRM citizens, meaning people from a variety of professions and wage brackets, you’re in for a disappointment. The committee, when struck, consisted of:

  • Chair: Gail Rudderham Chernin (lawyer)
  • UMWA District 26 Chairman Steve Drake
  • UCB President Jackie Scott
  • Regional Municipal Comptroller Francis Mullins
  • Retired teacher and community activist Greg O’Keefe

The committee mulled over 29 written submissions and 23 voice mail messages from citizens and two committee members even appeared on CJCB radio’s Talk Back to field public questions and commentary on the issue of remuneration. It also researched municipal stipends elsewhere in the province and across the country; salaries paid to provincial politicians; and capital and operating costs for “facsimile machines, beepers, answering machines, and cellular telephones.” On 30 November 1995, it submitted a report which was considered by council during a committee of the whole meeting followed by a special council meeting on 9 January 1996.

You can view the full report here (with thanks to Municipal Clerk Deborah Campbell-Ryan):

Council Remuneration_Advisory Comm Nov 1995

 

Highlights

The committee of the whole considered the citizens’ committee recommendations individually. I have reproduced the key ones below:

The citizens’ committee recommended that the deputy mayor should continue to receive $100 per day when filling in for mayor to a maximum of $3,500 per annum.

Councilor Hansen (seconded by Councilor Burke) moved that council accept the $100 per day recommendation but reject the ceiling. Council then divided the motion in two and voted on each part separately. It passed the recommendation to pay the deputy mayor $100 per day unanimously but it rejected the recommendation that there be a ceiling on these payments, with only Councilors Paruch, MacEachern and Mombourquette supporting a cap.

The citizens’ committee recommended that councilors be reimbursed for travel within the CBRM at the provincially-established kilometer rate and that the allowance be for one trip per day to a council or committee meeting.

The CAO clarified for council that the provincial kilometer rate was $0.297 per km and the CBRM was paying $0.301 per km, although the minutes don’t explain why kilometers were more expensive in Cape Breton.

Councilor Stubbert, seconded by Councilor Detheridge, then moved to accept the citizens’ committee recommendation and the motion carried, although during the discussion:

Some Councillors felt that there should be no allowance for travel to and from Council and Committee meetings, as it is comparable to traveling to and from your work place. In addition, some felt the one-third (1/3) tax free portion of the Councillors’ stipend is to cover local traveling expenses to and from meetings.

The citizens committee recommended “Councillors should not [emphasis theirs] be provided with cellular phones by CBRM.”

The committee nixed cellular phones as “convenient” but not “cost efficient” (and, rather presciently, not “private.”)

Less presciently, the committee noted that voice mail (google it, millennials, it will make you laugh) “costs approximately $3.00 a month” and is “an effective means of communication.” Councilors were advised to pay the $3 themselves and consider the expense “part of their one-third tax-free expense exemption.”

Council voted to accept the recommendation.

The citizens’ committee recommended that any councilor “living ten kilometres beyond a community service centre would be entitled to a facsimile machine at home, if requested” but that the machine should cost no more than $500.

The committee noted that the “initial cost of 21 facsimile machines is too high for CBRM” but that “five community centres are available throughout the Municipality with Wide Area Network (WAN) technology thereby allowing electronic transfer of documents and information to those locations.” Councilors were encouraged to use the Community Service Centres with WAN to pick up documents. (Shorter citizens’ committee: “Use the internet!”)

A “lengthy” discussion followed, during which it was noted that 10 councilors did not have “individual office space at a citizen service centre” and only three councilors live 10 km beyond such centers.

Ultimately, council voted to accept the recommendation.

What did they drive in '95? Who knows? But here's some guesses. Top: 1995 Buick Le Sabre. Middle: 1995 Ford Aerostar Minivan. Bottom: 1995 Chevy Caprice Classic

What did they drive in ’95? Who knows? But here are some possibilities. Top: 1995 Buick Le Sabre. Middle: 1995 Ford Aerostar Minivan. Bottom: 1995 Chevy Caprice Classic

The citizens’ committee recommended the $40 out-of-pocket expenses allowance be eliminated.

In its commentary, the committee noted it had spoken with Charles Campbell, the provincial municipal reform commissioner, and came away convinced that the drafters of Bill 63, the legislation that created the CBRM, intended “that receipts would be required.”

Council accepted the recommendation.

The citizens’ committee recommended that rather than providing a $5,000 per councilor travel budget, the CBRM should establish a global fund for travel outside Cape Breton of a maximum $50,000 per annum.

The committee recommended that any travel covered by the fund be approved by council; that a report be given to council upon the traveler’s return, that an expense form be required, that each councilor’s expenses be made public at least once yearly, that no credit cards be issued to CBRM councilors and that the fund cover travel outside the CBRM only.

CAO Jerry Ryan recommended they set an annual travel fund during the budget process each year.

Councilor Kavanaugh, seconded by Councilor Detheridge moved that the travel fund be global and that the amount of the fund be “a product of the annual budget process.” Several confused efforts to amend this motion later, it was adopted.

The citizens’ committee recommended that, effective 1 January 1996, the salary for councilors should be reduced to $28,000 per annum (a reduction of approximately 6%) and effective 1 January 1997, should be further reduced to $26,000 (a reduction of approximately 8%).

In its commentary on this recommendation, the committee began by noting that the job of councilor is considered to be a part-time position. The $30,000 salary, it said, was “too high when compared to similar-sized municipalities across the country” and “too high when compared with remuneration of Members of the Legislative Assembly; e.g. full-time duties, constituency size & population, travel requirements, etc.”

Councilor Mombourquette moved (seconded by Councilor Doncaster) to accept the recommendation of the citizens’ committee. A “lengthy discussion” followed during which 20 of the 21 councilors voiced their opinions.

And then they voted 14 to 7 against it.

Voting in favor of the salary cut were Councilors Morrison, MacDonald, Paruch, Mombourquette, Doncaster and White.

The citizens’ committee recommended that effective 1 January 1996, the mayor’s salary should be reduced to $86,500 per annum (a reduction of approximately 6%) and effective 1 January 1997, should be further reduced to $75,000 per annum (a reduction of approximately 8%).

In its commentary on this recommendation, the committee noted that a salary of $92,000 was “higher than other municipalities across the country with a similar population base, geographic area, Council size and operating budget” and that it was high “compared to remuneration of provincial politicians, specifically, Members of the Legislative Assembly, Cabinet Ministers and the Premier.” The committee also stressed the one-third tax free aspect of the mayor’s salary, noting that even after the cuts, thanks to this exemption, the mayor’s net pay would be greater than or equal to the net pay of the CAO.

Mayor Coady left the chair to move (seconded by Councilor Stubbert) that his salary be reduced 5% to $87,400 effective 1 April 1996 and a further 5% to $83,000, effective 1 April 1997.

The motion passed, although not unanimously.

(Following the committee of the whole meeting, council went into a special meeting where, citing the lateness of the hour, Mayor Coady suggested they vote to ratify all the recommendations approved during the Committee of the Whole meeting en masse, which they did.)

So, to recap: in response to public concern about its remuneration, the original CBRM council struck a citizens’ committee to make recommendations on the matter. While councilors accepted some of those recommendations, on the key question of salaries, they rejected outright the committee’s recommendation to cut their own and instead of cutting the mayor’s salary by the recommended 14%, they accepted the mayor’s proposal to cut it by 10%.

On the bright side: they did it all in public.

 

Next week: Remuneration, term extension and downsizing in the Coady and Muise eras.

 

 

 

 

The Cape Breton Spectator is entirely reader supported. Please consider subscribing today!