Talkin ‘Bout Remuneration (Part II)

Editor’s Note: 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, to research some of the remuneration (and related) issues council has dealt with over the years. Part I covered the very first pay controversy, which pre-dated the official launch of the CBRM. This week, we look at some of controversies from the terms of John Coady and David Muise.

 

Term extension

When last we saw our CBRM councilors, it was early 1996, and they had just voted 14-2 to reject a citizens’ committee recommendation to trim their own salaries, which the committee had determined to be “too high,” compared to salaries paid elected provincial officials and salaries paid municipal councilors in similarly sized Canadian cities.

Northside councilor Murray Johnson told Mary Ellen MacIntyre of the Chronicle Herald on 11 January 1996 that he had rejected the cut “because the sacrifices we make and the amount of hours we work far outweigh the compensation we receive.” Johnson, MacIntyre noted, was a junior high English teacher who had taken early retirement to devote himself full time to the job of regional councilor, which was then (as it is now) part time.

John Coady, election night 1995. (Vaughan Merchant photo, Cape Breton Post)

John Coady, election night 1995. (Vaughan Merchant photo, Cape Breton Post)

The question of salaries settled, council seems to have focused on the business of running a seriously indebted, amalgamated municipality, because the next kerfuffle I ran across in my research didn’t arise until the fall of ’96, when Mayor John Coady floated the idea of extending council’s term instead of holding elections after 26 months, as had been planned.

Coady confirmed for Sharon Montgomery of the Post (in an article dated 8 October 1996) that there had been “discussions off and on about changing the date of the municipal election, scheduled for October 1997, to coincide with Halifax.” (The Halifax Regional Municipality had been established on 1 April 1996 with elections scheduled for 2000) But Coady said there had been no formal resolution passed by council.

The issue continued to make headlines for the next few days, with local “political contender” Kaz Siepierski telling the Herald‘s Tera Camus that mayor and council are “trying to save their necks for another three years” and that he was prepared to take them to court if they delayed the election.

Then a Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) spokesperson told the Post that the CBRM actually had made a formal request to push the election back to 2000. Coady denied any “formal action” had taken place but acknowledged he’d had “some communication on the subject with Minister Jim Smith.”

Councilor Jim MacEachern told the Post that if the mayor had written a confidential letter to the minister regarding the election date, he wanted to know under whose direction, telling Montgomery, “There hasn’t been any dialogue, discussion or debate by council.”

On 12 October 1996, the Post‘s John Campbell reported that the question had been put to Premier John Savage during an interview with the newspaper’s editorial board and Savage had put the issue to bed, saying he had no plans to match “the 26-month Cape Breton council term to Halifax council’s five years.”

“We’re not going to alter that term, he said, adding that comparing the Halifax and Cape Breton terms is comparing “apples and oranges.”

Savage said that was because Halifax voters voted based on a five-year term whereas CBRM voters voted based on a 26-month term. The article continues:

Deputy Mayor Clarence Prince said it doesn’t bother him one way or the other but added it would have been nice to have the term extended.

Prince said while the question was never brought before council it was discussed informally among councillors at a brain storming [session] about six months ago at the Canadian Coast Guard College, in Westmount.

Coady then told the Post‘s Chris Hayes any thought of extending council’s term had been dropped in light of the province’s opposition.

And that was the end of that.

I realize this issue had nothing to do with compensation directly, but in a way, it does, in that in discussing (however informally) extending its term, council was discussing extending its remuneration — which councilors would collect for five years, instead of 26 months. And in this case, it’s worth noting, the discussions did not take place in public.

 

Sour grapes

The next remuneration conflagration flared up in August 1997, when Mary Ellen MacIntyre reported in the Chronicle Herald that Councilor Ron Burrows was demanding the early resignation of Mayor John Coady.

Coady, who had already announced he would not be re-offering as mayor in October, had accepted a position with the Cape Breton-Victoria District School Board as co-ordinator of the Northside Learning Centre, a job he was scheduled to begin in September. Burrows argued the mayor should step down rather than holding down two posts for the weeks prior to the election:

“This is an economically starved area and he’ll be getting two big salaries,” Mr. Burrows said.

“I say that’s wrong and I think the public will agree with me.”

MacIntyre noted that Coady was paid $83,000 a year as mayor and it was “believed” that his salary with the school board would be “well over $50,000 a year.”

The mayor himself dismissed Burrows’ concerns as “sour grapes” and told MacIntyre that despite holding two jobs in September:

I’ll probably be in my office more than anyone else in the upcoming weeks. Everyone else will be out campaigning. I’ll be in the office on a regular, if not daily, basis.

(Of course, as the mayor, i.e. the only full-time elected official in the municipality, Coady should have been in his office more than anyone else, but why let details like that intrude on your righteous indignation?)

Burrows vowed to present a motion at the next sitting of council (on August 26) to force the mayor to resign. I looked up the minutes from that meeting, anxious to see how things had gone, and discovered that rather than calling on the mayor to quit, Burrows had instead moved (seconded by Councilor Gerard Burke) that:

…the CBRM offer to supplement the Mayor’s teaching salary up to his current salary as Mayor, rather than pay the full amount while he is employed elsewhere.

But Burrows’ motion was ruled out of order after Regional Solicitor Robin Campbell was consulted and advised that:

[T]he salary for the Mayor and Council are set for the term of Council and approved through the budget process. In reference to the resolution as worded, Council does not have the power to supplement a salary which is paid by another employer.

The matter apparently ended there, so I presume the mayor performed two full-time jobs (and collected two salaries) for the last weeks of his mandate.

 

Downsizing

Dave Muise

Dave Muise

The October 1997 municipal elections brought in Dave Muise as mayor, returned 13 of the 17 incumbents who ran to office and added seven new faces to council.

Also new in 1997, the CBRM went online:

Welcome to the Cape Breton Municipality home page. Since our inception on August 1, 1995, our municipality has gone through many positive developments. We are very exited [sic] to be part of the World Wide Web as we live in a world interlaced by multimedia.

But the 1997 elections also included a plebiscite in which 69.3% of voters expressed support for downsizing CBRM council. A boundary review committee was struck and met for the first time on 26 May 1998, during which it decided that, given the strong feeling in favor of downsizing expressed by citizens, the committee should include as many as four of them in its ranks. As it happened, the first call for applications produced precisely four (two of them from former municipal office holders). A second call was issued, nine additional responses were received and, as a result, three citizen members joined the committee in October 1998. The committee met regularly for the following seven months.

In a story dated 26 May 1999, the Chronicle Herald‘s Tera Camus reported that CBRM council had voted (based on the recommendations of the boundary committee) to reduce its size from 21 councilors to 16 (plus a mayor elected at large). The next step was to present council’s recommendation to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) in time for the 2000 elections. The board held hearings on 5 and 6 October 1996 during which Robin Campbell, the CBRM solicitor, presented on behalf of the municipality while Councilors Dannie Hansen, Vince Hall and Ivan Doncaster as well as Scott MacLean, one of the citizens on the boundary committee, presented on behalf of themselves. Mayor Muise also presented.

According to the UARB decision:

The Mayor, some councillors and one party at the hearing (Scott MacLean) would prefer to have a smaller council.

In fact, the Mayor actually advocated for an 8-10 member council, suggesting the 21-member version was “unmanageable.” (The UARB decision notes, rather dryly, that “[c]ertain witnesses expressed surprise at his presentation.”)

In the end, the UARB approved the CBRM’s official request, as presented by the solicitor, to reduce council to 16 members.

Again, I realize this wasn’t a straight-up question of remuneration (although it was for the five councilors who would not be returning) but it was a question arguably even more delicate than that of pay and it was discussed in public.

 

Mayor Morgan

The boundaries were re-drawn and CBRM residents went to the polls in 2000 to elect a mayor and 16 councilors.

A “young Sydney River trial lawyer” named John Morgan defeated David Muise — and “Devco union boss Steve Drake, former Citizens in Action spokesman John MacMullin, environmental technologist Anna Curtis-Steele, Gail MacKinnon (wife of CB West MLA Russell MacKinnon) Sydney businessman Alan Nathanson and Donnie (Fuzzy) Bacich,” as Tera Camus reported in the Herald on 22 October 2000.

We’ll take up the issue of remuneration during the Morgan years next week.

 

 

 

 

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