Talkin’ Bout Remuneration Part IV

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. Part II looked at some of controversies from the terms of John Coady and David Muise and Part III at the first term of John Morgan. In Part IV, we’ll consider Morgan’s second term.


In this series, I’ve been focusing so closely on questions of remuneration that I haven’t addressed any of the other issues roiling the municipality during the period, but before we get into issues of council pay and expenses during Mayor John Morgan’s second term, I should point out that everything I’m about to recount unfolded against the backdrop of the CBRM’s dissatisfaction with its provincial equalization transfers and decision to sue the province (the suit was filed in 2004 and heard in 2007).

I haven’t done sufficient research to speak on this with authority, but Morgan’s electoral record — he proposed the legal approach to the equalization issue during his first term and was re-elected to a second term in 2004 with 80% of the vote; he launched the lawsuit and had it tossed out in his second term and was re-elected in 2008 with 82% of the vote — suggests the public supported his Constitutional campaign.

But relations between Morgan and the Council elected in 2004 seem to have started out rocky and stayed that way.


Per diem

Source: MileIQ

Source: MileIQ 

The first remuneration issue I ran across during Morgan’s second term arose as a result of a “corporate review” of municipal policies announced in January 2005 and undertaken over eight days that March.

During the March 11th session, Council reviewed its expense policy and changed one clause. The original read:

Local travel of an elected official to Council or Committee meetings is an allowable claim, but restricted to only one claim per day.

It was moved by Councilor Vince Hall and seconded by Deputy Mayor Claire Detheridge that council amend the clause by adding:

Or a weekly per diem of $140.00.

Reporting on the new policy in the Cape Breton Post on 15 March 2005, Chris Hayes noted:

Mayor John Morgan said Monday the former local travel policy was very restrictive.

“If you had more than one meeting on a day you couldn’t claim for both and if you were travelling to meet a constituent again you couldn’t claim for that,” he said.

Council voted 11-5 on Friday to include the $140 a week option in recognition of the “vast geographic size of some districts in the CBRM.”

During the debate on the issue, some councillors also raised the expenses they incur in their home office and the many charitable donations they must make, the mayor noted.

Although it’s not spelled out in the motion or in the Post, the per diem was to be (and has been) collected without the necessity of providing receipts. And although it has been the target of much criticism ever since it was instituted (and has been the subject of more than one abolition campaign), it remains in place to this day.

Other than introducing the $140 per week travel allowance, Council left its remuneration policy untouched during the corporate review of 2005 — mayor and councilor salaries would continue to be increased annually in accordance with “the lesser of the Nova Scotia Consumer Price Index or the lowest negotiated wage increase by a CBRM bargaining unit.” A policy that also remains in effect today.


“Day-long roasting”

CBRM Mayor John Morgan apparently.

CBRM Mayor John Morgan.

About two months later, on 29 April 2005 at 10 AM, CBRM Council met for what has to be one of the strangest sessions in the short history of the regional municipality. Writing about it in the Chronicle Herald the next day, Tera Camus characterized it as “a day-long roasting” of the mayor by a council critical of his “lone-horse leadership style.” Reported Camus:

Mr Morgan’s council put him on the hot seat on Friday under the guise of a personnel matter. But it wasn’t about hiring a secretary for councillors or even updating the impending lawsuit against the province over an alleged $20 million annual shortfall in equalization funding.

It was about Mr. Morgan not returning phone calls, or refusing to meet in private with council to discuss issues informally over coffee, something not permitted under the [Municipal Government Act].

Things kicked off with a motion (by Deputy Mayor Claire Detheridge, seconded by Councilor Richard Fogarty) to “meet in open session.”

The chair (Mayor Morgan) then advised:

…that there was no formal agenda for the meeting but noted that in a letter to the Clerk some Council members requested holding an In Camera meeting. He noted issues that he had heard referenced were not of an emergency nature. His suggestion is to hold a public session and advise the public what the positions and recommendations of Council are on the items.

The minutes then offer a “summary of the issues put forth by Council’:

Status of the Mayor’s relations with Council, Other levels of Government, Business Community,

Communication between Staff/Mayor/Council – i.e. – Mayor and Senior Staff should be more forthcoming with information

Update on Legal Action — CBRM/Province

Possible options as opposed to suing the Province

Memo put for by the Mayor re: Council Downsizing.

The minutes then record the response from Mayor Morgan and CBRM CAO Jerry Ryan:

Mayor is directly accountable to the electorate, not Council. the mandate from the general public strengthens the Mayor’s leadership role

Mayor can voice his own opinion and make the decision as to how to deal with other levels of government.

There appears to be a tendency for Federal Administrative Bureaucrats to use large amounts of federal dollars to fulfill political objectives i.e. ECBC/ACOA

History of ensuring that the Head of the Municipal Government — i.e. Mayor is left out of photo ops or receiving positive publicity.

Provincial and Federal politicians giving the public a false sense of turning the corner economically.

Issue of Council size and District Boundaries has been mandated and a review has to be presented to the Utility and Review Board of 2006.

Sadly, although there was “much discussion” of these issues during the meeting, the minutes don’t record any of the details, other than the CAO’s summation, which involves a reiteration of the sorry shape of the CBRM and the need to do something to stop the decline.

District 10 Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger

Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger

In the Cape Breton Post, on 3 May 2005, however, Chris Hayes reported that during the debate, Council Darren Bruckschwaiger accused the mayor of being “vindictive against councillors who wanted to have a meeting airing their concerns about him.”

And Tera Camus, reporting in the Chronicle Herald on 30 April 2005, provided some juicy details, particularly about the mayor’s difficult relations with ECBC/ACOA:

…Mr. Morgan made no apologies for bucking a political system in which many of his predecessors smiled, shook hands with federal and provincial officials and thanked them for chunks of cash for various projects while staggering unemployment and out-migration ravaged the region.

Mr Morgan said the federal Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation wields most of the power in Cape Breton, power that is open to abuse.

“A federal bureaucrat is using federal money to prop up an individual party,” Mr. Morgan said of Rick Beaton, the top ECBC bureaucrat who he alleged has approved millions of dollars for Liberal-friendly projects.

Anyone who speaks out against ECBC will be punished the mayor said – including businesses and community groups looking for government financial support.

“The whole community operates under a reign of terror,” the mayor said…

Mr. Morgan refused to attend a meeting of the ECBC-funded Cape Breton Business Partnership — whose member companies have received millions — and speak about how Cape Breton has turned the corner economically. Instead, he wrote a letter thanking the partnership’s leaders for supporting his opponent in the last election.

Coun. Frankie Morrison of New Waterford said an ECBC official asked him last fall to get coffee and doughnuts for 50 people to attend a news conference about the town getting cash for the Colliery Lands park.

About 10 minutes after Mr. Morrison told the ECBC official he had invited Mr. Morgan, the official cancelled the news conference and held a private photo shoot for one media outlet at a different location.”

Someday, I hope, someone will get all of this down on paper, but for now, we must tie ourselves to the mast, ignore the siren song of ECBC/CBRM disputes, and focus on what we’re talkin’ ’bout: remuneration.


Unpack those bags

Relations between mayor and council didn’t get any better in 2005 and were surely been behind the first real remuneration controversy I ran across in researching Morgan’s second term in office. More precisely, they were surely behind the public’s learning of the controversy, which arose in September 2005 as a result of a leaked memo from CBRM finance director Rick Farmer to Mayor Morgan noting that, four years into fiscal  2005-2006, Council had spent 85.5% of its long-distance travel budget.

Farmer warned that a “restriction on travel will be required to minimize the over-expenditure on the travel budget” until the end of the fiscal year March 31.

The Cape Breton Post’s Chris Shannon, the lucky recipient of the leaked memo, reported on September 13 that Council’s total annual travel budget was $25,000 which, divided among 16 councilors, meant average spending per councilor should be $1,562.

Those going “beyond overall allowable travel expenses,” reported Shannon, were Councilor Vince Hall ($3,884.24), Deputy Mayor Claire Detheridge ($3,186.2), Councilor Charlie Long ($3,686.95), Councilor Lee McNeil ($3,775.75) and Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger ($3,061.82), although the latter told the Post the figure was “an error.”
in long-distance travel expenses and $2,395.40

I checked the minutes of the September 2005 council meetings (on the 12 and 27 of the month) for any mention of the subject of travel expenses, but found none. Presumably, councilors had to confine themselves to travel within the CBRM for the remainder of fiscal 2005-2006.


‘Cup of tea’ meetings

Former Cape Breton councillor Vince Hall announces his candidacy for mayor of the Halifax Regional Municipality. (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

Former Cape Breton councillor Vince Hall announces his candidacy for mayor of the Halifax Regional Municipality. (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

The next kerfuffle to merit newspaper coverage arose in March 2006 and and was not about remuneration but did involve secrecy and the Department of Municipal Affairs so I would argue is germane to the current discussion.

It seems 12 of the CBRM’s 16 councilors had taken to meeting “behind closed doors without staff present” to discuss matters that would later come before the full council in open session. (Councilors Gordon MacLeod, Ray Paruch, Jim MacLeod and Frankie Morrison, along with the mayor, were the only ones not invited to tea.) The Post reported the gatherings had been taking place since the summer of 2005.

Word of the “cup of tea” meetings broke when a March 5 email from Councilor Vince Hall, inviting 11 of this fellow councilors to “share a cup of tea” with him after a protective services committee meeting on March 7, leaked. Greg MacVicar of the Chronicle Herald reported on 13 March 2006 that among the issues Hall suggested they “should discuss informally” among themselves were “future budget deliberations, travel expenses, a subsidized cat spay/neuter program and local entrepreneur Marty Chernin’s proposed condo development in Sydney’s north end.” This particularly “tea party” was apparently canceled due to a scheduling conflict, but MacVicar noted that Hall had held such meetings before, as was made clear in the concluding line of the email:

Please note that my distribution list for the invite is inclusive of those who have participated in past privileged dialogue among us.

Mayor John Morgan wrote to Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations Minister Richard Hurlburt to complain about the meetings. MacVicar quoted from Morgan’s letter to Hurlburt, which stated:

You will please note that Coun. Hall sets out a tentative agenda which covers issues that are not within the list of topics (for) which a council is permitted to meet in camera under the (act).

We ask that you and your staff review this matter closely and provide your opinion as soon as possible on whether such meetings are permissible or in fact lawful under the governing legislation.

We are greatly concerned that all council issues will be debated by a majority of council behind closed doors and once, or if, those issues are properly brought to a public council session, the decision on any issue will already have been made.

The Post‘s Chris Hayes picked up the story on April 10, reporting that Councilor Hall, “a vocal critic of the mayor,” had written his own letter to Hurlburt stating:

…the minister’s involvement wasn’t necessary because the councillors have a right to meet informally as guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Hayes then quoted an unnamed spokesperson for the Department of Municipal Affairs who said the meetings were “an internal matter for the CBRM’s legal department.”

Regional solicitor Robin Campbell was asked by Morgan to look into the issue that has publicly plagued council for more than a year.

Campbell would only say he’s formalizing a report that will be sent to all council members.

Campbell then added — and remember, the problem under consideration here is one of council secrecy:

“I’ll mail it out to them so they’ll all get copies of it and it will be private and confidential,” he said.

And apparently it was, because I couldn’t find any newspaper story in the clippings file explaining what Campbell’s advice to council was. By the same token, there were no further stories of “cup of tea” meetings, so presumably the advice was to cut it out.


Next week:

Of course, it could also be argued the issue was bumped from the headlines by a bigger one — namely, the mayor’s desire to cut council from 16 to 10 members. You may remember it was on the agenda for that 29 April 2005 council meeting. In fact, Chris Hayes had reported in the Post on 3 May 2005 that Mayor Morgan favored downsizing council from 16 to 10 councilors. Moreover, he suggested the councilors be elected, not by district, but at large:

Councillors elected at large would be less parochial, he suggested.

But that’s a story for another week (for next week, in fact).