Talkin’ Bout Remuneration (Part V)

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, Part III at the first term of John Morgan and Part IV at Morgan’s second term. Part V finds us still in Morgan’s second term.

 

In 2006, the CBRM was required by the Municipal Government Act (MGA) to undertake a study of “the numbers and boundaries of polling districts in the municipality, their fairness and reasonableness and the number of councilors.”

The MGA called for such studies in 1999, 2006 and “every eighth year thereafter.”

Upon completion of the study and “before the end of the year in which the study was conducted,” Council was to apply to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) “to confirm or alter the number of polling districts and the number of Councillors.” That meant the CBRM had to submit its proposal by 31 December 2006, in time for the 2008 municipal elections.

I’m going to consider the debate on the council-size issue in detail because, as you’ll see, it actually did come to encompass the issue of council remuneration. Plus, it was occasionally completely bananas, and you know me — I can never resist bananas.

 

Strike up the committee!

Rather than providing a chronological account of events, I think I’ll have to attempt to synthesize and summarize them a bit, based on both the newspaper clippings and the decision the UARB would ultimately hand down.

There were two main camps in this debate and it will not surprise you, if you read the last installment of this series, that Mayor John Morgan and Councilor Vince Hall were in opposing ones.

Hall was the chair of the boundary review committee (BRC), which the CBRM struck in the fall of 2005 and which met for the first of what would be five meetings on 1 November 2005.

As the UARB would make clear in its decision (handed down on 30 October 2007), public consultation was “essential” to the boundary review process. In fact, while leaving “the ultimate form of the proceedings” to the discretion of the municipalities, the board recommended an approach to the process which is quoted in its decision:

Determining the size of Council involves the consideration of the desired style of Council, the governance structure of Council, and a determination of an effective and efficient number of councillors.

The style of government is a question which should not be decided by Council until adequate public consultation has occurred respecting the expectation of constituents.

However, the size of Council and its governance structure is a matter to be determined by Council in an informed debate after further consultation.  On this issue it would be helpful to consult senior staff and perhaps experts in the field.

Public participation, consultation and informed debate, however, did not turn out to be the BRC’s strong suit.

The committee began by rejecting a proposal from Intelivote Systems Inc, a Dartmouth-based tech company specializing in “eDemocracy solutions” — to conduct a “CBRM plebiscite/referendum/survey” on the issue of boundary review free of charge. The committee said the plebiscite would not be free as staff would have to create lists and possibly handle calls. (The committee was proved correct on this this last item during the UARB hearings in June 2007 when a representative of Intelivote admitted such a plebiscite would have cost the municipality about $73,000, not including staff costs.)

Moreover, as was noted by Professor Tom Urbaniak (who submitted a paper called, “Order, Please!” to the UARB and appeared in support of former Councilor Dannie Hansen, who had intervenor status in the hearings):

[P]lebiscites on restructuring in most democratic jurisdictions tend to be preceded by a reflective process…Government is a deliberative process as well.  So simply going into a process and saying, okay, we’re going to start the process by holding a plebiscite and whatever the plebiscite decides that’s what we’ll do and we’ll very quickly conclude the process.  Well, I’m not sure that that ‑‑ that such a process would subscribe to the noblest ideals of democracy which includes the deliberative and indeed representative process, the opportunity for people’s views to evolve. …

Mayor Morgan, an avowed advocate for a smaller council, sought the public’s opinion on council size through a controversial telephone poll and a mail-out enclosed with the tax bills in late 2005. Councilor Hall, as Morgan would tell the UARB in 2007, did not approve:

…I recall Councillor Hall at the municipal offices trying to stop it from going out in the tax bills, trying to direct staff not to send the survey out and…subsequently on radio urging people to throw it in the garbage.

Also in the fall of 2005, the CBC and the Cape Breton and District Labour Council hosted forums to discuss the topic of council size. Councilor Hall did not attend the forums. Instead, he sent out a press release stating:

What we have is uninformed people spiriting a debate about something that they have absolutely no knowledge on.

 

Public participation

The BRC’s approach to public consultation was adopted during the committee’s April 2006 meeting, when Councilor Clarence Prince moved that CBRM staff be instructed to organize a public consultation program consisting of open houses in each division of the CBRM, an educational media campaign, written submissions, a telephone hotline and the CBRM website.

In the end, 38 of the CBRM’s 105,000 residents submitted opinions and 93 attended the public meetings. But those meetings sound like corkers. Here’s Councilor Wes Stubbert being questioned about them during the UARB hearings:

Q. Okay.  So you would describe it more so that the Councillor [Hall] was debating strongly as opposed to losing his temper?

A. I would say it was certainly strong public debate and I think that’s very healthy.

Q. Okay.  All right then.  Strong public debate between the chair of this committee and the members of the public that were appearing before it.

Professor Urbaniak, in his written submission, characterized the public meetings this way:

“Debacle” is not too strong a word to describe the process.  The Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s deliberations and consultations on council size and district boundaries were conducted in an atmosphere of heightened conflict and during a period of general malaise on regional council.

As a result, the debate was neither reflective nor enlightened.  The research was very limited.  CBRM’s Boundary Review Committee was perceived as neither objective nor open-minded.

Mayor Morgan was even blunter, telling the board:

[T]here were specific discussions I recall as well between individuals, Councillor Hall for one, wherein they said we have to have meetings, we have to have consultations, we’ll have our consultations and we’ll make the recommendation to maintain the status quo.  The fix was in.  I mean, it was a charade in every sense of the word.

Councilor Hall, though defended the process, telling the board:

I would say we did an excellent job of providing information to the community and we did an excellent job of inviting extensive public consultation and we did an excellent job of considering all that public consultation.

The model we used for the deliberations in the entire process including public participation was a sound model that I believe would surpass not only the expectations of the test of time but also surpass what perhaps some other municipalities may have done as part of their review…

 

Responsive trustees

The BRC ended by recommending some changes to the district boundaries but no change to the number of councilors, which was to remain at 16.

The CBRM Council ultimately voted 11 to 5 to support these recommendations, although Greg MacNeil reported in the Post on 22 November 2006 that Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger “caused the most discontent among his fellow councillors” by throwing a couple of new proposals into the mix: first, that the CBRM be divided into three regions with four councilors per region and second, that council maintain the status quo until “more thought” could be put into the matter. Ultimately, neither was adopted by Council.

But another option was presented to the UARB: a citizens’ group called Voices of the Electorate (VOTE) made its own presentation to the board, calling for council to be reduced from 16 to 8 members representing eight districts. (To back this up, the group had a 1999 KPMG report entitled, “Governance and Organizational Review of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality,” which had recommended the CBRM have 8-10 councilors.) VOTE was represented at the UARB hearings by — wait for it — Mayor Morgan.

A good deal of the discussion during the hearings centered around the role of council — and of individual councilors. It’s interesting to read because it’s a debate that continues to this day — certainly, it was alive and well during the brouhaha over council pay raises. Essentially, it comes down to whether councilors are policy makers charged with making big-picture decisions for the municipality or ombudsmen, intervening with MLAs, MPs, provincial and federal bureaucrats and CBRM staff on behalf of their constituents. As Urbaniak put it in his written submission:

Councillors in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality are often busy (industrious) with constituency enquiries and day-to-day issues – what the political scientist James MacGregor Burns calls “transactional leadership” – but generally devote little time to strategic planning, broad policy setting, and long-term visioning (in other words to the exercise of good “judgement”).  Being industrious does not necessarily mean being judicious or effective.

Urbaniak went on to propose the CBRM adopt what he called a “responsive trusteeship” form of government. As Chris Shannon explained in the Post on 12 June 2007, it would be:

…a municipal government structure that would retain all 16 councillors, but cut their remuneration to $5,000 a year.

This would, Urbaniak suggested, encourage the candidacy of part-time strategic thinkers instead of politicians who put all of their effort into providing every service to each constituent that calls to complain.

When this possibility was raised during the UARB hearings, Councilor Hall “panned it as an ‘extreme left wing kind of thinking.'”

(Urbaniak’s) coming at things from an angle of being misinformed, and maybe by the end of this process and after he sees the utility and review board decision, maybe he will become enlightened.

 

Decision

To cut a long story short, the board didn’t actually come down on either side, noting instead that:

…a municipality having the size and sophistication of CBRM should have conducted a more thorough study before any public consultation…

And despite Councilor Hall’s insistence on the “excellence” of the process, the board said that:

Rather than embrace the opportunity to canvas these issues fully, the BRC, under the helm of Councillor Hall, essentially ignored and, in some cases, actively derided those who offered alternative views about the role of Council.

Because its public consultation process was so flawed, the board ordered a do-over, to be completed by the CBRM prior to the 2012 municipal elections. In the meantime, boundaries and council size were to remain unchanged.

 

Tuition-gate

The boundary review wasn’t the only issue in the headlines during this period. A concurrent controversy, also surrounding Councilor Hall, traced its roots to a 21 March 2005 Corporate Review meeting (the same meeting at which the municipality adopted a “Poop and Scoop” by-law), during which council amended the Employee Training and Development policy to note that “consideration for training will be extended to members of Council.” (Clearly, this confusion about who is or is not an “employee” of the municipality has plagued the CBRM for some time.) The amendment was moved by Councilor Hall, seconded by Councilor Jim MacLeod.

Flash forward to 13 March 2007 and Chris Shannon is reporting in the Post that Councilor Hall has availed himself of the Employee Training and Development fund to claim $8,028 for expenses he had incurred as a student enrolled in two public administration courses at Dalhousie University in Halifax over the last year.” (The expenses included “tuition and hotel fees.” The paper also noted that over the same time period, three actual CBRM staffers had also used the fund — claiming, all three together, $5,257.35)

The issue came up in that month’s council meeting, and on 21 March 2007, Shannon reported that Hall, asked about the charges:

…made no apologies, said he was proud of efforts to improve his skills and knowledge.

And during the debate that ensued, according to the Post:

While there was widespread condemnation that the education fund wasn’t being used properly, there was little in the way of blame directed at Hall.

Instead, council focused its ire on Mayor Morgan, with several councilors questioning why he did not know Hall was charging the municipality for his public admin courses.

Council voted 15-1 (the one being Councilor Hall) to end councilors’ use of the professional development fun

 

Alberta bound

The other remuneration/expense issue that arose during this period involved Councilor Frankie Morrison, who collected his $140 a week travel allowance while working in Alberta for six weeks.

On 13 March 2007, Chris Shannon reported in the Post that Morrison had been working as an electrician on the Long Lake project in the oilsands. Morrison’s initial — and deeply unwise — instinct was to deny it:

When contacted by the Cape Breton Post last Thursday, Morrison denied he was working in the oilpatch, although he acknowledged the rumours were making the rounds.

With a brisk wind blowing in his cellphones’s receiver, Morrison claimed he was in his front yard babysitting his grandchild while his son was away in Florida.

Monday he had trouble recalling what the telephone conversation was about.

“I probably wasn’t understanding what you were saying,” Morrison admitted.

He said he would be willing to refund the $840 he would have collected in mileage during the weeks he was away.

 

Absenteeism

In January 2008, the Post reported that CBRM Council had “unanimously passed rejigged council policy that penalizes wayward councillors $200 per skipped committee meeting after missing three during a calendar year.”

The impetus for the move seems, once again, to have been Councilor Hall who, the paper reported, “had missed 15 of 17 standing committee meetings in 2007.”

Of course, that may have been because, as the Chronicle Herald reported in March 2007, Hall was working at CompuCollege in Halifax.

That was the penultimate clipping in the McConnell Library “CBRM Mayor and Council” file for 2008.

The final story, dated 20 October 2008, followed that month’s municipal elections and carried the headline:

New council may not be as dysfunctional

We’ll find out whether that was true or not in the next (and, I think, final) installment of “Talkin’ Bout Remuneration.

 

 

 

 

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