Is higher pay the answer?

Ron Bolin: September 21, 2011

The discussion preceding Council giving itself a 24+% raise over the next three years to attract better candidates is one that was only poorly examined at Monday’s FPCOW meeting.  Somehow there seems to be a feeling that a few thousand more dollars will not only attract better candidates, but improve the performance of the elected.  How much money would it take to attract the kind of board members that we think are needed?  What should be their qualifications?  As it stands, there is no particular standard set for board membership, nor do the qualifications extend beyond being a citizen, a Nanaimo resident (or property owner) for a relatively short period of time, breathing and getting the most votes by any legal means.

We need to remind ourselves that we are electing the board of our corporation, not its managers.  In this regard, I would like to suggest an alternative which was not discussed at Monday’s meeting: that Council act as a board and as such get out of the operations game which they have been led to play.  By this I mean that they should stick closely to their policy, procedure and monitoring role and get out of their participation in the various advisory committees, commissions, boards, review panels and working groups.  An examination of these on the city’s web site identifies 14 such groups, with 159 members (not counting the City Staff who advise these groups, nor the staff who record their meetings).   26 of these positions are filled by Councillors.  As you can imagine, trying to keep up with these groups can prove a daunting task.  I would hold that it is also not particularly productive.  We should let the appointed volunteers work with City Staff to develop their recommendations and arguments which Council can then approve or deny without prejudice.

Although I recognize that, “This is Nanaimo”, I still suggest that we take a look at the Candidates information provided by Yakima, Washington, a city about 10,000 larger than Nanaimo.  It clearly sets out the role expected of a Councillor and indicates that the expectation of time for the job is 15 to 20 hours per week, i.e. a half time job.  I suggest that this should be possible in Nanaimo as well.  An examination of the Council calendar for 2011 indicates that there are 50 legislatively required meetings (Council Meetings, FPCOW meetings (Finance and Policy Committee of the Whole) and Public Hearings.  This works out to just about one meeting per week of let’s say an average of three hours.  This leaves some 12-17 hours per week for other related activities such as reading agendas, asking questions, dealing with citizens and examining the operations documents which determine whether the desired policies and procedures are being appropriately implemented by Staff.

I do not mean to imply that our current Council operates on such a schedule but I do suggest that they should.  I believe they have let themselves fall into the old trap of letting work expand to fill the time available.  It was also obvious at Monday’s meeting that there are some hard feelings about who is pulling their weight in dealing with all the extra committee, etc. work.  Not a good situation.  I suggest that our readers take a look at the Yakima document prepared for candidates and compare it to our current practices:

I believe that rather than simply higher salaries for Council members, we could attract board members who are prepared to act as a board, but are not looking to take on a full time job by performing the other roles that Council has devised for itself.  Time to rethink.  So what do YOU think?