The District of Sooke Council held a regular meeting on meeting, Monday, January 28, 2019. Elected officials had an opportunity to take decisive action on their long-overdue pay increase, and they agreed to defer it to the next meeting. Again.
The irony of this second deferral is that while for some Councillors the pay increase can’t come fast enough, by the time they meet to discuss it a third time, over four weeks will have passed. That is how long a Remuneration Review Committee would have met for. Council members are ultimately still unclear on the amount of the increase (the discussion ranged from 15% to 30% to 50%), and haven’t discussed annual increases in any amount. It appears that as long as this discussion is left their hands, a decision looks far off.
Laura Lemieux was on the 2008 Council Remuneration Review Committee (Chair, see the 2008 minutes with a search for Lemieus), one of five members. She said that the members for that Committee were heavily screened for neutrality and objectivity. No member of such a committee could be seen as having a bias when it came to determining pay increases for elected officials. She noted that it was obvious that it was time for another process be undertaking. Her preference would be to see a rigorous committee covering a spectrum of the Sooke community, and not just a recommendation put forward at the last meeting by the economic development group (EDG) in Sooke. Any pay increase, Lemieux argued, must be able to withstand public scrutiny.
Background: The EDG proposal suggested a 15% annual increase for each year for the Mayor, for the next four years, with the council pay being 44% of the Mayors stipend. Their proposal noted that a number of other districts had increased remuneration from 7.5 to 12% to compensate for the recent tax change that effectively reduced elected official’s take-home pay. The EDG is an informal collective in Sooke who are independently focusing on issues critical to businesses in Sooke, like safe access to town (#DividedBy14 on Sooke Rd) and the hotel tax.
Council presented three options outline in a staff report:
- Increase remuneration by 15% for 2019, effective immediately, plus a built in 1.5% annual increase for cost of living increase every year moving forward.
- Establish a committee to review. This would take approx. 2-3 month, with processes including advertising for committee members, selection, 2-3 meetings, reports, decisions, implementation.
- Stay the course (no pay increase will be considered)
Option 3 was immediately struck off the list. It was clear that all of the five present agreed that a raise was due. It was also supported by one Sooke resident who wrote in to express her support. No one, noted St-Pierre, spoke out against it at the Public Input portion.
Parkinson immediately made the motion to support the second option, to strike a committee. Parkinson would have liked to have seen the process complete in a month, but staff made it clear that more time would be needed, as they would first have to create the committee, and advertise for members. Parkinson argued that remuneration needed to come from a fact-based report that resonates with the people in Sooke.
Beddows, who seconded motion, agreed with Parkinson, that being seen as transparent is important, and it’s important that they get this right. He noted that delaying it a few months while a committee reviewed remuneration wouldn’t be an undue hardship.
McMath had a bit of mixed message. On the one hand, she knew coming into it what the earnings would be, which she broke down as being about $6 to $7 per hour, and she said she wanted those coming after her to get better compensation. On the other hand, she wanted it now. Why did it have to take so long? She wanted to see an immediate 30% increase. McMath noted that the report that was presented at the last meeting by the EDG should be considered substantial (even though they proposed a 15% pay increase and McMath wanted to see at least 30%). A committee of three is not casting a bigger net, she argued. It just shows you have opted for a process because you are self conscious about what people are going to say on Facebook.
Perspective Note: School Trustees in the Sooke School District get remunerated $15,000 per year to the $10,000 received by Sooke Councillors.
St-Pierre shared McMath’s sentiment, stating that the 15% increase was inadequate, as it would have continued seeing Sooke as the lowest paid among their counter-parts in similar sized Districts, with Sooke ranking in the middle when it came to size. Even a 15% increase would still keep Sooke Councillors still being at the very low end of the spectrum. At 15%, it’s still below the average. St-Pierre ultimately noted they were elected to make decisions. He doesn’t mind waiting the three months, but he felt that Council should act decisively. “I don’t like the idea of wasting money on a process when we already know what the process should be.”
Bateman noted option 1 and option 2 are pretty valid, and stated that should the motion to strike a committee fail, he would propose a hybrid option.
Parkinson noted this is her third term on Council. In her first term, the remuneration was $8,400; in the second was $10,000. She added, emphatically, “We are only two months into our term,” and that they should be listening to the public, and making a decision after we hear from there. This, for her, was what a committee would do. Parkinson noted that a committee can have however many number of people that Council wants on it, be it three, five or whatever. She felt that a substantial raise cannot be self-appointed, and needs to be done through public consultation available through a committee process.
Motion failed. After broadly discussing both options, Bateman called the vote on Parkinson’s proposal for a committee. With Bateman, St-Pierre, and McMath opposed and only Parkinson and Beddows in support the attempt of striking a remuneration review committee once again failed.
New motion proposed, deferred. An alternative hybrid motion was proposed by Bateman suggesting a 15% increase effective immediately, with a committee to look at increases beyond. McMath proposed friendly amendment to 30%. The motion was never seconded. St-Pierre wanted to table the motion; he felt that the 15% was right. He proposed hiring a consultant. A committee doesn’t seem appropriate. Parkinson deferred the motion to the next Council meeting, seconded by St-Pierre. McMath opposed this option, and the motion to once again defer carried.
Mayor Maja Tait Acting Mayor Jeff Bateman, Councillors Al Beddows, Ebony Logins, Megan McMath, Brenda Parkinson and Tony St-Pierre. Regrets Mayor Tait; missing Ebony Logins.
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