Kelowna council laments workload

When a citizen task force’s recommendation for a two year council pay-freeze was presented  Monday, the lengthy conversation it sparked was less about restricting dollars and cents and more about the arduous workload associated with public office.

“You have to be here five days as week. Nobody told me (it would actually be) seven days a week, which is fine—that’s just the way I am,” said Mayor Sharon Shepherd, when she took a chance to explain the rigors of her position. Dealing with event invitations or speech writing, she pointed out, could be a full-time job in itself.

Coun. Graeme James also acknowledged the burden, and said the mayor, “lives and breathes” Kelowna. Coun. Michele Rule later pointed out Shepherd works “well-over full-time.”

And, she added, councillors work well over part-time hours as well, which is a fact that went unacknowledged in the task force report.

When she first considered running for city council, Rule said she thought the minimum requirement of working every Monday and every second Tuesday would offer a chance to take public office part time and get a part-time job at Starbucks.

At the beginning of what has turned into her two terms as a city councillor, she realized the extensive committee work made her run in politics a full-time pursuit. Although, she admitted, not everyone has taken on as much as she has.

“The fact of the matter is that some of us are able to put in more hours than others,” she said, referring to the fact that some councillors are employed  or run businesses.

“I’m one of those who puts in a lot of additional time…,” Rule said.

“But, if I didn’t put in more than my share of committees, then councillor (Angela Reid Nagy) wouldn’t be able to run for council. Same as Coun. Andre Blanleil, who misses meetings; he wouldn’t be able be a councillor if others didn’t take on extra committees.”

Blanleil and Coun. Luke Stack weren’t at Monday’s meeting.

Ultimately the rest said, one-by-one in differing terms, they wouldn’t advocate for their own pay raises or health-benefit packages, but the terms that their work was evaluated by the task force weren’t appropriate.

“For the last 23 years on council, I’ve always accepted the recommendations of the remuneration task force,” said Coun. Robert Hobson, adding that it was a consistent stance even in a year when council’s wages were frozen and the mayor’s rose.

“It’s not that I want to disagree, they do represent a cross-section of the community, and I take their concerns about fiscal constraint to heart.”

He then put forward a motion to table the volunteer task force’s recommendations and call for more information on how their wages stack up against their counterparts in like-sized communities, which was accepted by the rest of council.

Len Pelland, the spokesperson for the volunteer committee that pitched in 40 hours apiece to complete the report, had to field more than an hour of questions on both the findings and methodology used.

And with each question Pelland answered, he pointed out the decision to freeze council’s pay and to extend a 50 per cent health benefits package to the mayor alone was born from a desire to have city politicians show leadership in tough economic times.

Further supporting their decision, he said, there are employment opportunities unique to the office that offset the pay freeze. Volunteer responsibilities weren’t factored into their decision as they considered them to be civic duty, just like taking on a role in the task force.

The mayor will be paid $89,660.08 for 2011 and councillors $31,381.02, with one-third of that being tax exempt. The committee thought that councillors getting cell phones, computers, office space and administrative support to help with city business were bonuses of their elected position, and could be factored into the costs.

Also, six of the eight councillors and the mayor sit on the regional district board and get another $14,000 per year for that role. Again, one-third of that is also tax free.

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