Mayor Nenshi says if you don't pay Calgary city council well enough you run the risk of politicians taking kickbacks - Save Calgary

Mayor Nenshi says if you don't pay Calgary city council well enough you run the risk of politicians taking kickbacks

Mayor Nenshi says if you don't pay Calgary city council well enough you run the risk of politicians taking kickbacks

By , Calgary Sun

First posted: Thursday, May 25, 2017 09:10 PM MDT | Updated: Thursday, May 25, 2017 09:16 PM MDT

Mayor Nenshi is looking at a cut to his sweet paycheque. City councillors aren't.

The public had no say on the pay of councillors because city brass got in the way.

You don't say.

And, while we're at it, we're told Calgary taxpayers should be paying council members well, because if the politicians don't score their dough, they could be tempted to go on the take.

It's Thursday and Nenshi admits thinking the following thought for just a minute.

"Hey, they benchmarked my salary. The councillor salaries were benchmarked at the exact same level but they're keeping theirs and I'm taking a cut."

The mayor laughs.

"It's fine," he smiles. "This is really a question for the councillors to decide."

Yes, it surely is fine. Even if the pay cut goes through Nenshi will make $200,747 a year and it's still more than Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Winnipeg.

Councillors are at $113,416 a year. They are also paid more than city politicians in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Winnipeg.

To put them in the middle of the pack of six big Canadian cities, they'd sit at $96,343 a year.

But, as the mayor states . . .

"You also have to make sure you're paying people fairly enough because if you don't pay them well and you're surrounded by people who are making investments in millions and millions of dollars, let's just be blunt.

"The temptation can be too much."

This echoes a sentiment earlier this month when city top cop Roger Chaffin justified the very-well-paid police getting a 2.5% pay hike.

"You can be well-employed, raise a family, do good work and then not have to be subject to issues like corruption and other problems that might come," said the police chief.

For its part, a council-appointed citizen committee recommended the higher-than-almost-all-other-cities councillor pay should not be cut because "it is important to attract qualified people."

How is that working for us so far? Some councillors don't even know which end of a city budget is up.

And, by the way, are the councillors in Calgary really any better than other Canadian cities because they're paid more dough?

The committee also said the council salaries were "in keeping with the management of a world-class city like Calgary."

There's that most overused word in the Calgary dictionary. World-class.

The council-appointed citizen committee did ask councillors if they liked their pay. You bet.

Calgarians were left in the cold.

The reason?

"The committee expressed interest in engaging the public but was unable to arrive at a method City of Calgary administration would implement."

Oh my.

Even an online survey was a no-go because city deep thinkers wanted the committee to use a private non-city email, a move others cautioned against.

The result?

"Based on the short timeline, and an inability to find a satisfactory method of engaging the public, it was determined the committee's five public volunteer members would stand as the public's voice."

I kind of like my own voice.

The committee chewed over freezing the mayor and councillor salaries for four years and tossed it because "it is difficult to forecast what will happen over the next four years."

The report does not say if they contemplated a wage freeze for three years or two years or even one year.

Just a nugget. The council defined-benefit pension plan has the city making a substantial bi-weekly contribution of 18.64%, more than double what councillors throw in the pot.

The council-appointed citizen group did say every year city council should have to thumbs up or down a pay hike based on Alberta's weekly earnings, expected to grow by 1.4% this year and by up to 3% in 2020.

They said by giving council the vote the politicians "could follow the will of their electorate instead of basing decisions simply on a statistical calculation."

Nenshi sure doesn't like that idea.

No, he says councillors might feel the pressure to not take a pay raise.

"Councillors will actually say: You know what, I'm going to forgo any increases and I'll just forgo them and forgo them and forgo them," says the mayor.

"Then you come to a point where you're way out of market and people don't want to run for office anymore and then you have to do a giant increase."

Have no fear. In Calgary we know that day will never, ever, ever come.

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