Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Benefits of Being on Council

The civic election is just over ten weeks away. Compared to last time, it's been remarkably quiet. A few individuals have announced that they're running for council, but so far, no incumbents (including me) have indicated their intentions, and nobody has announced that they're running for mayor.

I like to see the interest from individuals in being part of council - being willing to step forward and help to guide the city and its residents to a better life is admirable.

I did a blog last November on things that I thought potential candidates should consider before running for public office - it's not for everyone, and I know that some members of council were surprised, for example, at the volume of material that has to be reviewed before each meeting. But there are also benefits (and costs) to being on council, that people might not be aware of.

To start with, it is a paying job - the local paper recently published the city accounts of what people employed by the city were paid in the past year. The average payment to councillors was $25,457.99; the mayor was paid $73,329.06. That's a basic salary, plus $100 for a vehicle allowance monthly, and also includes per diems - if a councillor spends an entire day doing council work, for instance at a conference, a per diem rate is paid. This is based on the assumption that being on council, whether as a mayor or councillor, is not intended to be a full time job, but if you do have to take a day away from your other job, you will be paid extra. That's why regular council meetings are in the evenings.

There is also a $500 communications allowance each year. For this, when you make an expenditure that qualifies, you submit a receipt and get reimbursed. Unlike the vehicle allowance, you don't just get the $500. Things like computers are allowable expenditures, cell phones are not. Of course, the mayor has a computer and phone provided.

If you're a councillor, you'll have to set up your own office space in your home, at your own cost. You'll need message manager on your phone, because you will be your own support staff. Only the mayor has an office at City Hall and support staff - at last count, I believe he had two adminstrative assistants. These staff also provide occasional help to councillors (for instance, in making travel arrangements), but for the most part, if you're a councillor, you're on your own. Councillors used to be able to use a room next to the reception room on the second floor, where we had access to a phone and one drawer in a filing cabinet. However, this adminstration converted this room to a media room for the mayor, and moved the councillors' filing cabinets down to the room outside council chambers where council meals are served - hardly a good work space.

While the salary is appreciated, it's certainly not going to make anyone rich, and I don't think that anyone who runs for public office is in it for the money. The greatest benefits that I've received from being on council are the intangibles - the phone calls of appreciation when I've helped a neighbourhood get their street paved or helped to get a problem house placarded; the messages of support when I've held a minority position at a council meeting; the many new friends that I've made, both in the ward and in the city as a whole. It is time-consuming, it is frustrating, it is not always fun, but I do know that doing my best in this job is the important thing to remember.

Whether I decide to run again or not, I hope that the next council is more diverse than this one - not so much in age or race or gender, although that would be good, but in ideas and openness. That would provide an experience for all members of council that would leave a positive legacy for future councils.

The next few weeks, as election plans get finalized, will be interesting.

"Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better." - Abraham Lincoln


Barb said...

Here are some of my favourite quotes. The first was passed along from another from city councillor.

"It is inaccurate to say I hate everything. I am strongly in favour of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for any public office." Henry Louis Mencken

"One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors." attributed to Plato

"Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation."
Henry A. Kissinger

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