EDITORIAL: Council size, remuneration rate must be part of election debate

The motion was clunky and the timing awful. As worded, it was in contravention of provincial legislation in that it was being brought forth close to a municipal election and it was tabled during the worst inflation crisis in decades.

But Picton councillor Kate MacNaughton should get more than a modicum of credit for attempting to raise the remuneration members of the Shire Hall’s horseshoe receive per annum for their role in the governorship over operations of the County of Prince Edward. On Thursday, MacNaughton tried to push wide the gates of municipal government participation by way of motion, asking her colleagues to increase the rate of pay from $25,300 to $35,300 per year commencing in the next term.

A $10,000 increase to attend meetings, field phone calls and text at all hours and read reams of documents, submissions, staff and committee reports. In essence, elevate this pseudo-volunteer job that, once all the aforementioned tasks are fulfilled, couldn’t possibly be more than a minimum wage/maximum responsiblity and turn it into something closer to a career.

With a higher rate of remuneration, a more diverse slate of candidates could emerge prior to the August 19 filing deadline.

MacNaughton’s motion was almost certainly dead on arrival when it came before committee. While the Picton councillor had done her due diligence and found similar sized, single tier municipalities in Ontario where councillor’s salaries were noticeably higher than the current going rate in the County, pay increase motions typically don’t materialize in the shadow of an election and usually involve staff reports and third-party reviews.

But what MacNaughton’s motion couldn’t muster at the Committee table, it gained in the coffee shops, social gathering places and online haunts. More than one reader opined to this corner over the weekend how broken this council structure was and how they wished this 14 headed monster would be cut down to size.

“Every time I try to engage them collectively on something, I get the usual five or seven quick responses and everyone else ignores me,” said a person with a multitude of business dealings with the County of Prince Edward.

“Why don’t they go to six or eight councillors and pay them all more than minimum wage?” asked another who has had intimate dealings with local government in the past. “At least then you know they will respond and work for your vote.”

In those two interactions, the solution is there for the taking. Trim the size of council, pay councillors more and reap the benefits of a potentially more diverse municipal government who are professionally engaged in their duties.

It was quite some time ago former Sophiasburgh councillor Kevin Gale, when dealing with the prickly subject of council renumeration in his day, spent a lengthy period precisely calculating the time spent poring over reports and materials, listening to constituents on the telephone and driving to meetings, openings and other various municipal events. If memory serves this old scrivener well, the rate of remuneration was just under $17,000 at the time. The hourly rate for the councillor according to Gale’s figures? $2 an hour. The pay has increased since the late 2000’s but so has workload and responsibilities.

By way of both body language and actual verbiage, it was clear MacNaughton was preaching to the wrong choir Thursday and there were some policy and procedural rebuttals to the motion we would agree with-the misplaced outrage from fellow councillors Jamie Forrester and Phil Prinzen who apparently took MacNaughton’s motion as an affront to their entire existence notwithstanding.

Does the loyalty litmus test of how little one would be willing to take to do the job of councillor equate to effective governance?

But we also agree with MacNaughton there are significant barriers to municipal government participation and much could be gained by making the position of councillor more of a job and less of a burden.

By simply looking at the professional careers of the current council, the majority of those setting policy in Prince Edward County are either semi or fully retired or self employed and able to set their own hours.

If that’s the hard and fast rule of admittance to the world of municipal politics at the local scale, it would indicate only a sub-set of residents are eligible to take on this responsibility and weather the financial crunch of working an additional 30+ hours a week for less an hour than what students are stocking grocery shelves for.

Volunteerism is at the root of so many of the advances and progress this Loyalist community enjoys today and a meagerly compensated council might have been part of that growth in years past.

But the complexities of current day municipal politics and the time required to be an effective conduit between constituents, businesses and County staff dictates Council gets it right in the next term.

That is, land on the right number of representatives for the Horseshoe and make the compensation competitive to the point where more candidates will be encouraged to engage.

-Jason Parks

PICTURING OUR COMMUNITY

(Centre) Staff Sergeant John Hatch, Commanding Officer of the Prince Edward Detachment of the OPP, was joined by detachment volunteer Luke Flynn and Flynn’s fiance Stephanie Vardy for downtown foot patrol Wednesday in honour of Flynn’s birthday. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)