Citizen panel to review council salaries

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City hall is on the hunt for five people to sit on a panel that will review how city council is compensated.

Council struck the remuneration committee Tuesday. The group will include five members at large from St. Albert who will be tasked with reviewing current practices for establishing pay and perks for the mayor and city council.

The members will be interviewed and recommended by the city manager, council agreed.

“The most important thing is there’s no perception of bias amongst members of the public,” said Coun. Cam MacKay.

The move came after council set aside remuneration recommendations from its own administration. That January report called for an 8.75 per cent raise to the mayor’s salary, bringing it up to $92,155 annually — one third of which is tax-free. It also called for a 4.84 per cent raise for councillors, upping their salaries to $30,991.

Those increases were based on a salary survey of wages for the mayor and councillors in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Wood Buffalo, Grande Prairie and Red Deer. Current policy adjusts salaries at the 60th percentile of that comparator group.

The citizen committee will review not only those increases, but the methodology used to set them. It will recommend appropriate remuneration rates for the mayor, deputy mayor and councillors.

The group will also examine if and when the job of city councillor should be full-time, along with a review of benefits, per diems, travel expenses, mileage and other perks for all council members.

Council approved $7,500 from a contingency fund to cover off any expenses the committee incurs.

Interviewing the citizen members will fall to city manager Bill Holtby, a process he recommended to keep it non-political. If council is involved in interviewing or selecting candidates there could be criticisms of “cherry picking” members, he advised.

Chamber and labour group vetoed

Two organizations the committee likely will not include are the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce and the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL). The original draft of the bylaw called for one member each from those groups and three citizens at large.

Coun. Cam MacKay introduced the change to drop the chamber and AFL, arguing it wouldn’t be a good practice to have members from organizations that actively lobby government. The AFL was the main subject of his concern, with MacKay noting a large amount of the group’s time is spent lobbying municipal governments for higher wages for unionized workers.

MacKay said he doesn’t want the public to get the impression that these groups would set council wages and, in turn, council would set theirs.

The chamber was added to his amendment after Coun. Cathy Heron questioned that organization’s inclusion. Heron said the chamber’s mandate of representing businesses is fairly narrow compared to the job of city councillor, and in a subsequent interview was puzzled why they were singled out.

“It seems like preferential treatment from the city,” she said. “Although they do work very closely and very well with … administration and council, I don’t understand why they got preferential treatment and not, let’s say, a not-for-profit group like the CIVC [Community Information and Volunteer Centre].”

“To take it from five spots to three just didn’t sit well with me,” she added.

Holtby said the clause about the chamber and AFL was only included based on past experiences where citizens provided input on council wages.

He said ideal candidates would have professional experience in business or government organizations, preferably at a senior management level. Human resources experience would be nice, as would someone like a chartered accountant.

Holtby said he hopes to interview candidates in early June so council can approve appointments by the end of that month. The committee has been given a Jan. 31, 2012 deadline to complete its work.

The last citizen panel to review council wages submitted 18 recommendations to council in 2004. Many, but not all of the committee’s recommendations were adopted by the Richard Plain council.

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