In days of old, parents dreamed of their kids growing up to be doctors and lawyers and such. Today’s parents should dream of their kids growing up to be civic management employees. According to the recent public accounts report, in 2014 the number of employees earning six figures almost doubled from the previous year. I’ll wait with bated breath to see what 2015 brings.
The six-figure club breaks into three categories. There are Baby bears, Mama bears and Papa bears. The Baby bears earn more than $100,000, the Mama bears earn more than $150,000 and big Papa bears earn more than $200,000. The problem for the foreseeable future is the Baby bears grow up to be Mama and Papa bears.
The report deals with salaries only. It is silent on the cost of benefits that attach to those salaries. Do our top-ranking city officials get matching pension plan contributions, annuity plans, dental, optical, medical and whatever other goodie you can think of? What about the value of downtown parking stalls, mileage reimbursement and travel allowances?
The joy about these positions is that you can never lose your job because of lack of competency. A prime example of this would be the administrative advice given to council on the transit lockout. Because administration missed the salient point that a lockout could not occur while there were matters pending before the labour board, we, the taxpayers, will pick up the very expensive tab for that oversight. In the private sector, an error of this magnitude could cost you your job. What was the consequence to the city administration for missing the boat on this matter?
The manager of transportation and utilities is the third-highest paid civic employee. Is anyone happy with roadway design, maintenance or public transportation in this city? And what does the “general manager of corporate performance” do to earn $195,743? Does anyone get laid off when the economy cools? And it seems when management claims they are overworked, they get an assistant to pick up the slack. Then, of course, we hear about the overcrowding at City Hall and the need for more space, or that more off-site rental space is needed to house these stellar agents.
The police chief is a member of the more than $200,000 club and his deputy chiefs are borderline members with salaries at $195,000. What did we get for that money? An excessively large police station and the dubious distinction of being the crime capital of Canada. I have stated before and will reiterate that I have no problem paying for the training and equipment necessary to keep both the public safe and police officers safe while performing their duties. But the next time Police Chief Clive Weighill presents his ravenous budget, remember $630,000 goes towards three executive salaries.
And why is the fire chief ($165,034) worth so much less than the police chief ($238,845)? Last time I had cause to contact the police (it related to property theft), I was told to come to the police station and file a report and they would give me an incident number to use for insurance purposes. It’s the same with a fender bender. For the majority of the non-criminal citizens in Saskatoon, police contact is primarily limited to receiving a traffic ticket. On the other hand, if my house catches fire, the fire department is there lickety-split.
The frequent rationale given for management compensation is that we have to complete with the private sector or other government jurisdictions in order to keep our civic management from bolting for greener pastures.
I learned a new word last week — bumfuzzle. Its definition is to confuse or fluster. What I find bumfuzzling about the employee retention and compensation rationale is why it only applies to those in the upper echelon. Kerry Tarasoff, general manager of asset and financial management, says that the City’s goal is to have an employee body representative of the community and that “hopefully, over time, that evens out to be something a little more equitable.”
What community is he talking about, and equitable for whom? Does the City’s lofty goal apply to the rank and file? When the transit workers asked for wage parity with other bus drivers in Western Canada, keeping an experienced transit force to safely haul human cargo seemed not to be a concern to the City Hall gurus. In a recent StarPhoenix article on executive compensation, it was reported that in some cases the income bump resulted from retroactive pay received in 2014 from contract settlements. Interesting to note, transit workers have been without a contract since 2012 and still have not received all the ordered compensation resulting from the lockout. Is this equitable?
Our council is the highest-paid elected municipal body in this province and has more perks than an old-fashioned coffee pot. And they still want more. Recently, in this publication, when asked why council compensation shouldn’t be put to a public vote, the mayor responded that it was too late to consider such a vote as an external committee had been struck to deal with the issue.
He conveniently neglected to say that it was council and/or its administration that appointed the committee members. (And an earlier comment by a committee member leads me to believe that council will be receiving a whopping increase.) The mayor also neglected to say that council can ignore the advice of the committee and put the question to a public vote in the 2016 civic election— if they want to. But they won’t.
For the record, I am not opposed to paying good compensation to public sector executives for prudent management. What I question is whether we are getting value today for the money we pay.
But the sense of entitlement is a learned behaviour. It is a monkey-see, monkey-do scenario. Perhaps the executive monkeys at City Hall have learned from the elected monkeys in the council chamber.