Columbia Shuswap Regional District Financial Manager Jodi Pierce has worked 175 hours along with the deputy treasurer in an attempt to develop a remuneration bylaw that is acceptable to elected directors.-image credit: file photo

Remuneration talks drag on

Columbia Shuswap Regional District directors are at odds with staff about pay

The remuneration merry-go-ground continues to turn.

What began with a quiet voice by Columbia Shuswap Regional District directors in 2014 regarding directors’ pay, has evolved into a conundrum that seemingly has no solution in sight.

Some directors are at odds with CSRD staff over how much they should be paid, a matter that has, so far, cost taxpayers $16,500 for an independent review and 175 hours of staff time by financial manager Jodie Pierce and deputy treasurer Chelsea Kraft.

After deferring the matter at several board meetings, a remuneration committee was struck in January but did not meet until recently because of other ongoing priorities.

A remuneration committee consisting of two municipal directors, Coun. Kevin Flynn and Golden Coun. Caleb Moss, and two electoral area directors, Area C South Shuswap’s Paul Demenok and Area E director and CSRD chair Rhona Martin, along with CSRD Financial Services Manager Jodi Pierce met Tuesday, May 23 to try to reach consensus on creating a bylaw.

But after two-and-a-half hours and evident frustration, there was no agreement, no remedy and no specifics on holding another remuneration committee meeting other than Pierce asking it be held in conjunction with a regular board meeting so Golden director Caleb Moss could participate in person rather than by teleconference.

Pierce says the saga began at a regular board meeting in the fall of 2014 when directors discussed expenses, but gave staff no direction to address the matter.

In 2015, there was a recommendation that the board make a minor adjustment to the remuneration bylaw but it was determined that an independent comprehensive review be budgeted for and take place in 2016, Pierce says.

Sainas Consulting Inc. completed the reveiw and released it to the board at the September 2016 board meeting, which the consultant attended in order to respond to questions.

Two motions were then approved at that meeting – the first was that the board receive the consultant’s report. The second motion was that the matter of the directors’ pay be brought forward to the October 2016 board meeting and that staff provide a recommendation for a directors’ remuneration bylaw.

At that time, Pierce asked all of the directors to provide her with their individual comments and concerns to consider when she was drafting the bylaw.

In October 2016, the review was further deferred at the request of the chair due to directors’ deadlines and schedules, Pierce says. In November, it was deferred until January because three directors were absent with their alternates in attendance instead.

“In January 2017, staff made a recommendation that was largely based on the consultant’s report but also addressed directors’ concerns, some of which were common,” says Pierce, noting the consultant identified three electoral areas – A Rural Golden, C South Shuswap and F North Shuswap – where she thought remuneration should be higher, based on assessment value. “When put to a vote, it was defeated with nine opposed and two in favour.”

A motion ensued that a remuneration committee should meet and report back to the board after May 2017 was passed, with Electoral Area A Rural Golden director Karen Cathcart and Moss opposed.

At the start of the May 23 meeting in Salmon Arm, Moss made very clear that he would have been happy to “make a slight modification to the consultant’s report and move ahead.”

“Is it going to matter what we decide considering the board’s handling of the previous recommendation?” asked Flynn, who expressed his approval of the consultant’s report and wanted to know if what the committee comes up with is put into effect or has to meet board approval. “It’s not worth anyone’s time if it is handled the same way as previously… My ultimate concern is are we going through a process that won’t be accepted because someone doesn’t like it.”

Demenok has long maintained that CSRD electoral area directors are underpaid for the work that they do and the percentage of the budgetgoing to remuneration is lower than other regional districts.

He took issue with the data used in both the Sainas report and Pierce’s report that contained director’s input.

“My approach was to build a policy we could adopt and move forward,” he said. “I have been involved in setting salary policy before; you pick a comparative set, working out salary ranges, timing of reviews, percentile, so that’s what all this is.“

Demenok prefaced his presentation with four principles on which he based his policy proposal: “recognize the importance of this publicly elected office, to attract and retain quality individuals to these positions; encourage people to consider elected office as a career and recognize and compensate fairly for workload and time requirements.”

Flynn agreed with most of Demenok’s principles but took issue with describing the election to the CSRD board as a career opportunity and with an element he believes is missing.

“None mention fiscal responsibility and management of tax dollars; that’s our job and should be the focus. It (policy) should also be structured to show that we are being prudent and frugal and fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars” he said, noting municipal and regional district jobs can be considered careers, but not local office.

Following the meeting, Pierce said according to her data, the average remuneration for regional district directors was $20,000 while CSRD directors are paid $23,000, a figure that would increase substantially under Demenok’s policy.

“What I can tell you is that it will be higher because his core base rate is going to higher, because he’s recommended $23,556 for electoral directors and $13,100 for municipal directors – and just for board and budget meetings only,” says Pierce, noting the amount does not include a chair’s stipend, a vice-chair stipend, does not include any board-assigned meetings or other meetings such as public hearings, advisory meetings or attendance at SILGA, UBCM, FCM or the Local Government Leadership Academy. “It’s hard to tell, but it would certainly be getting close to $30,000, which means an increase of $30,000 coming from taxpayers.”

Pierce says the consultant used a different subset than Demenok in choosing regional districts with which to make comparisons – similar size, similar characteristics.

“His methodology was to do a comparison to other comparable regional districts in B.C.; he picked nine, which I have absolutely no issue with that other than he handpicked them,” she says. “We paid a consultant $16,500 last year, who picked seven and that was a totally objective and independent process.”