For folks who attended the little cenotaph in Rockwood on the corner of Highway 7 and Guelph Street on Remembrance Day years ago, memories almost certainly would include Jim Milne.
For decades, he helped organize the event, as did Max Storey and other area veterans. One of Jim’s big jobs, however, was remembering the fallen by bellowing out their names as they appear inscribed in stone – never to be forgotten.
Of course, Jim left us years ago, but our memory of him standing tall and proud on typically cool November days reciting names, is as if it were yesterday. Milne was also well known as a former councillor, veteran and all around good community guy who volunteered in countless ways.
That sets the stage for why News that a Guelph-Eramosa councillor is billing for Remembrance Day service as if it were a paid meeting would be troubling for some. Councillor John Scott billed for dates in 2008 and 2010, claiming to have missed putting in for it in 2009.
In defence of Mr. Scott, his claims of putting great time and effort into organizing the event have to be taken at face value. No event goes off without work and Mayor Chris White suggested to our reporter that without Scott’s work, “We wouldn’t have done this stuff.” That would be a shame.
Some months ago, the murmuring began that “council,” specifically councillor Scott and Mayor White, were billing residents for attending Remembrance Day services on behalf of the municipality. Elections and door-to-door campaigning have a way of drumming up grievances – some legitimate and other legends that are simply bogus.
Being more familiar with the workings of local government, our reporter simply followed up on the question for those who asked whether it was true or not.
Both White and Scott used a tired old line about our reporter’s inquiry not being Newsworthy and they seemed more worried about who was the source of consternation, stirring up trouble. We cannot understand why such a simple question would be met with incredulity when all this does is clear the air on the issue.
That other people do this work for free in other communities across Wellington County is telling; regardless of whether a Legion is physically located in a town or not. For many involved, it is a labour of love and respect for the fallen, for those who returned and for those currently serving. We see it that way too.
But there is a larger issue here.
All councils, to our knowledge, offer up committee meeting pay to councillors in varying forms. Policies typically deal with extra duties, or extra meetings, and give individuals a per diem rate. That, too, came up in the last election elsewhere in Wellington County, where a councillor received a meeting fee, yet the public members of that committee went unpaid. The conflict between volunteers, paid staff and paid councillors has really heated up since amalgamation kicked in over ten years ago. It is important that all people feel valued, without the perception of some being more valuable than others. This leads to resentment, which is unhealthy if we are to rely so heavily on volunteers.
In the case of Guelph-Eramosa, “liaisons” are appointed to handle specific files. While not highlighted in our original story last week on said appointments, the inference was made that those appointments legitimize councillors claiming expenses to deal with their area of work.
Unresolved however, despite those good intentions, is the question of what constitutes pay above and beyond a typical council stipend, which is far more handsome today than it was pre-amalgamation. It seems to us there is merit in the argument that those positions based on meeting attendance have turned into income streams not imagined by the architects of most of council’s remuneration policies throughout the county.
While we have no doubt meetings are attended and intentions are generally pure, simple attendance should not be the arbiter for payment. It breeds a culture of entitlement based on showing up with little reflection on actual accomplishment or appreciation for those who volunteer their time.
It’s time for a mature conversation on the issue.