Largesse and apathy

It wasn’t a hot button issue and it received little discussion at county council, but those of us in the Advertiser’s newsroom were somewhat surprised by a recent council decision to grant senior Wellington County employees an additional week of vacation.

We value and respect the work these managers do, but something about the justification for the move rubbed us the wrong way.

The following statement in a report from county human resources director Andrea Lawson was particularly puzzling: “Currently our senior managers do not receive any incentives or recognition for being in their leadership roles.”

Excuse me? No incentives or recognition? Most people would likely agree that very generous salaries and benefits should be more than enough incentive/recognition for the county’s senior public sector workers, who previously already received a week more vacation than their subordinates (isn’t that in itself recognition/incentive?).

The 2017 Sunshine List shows that the 16 county staffers now in line for an extra week of vacation are all paid upwards of $120,000 per year  – many much more than that (the CAO made over $250,000).

The county has in the past been named one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers and has received a local Employer of Distinction Award (sounds like recognition to me).

The county’s Sunshine List contingent is composed almost entirely of employees with many years (some with decades) of service with the upper tier municipality. As in any other workplace, people will leave from time to time in search of greener pastures, but there has never been – and never will be – a mass exodus of county workers.

Most of these managers likely stay because they realize how good they have it and prospective employees are likely salivating at the opportunity to join a workplace where they are treated so well and rewarded so handsomely.

The decision to grant more vacation time is yet another example of Wellington County’s misguided yet ongoing largesse.

Almost three years ago, I wrote in this very space that the time for grandiose projects and excessive spending at the county has long since passed.

But little has changed and it appears the powers-that-be are happy with the status quo, confident their actions will go unchecked by a largely apathetic tax base and voting public.

Cannabis quandary

Speaking of apathy, if politicians in Centre Wellington are wondering why voters aren’t more engaged at election time, they should take a look in the mirror.

Despite strong support for cannabis sales in the municipality – almost two-thirds of survey respondents were in favour of local pot stores – council voted to opt out of retail stores.

We understand the concerns with the proposed shops, but if retail pot shops make sense anywhere in the county it’s in Centre Wellington. At the very least, given the survey results, councillors should have rejected the idea for now due to a lot of unknowns, but revisited the matter in a year.

In fact, that very option was presented to council, but three councillors and the mayor voted against the common-sense approach.

What if 75% had voted in favour of cannabis stores? Or 90% It likely would not have mattered to the four councillors who rejected the shops outright, as we suspect morality – rather than practicality or legality – is the driving force behind their decision.

It’s the same kind of flawed, moral high ground thinking that led three of the four to vote against an expansion of the slots facility in Elora two years ago (gambling is bad because I said so  – but we’ll gladly take the profits), despite its obvious benefits for the community.

It turns out communities with a population of less than 50,000 will not be granted a store anyway – at least in the initial rollout.

But still, why bother with a survey at all if councillors had already made up their minds? The answer, of course, is the job security that comes with maintaining the appearance of transparency and public consultation.

Yet many residents are left alienated by yet another affirmation that their voices don’t matter.

We suspect a little consideration for voters during the four years between elections would go a lot farther to increase voter turnout than a couple weeks of online/phone voting come election time.