Think again

It’s hard to know who is to blame for the mistaken thinking that an elected member of council should be considered an employee when it comes to getting paid for mileage.

The conversation comes out of the Town of Erin and Mayor Lou Maieron’s request for mileage costs when on township business. Some townships do offer an allowance for the mayor, since often the head of council is asked to participate in social events, to bring greetings from the town and to attend face-to-face visits with residents who have concerns.

Erin certainly has its share of issues.

Proposed developments, the very real possibility of water and sewers being forced on the town, the search for a new chief administrative officer and a litany of everyday business problems all townships face, make the mileage debate hard to believe. Where is the sense of priority?

This cannot be the most compelling issue on the books, but it would appear to be right up there, taking far too much time from activity that might actually help residents there.

It does seem reasonable to have some compensation for mileage, but the employee hook, however, points to the confusion that seems to exist in local politics today and must be refuted tersely.

Whether a desperate plea for funds or a sanguine argument on his part, to suggest for a minute that a councillor is in fact an employee entitled to all privileges that staff receive is lamentable. It speaks to a categorical misunderstanding of municipal oversight by a duly elected council.

That slippery slope was breached a number of years ago at the County of Wellington.

The temptation for full benefit plans and contributions to the OMERS pension plan had been resisted for decades because it was seen as an employee plan. Ironically, a new cast of characters elected in recent times, who pledged to fight taxes and rout out waste, pushed a pension and benefit plan into being. As a matter of fact, the same folks who said no to rising taxes, pushed taxes up, allowed waste to flourish and increased entitlements for themselves.

Oddly, Mayor Maieron was in on that push for benefits and a pension, too, as a novice county councillor. Perhaps those were the seeds for his notion that councillors are due entitlements, like staff. Benefits typically afforded employees have become part of the culture of elected life in the county and to be honest, the return on investment is less than stellar. It’s just another grab.

While we are very much in favour of collegiality and respect and kindness amongst peers, staff are employees and councillors are effectively members of a board of directors, bearing the burden of approving or disapproving staff efforts. The Municipal Act lays out the tasks in a little more flowery language, but that is, in essence, what it means.

In the spirit of transparency, perhaps the whole concept of remuneration for councils should be under review again. Every term, councils affirm the tax-free allowance bylaw for themselves, meaning a tax-free allowance of one third to cover incidentals, such as mileage around town. If the intention is to bill for every minute and every mile like a lawyer might with an itemized bill, then maybe it is time to forfeit that tax-free allowance.

Being paid by the meeting is another area that has become quite self-serving, with the quantity of meetings increasing and little visible output on the quality side. That, too, flies in the face of oversight, bordering on meddling in issues better achieved by paid staff.

It’s time to move on to issues that count in Erin, rather than counting the ways to be compensated.