City administration wants council to let auditor’s office decide on pay formula

Administration is recommending that council ask the city auditor’s office to figure out the proper method of calculating council pay adjustments, following “confusion” that arose from a contentious meeting in which one council member was ejected by his colleagues.

The city policy in question was at the centre of the Dec. 17 meeting, when council voted 14-1 to eject Coun. Jeromy Farkas for comments he made online about a motion to freeze councillor pay.

Since 2012, the city’s human-resources department has used a formula to calculate annual changes to council pay based on a 12-month average of Alberta’s average weekly earnings. That formula, cited by Farkas, would yield a pay bump of 2.37 per cent in 2019, increasing councillor salaries from $113,325 to $116,011.

But council members said a Facebook post by Farkas had disseminated “misleading” information about a council decision, including a record of a vote that never occurred.

His colleagues were unanimous in condemning the post since it contradicted statements made by chief financial officer Carla Male, which suggested council pay would actually decrease in 2019.

Male later said her suggestion was based on a different policy, one that made a simpler September-to-September comparison of weekly earnings.

In a report that will go before council on Monday, city administration recommends that council direct the auditor’s office to independently verify the method that would be used to calculate changes to council pay for 2019 and report back to the city’s audit committee in late February.

“The mood on council has always been, and the agreement has been, no one wants an increase (in pay) under this environment,” said Coun. Ward Sutherland, who put forth the notice of motion last month seeking to freeze council salaries in 2019.

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Council ultimately voted to keep the status quo after hearing they were likely already headed for a modest pay decrease.

Council pay has been frozen at 2018 levels as the city sorts out the confusion.

“We should keep our nose out of it and they should come up with the formula that will be used from now on,” said Sutherland, adding he’ll ask for a reconsideration of his motion if it’s determined that the formula that gives council a pay bump for this year is the correct one.

“All I care about is that the audit’s going to come up with the end result and they’ll say this is the way we’re going to calculate it, and then that better be the way we calculate it from now on so there’s no damn confusion,” he said.

But further studying which formula is correct would be the wrong way to go, according to Farkas. He said council pay should stay frozen at 2018 levels for this year, and instead have a five-member citizen committee that examines the city’s salary adjustment formula review what formula is ideal in the future.

“When it comes to this matter, my preference is just to call it resolved with no blame or pointing fingers. We have an opportunity to say that both perspectives were right, rather than going through a tedious process and ultimately having to assign blame,” said Farkas, adding “it shouldn’t be about who was wrong or right.”

“I think we can all agree that the more that this issue drags on, the more trust is lost at city hall,” he said. “Rather than go through the auditor’s office, let’s get the citizen group together that takes a look at council compensation and can actually advise us on really what’s the best formula to go with.”

Farkas said he’s in favour of keeping council pay levels the same throughout a four-year term, and having changes only apply to future councils.

A letter requesting an investigation into Farkas’ social media post was sent to council’s integrity commissioner last month, signed by all 14 of his colleagues.

Farkas said he hopes he and his colleagues can move on and consider the matter water under the bridge.

“I would like to see the integrity commissioner consider the event of Dec. 17 to be amicably resolved as a misunderstanding with no assignment of fault or blame,” he said.

“I think there’s a real strong desire here to clean the slate. It’s a new year, I think we’re all looking for a fresh start.”

shudes@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/SammyHudes

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