Cobourg Council – Amended Remuneration Motion Passes with 4-3 Vote; Proposed Executive Assistant Causes Fiery Debate

In City Hall, Editor Choice, Local

By Jeff Gard/Today’s Northumberland

Cobourg Mayor Lucas Cleveland began Thursday’s continued 2023 operating and capital budget review meeting by amending two motions he made during Tuesday’s session.

Cleveland said council entered the day needing to reduce the tax levy and first addressed two motions he added to it; the increase to council remuneration and the addition of an executive assistant for mayor and council.

At Monday’s council meeting, resident Bryan Lambert made a last-minute presentation calling for a 43% raise for Mayor Lucas Cleveland (his salary rising to $65,000 from $45,412), a 67% raise for Deputy Mayor Nicole Beatty (going to $52,000 from $31,082) and a 75% raise for each of the remaining five councillors (going to $45,500 from $25,963) – plus benefits.

Lambert suggested the raises to take effect April 1. For the nine months remaining in 2023, that would add $103,643 to the tax levy. For a 12-month period, it would add $138,790.

Cleveland brought to the floor during Tuesday’s budget review meeting, but returned Thursday with a revamped idea and motion. He suggested that amount instead be phased in over a two-year period starting halfway through this year.

It spreads out the burden on the tax levy over a two-year period while also ensuring these raises are not fully in effect until our third year,” the mayor remarked, adding he thought that would address issues from council members and from members of the public he believes all members of council have heard from.

Later in the meeting when it was time to discuss the amended remuneration, Cleveland said the reconfigured motion would only add $20,125 ($14,432 to $34,557) to the tax levy. The remainder of the increase suggested by Lambert would be included in the 2024 budget and take effect July 1 of that year.

Cleveland said that takes into consideration Councillor Brian Darling’s mention that remuneration should be a third-year item during the term.

I’ve taken that under advisement and done just that,” the mayor said. “What this does is it simply takes the traditional CPI index that we would also be seeing July 1 at $14,432 and I am increasing that to $34,557 thereby only adding $20,000 this year.”

Cleveland’s motion also added to direct staff to draft a letter to both Northumberland-Peterborough South MPP David Piccini and Premier Doug Ford to the effect there are 444 municipalities in Ontario with compensation for mayors and councillors “all over the map” and the present system involves councils voting themselves pay and benefit increases from time to time.

Cleveland said the goal “is to remove these difficult and often awkward debates and/or public opinion and have the province set out a set of standards of guidelines for remuneration.”

Deputy Mayor Nicole Beatty asked him to include Minister of Municipal Affairs Steve Clark and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) to the list of letter recipients. Councillor Darling asked to divide the motion.

In discussing the first part of the divided motion, Darling credited the mayor on his ingenuity in how he divided the remuneration up.

As in past we waited til the third year to vote in an increase for the next term, never voting ourselves a raise. I shouldn’t say never, it was done in small portions. I’d like to congratulate him, I think it’s well thought out, but I’m going to stick with my opinion that the raise should be voted for the following term.”

Councillor Mutton asked what the impact was for the three levels – mayor, deputy mayor and councillors.

Using the mayor’s salary of $45,412 proposed to increase to $65,000 as an example, Director of Finance Ian Davey said the first six months of 2023 would stay the same, but as of July 1 would go to $55,266. The next increase to the full $65,000 would occur July 1, 2024.

Remuneration for the mayor’s position would be $22,706 for the first half of this year and $27,603 for the second half so $50,309 for the calendar year 2023.

Beatty said “I’m torn on this one because I advocated for the pay increase in the last term of council. I do feel that we should have dealt with it in year three per our by-law. I’m mindful that we have this by-law in place. I think Port Hope did it accurately as they were transitioning out of their term – they gave themselves their increase. I’m struggling with this because I don’t think it’s responsible for council to be giving themselves an increase in their first budget. I’ve been overwhelmed with the comments and phone calls in the last 24 hours.

I will admit I struggle with this because I do believe that councillors across Ontario are grossly underpaid and I also feel this is something that should be addressed by the 444 municipalities, but where I’ve landed on, I can’t in good conscience support this motion this budget cycle just given already the inflationary pressures, the drastic increase that we’re going to be putting on our tax base. Again, we have a by-law in place and I feel that we have an opportunity as council to approach this procedurally through that by-law and not just through a notice of motion through the 2023 budget.”

Cleveland said it would be great to vote a raise for the next term, but when it comes to election cycles councillors don’t like putting themselves out there “as the people who self-funded themselves in the year that they’re going to an election.”

The reason Port Hope was able to do that is cause the mayor at that time, Bob Sanderson, he was not re-running. Anyone who tends to want to re-run for council will always vote against a potential raise for the optics. The reason I’m putting this motion forward now is because it’s what should’ve been done previously. Again, no shame or criticism but again that was voted down as you admitted yourself in that year or voted for in that year and yet did not make. I just want to be very cognizant…obviously we saw the comments, I have as well received hundreds of e-mails regarding how this isn’t appreciated, but we’re looking at a $5,000 increase at the most at the mayor’s position this year. It puts us at a $50,000 a year salary. I’d like to maintain that the lowest paid manager at the Corporation of Cobourg still makes significantly more than that.”

Beatty said she respects mayor’s position and doesn’t want to create debate, but had two points in response.

Procedural by-law I believe, and correct me if I’m wrong, it’s meant to be dealt with in year three and there was an oversight in the last term which is why it came forward in year four so that was actually just a slip of timing. I think it’s important to understand that the procedural by-law talks about year three so we wouldn’t be dealing with it in an election year. We would be setting it up ahead of time,” the deputy mayor said. “I also don’t think it’s fair to be comparing councillor (compensation) to that of what staff are…we are not staff, we are not employees of the Corporation so I don’t appreciate that comparison between councillor compensation and the compensation of staff.”

Councillor Miriam Mutton said she has two previous terms of dealing with these matters and it’s a certain kind of person who can put themselves out there to represent the community on council and people do it for various reasons. She said when she looks at her pay stub, she gets a regular reminder that she’s being paid less than minimum wage.

That aside, I try to find the humour in that, I am actually quite comfortable in dealing with this at this time because we have supported the Corporation in trying to modernize. We are not a small rural municipality anymore, we are facing the pressures of being at the target edge of the Greater Toronto Area. I know that it’s not popular, but I think we have a duty to explain ourselves to the electorate as to why we would consider this at this time. My view is that the proposal put forward by Mayor Cleveland is actually quite reasonable and, as it is, I would support it. I feel comfortable in answering to any questions that citizens and people of the community would ask me because I feel confident in this move.”

Councillor Aaron Burchat said he and Councillor Brian Darling have both dealt with this the past two terms. They voted in an increase for the next council, including one significant one at the time brought forth by councillors not running again but had unanimous support. “We both ran in an election and got elected.”

Burchat added “I’ve stood by that we kind of know the pay as we’re going into (running for election) and we put that by-law in place in past councils to appropriately deal with this matter.”

Beatty called for a recorded vote. The result was 4-3 with Cleveland, Bureau, Mutton and Barber in favour of the increase in remuneration and Beatty, Darling and Burchat against.

In dealing with the second part of the divided motion to send a letter to Ontario government officials, Mutton was concerned the less power municipal councils have is to the benefit of the provincial government.

We’re children of the province, but I believe that local citizens rely on us to act as a council and my concern is, I would want to make sure that such a letter outreach is not an indication to the province that we want less authority as a council,” she said. “I think asking for standards with regards to pay, I’m not sure how they could address that, but that’s my fundamental concern.”

Mutton wondered how you could make 444 municipalities equal when they are all so different.

Beatty believes it’s something AMO should lobby to the province.

Cleveland noted “the intention was not to give up power in this letter, it’s simply to ask for guidance in the potential range.

It’s not forcing the hand of any municipality, it’s simply a guiding document so as we enter into these kind of discussions, we have more knowledge and that the taxpayers are more informed as sort of the standardization across the province. It’s in no way to remove any sort of power or to alleviate that. It’s simply to sort of facilitate this discussion a little better with more knowledge.”

Councillor Randy Barber suggested in looking for salary ranges, the province could look at size of municipality, dollars in budget and so on. From his vast previous municipal council experience, Barber said it’s difficult for council to make the decision on its own pay

Darling suggested sending the letter isn’t urgent now that the pay increase has been accepted.

I think we should send it to AMO with a few years left in our term, have them come back to us a year or two down the road when they’ve got a chance to look at it,” Darling said. “There’s a lot of knowledge with AMO…maybe a letter will be sent to all the municipalities asking for their feedback on it.”

Darling made motion to amend, removing the government officials as recipients and only forward to AMO officials. Cleveland opted to remove his initial motion and move forward saying this could be dealt with at another time.

In regards to his Tuesday motion to add an executive assistant position for the mayor and council at a cost of $85,000 to the budget, the mayor suggested not removing it from the budget, but rather make it a hire later in the year.

Cleveland said the $85,000 was based on a full year, but that doesn’t make sense since the year is already underway.

This position does not have a job description, this position does not necessarily have a workload and as such I think that giving council and the CAO six months to generate that job description, that need, that requirement, by that time we will as Councillor Mutton pointed out be through our governance review. That will allow us more clarity on the potential role of this position.”

The mayor changed his motion to be a fourth-quarter hire.

That gives us both the time for the governance review, it gives us time to ensure that this position is in fact required and needed. It does create that budget line item there for the right candidate because this isn’t going to be a position that’s just hired,” Cleveland said. “In communications with the CAO this position is going to be very integral to the future planning of this organization and as such there may not be a candidate who steps forward within the third or fourth quarter. We will see. My move is to simply create the opportunity should the right candidate come forward in our search in the fourth quarter.”

Beatty asked CAO Tracey Vaughan to build off the mayor’s comments about the right candidate coming forward and asked if the normal human resources hiring policies would be followed.

If this position was approved by council then it would absolutely go through the regular recruitment process. That would be a full, open and transparent process with a full job description and would be hired through our regular panel which includes HR, the hiring manager which in this case would be myself so a reminder that while this position would serve mayor and council, mayor and council has one employee which is the CAO. Certainly as in past practice with director interviews, at some point we would likely invite some participation from council in a second or third stage of the process, but the hiring process would mirror all of our regular hiring processes.”

Davey said the wage figure would be $15,418 for the last quarter with benefits of $4,934 for a total $20,352

Bureau said he’s in his second term and fifth year now and doesn’t see a need for this position.

If we’re going to be even waiting until the fourth quarter then if this was so important why would we not bring it up sooner,” he asked. “I don’t see a need for this position at this time, for this year so I won’t be in support of this motion.”

Mutton was in agreement with Bureau.

I really am looking forward to our governance review. I think it’s going to be critically important on how we function moving forward. Although I’m not 100 per cent opposed to such a position, I think it’s premature,” she said. “I would rather that we are well prepared when we discuss the 2024 budget, which I think will probably be earlier just because of the (last) election so I want to keep an open mind about this, but I’m really concerned that we need to set things up in our governance review.”

Beatty also said she’s not against the position, but doesn’t have all the information to support the costing of it.

Council just approved itself a pay rise so to me that’s justifying we do the work. We are our own ambassadors, we’re our own admin, we’re our own managers and we are our own advocates. To another councillor’s point, justifying that pay increase, I can’t justify a pay increase as well as the addition of assistant at this time. We have to stop inflating the council portion of the overall budget.”

Mayor Cleveland responded “with the utmost of respect to both deputy mayor and my councillors, the reason you don’t see a need for it is because you guys aren’t in and out of the office every single day. You guys are not aware of the strain, stress and expectations our current executive assistant and because that knowledge is not there, I can understand your position. The reality, this position is to allow both the CAO, myself and all of council an ability to get more accomplished. I understand it’s the will of council, but I want to put it out there that potentially the reason you don’t see a need for it is because our current executive assistant is defying laws of what is and isn’t capable and I think it’s unfair to continue to expect one individual to perform the tasks that this individual has continually done happily and successfully. I’m putting it out there that, again, without the day in, day out knowledge required of being in these offices from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., I can understand why you may or may not see the need is there.”

Deputy Mayor Beatty said “I actually take offence to that. I believe that all council colleagues understand the stress and appreciate the value of staff. I can’t speak for everyone, but I carry the stress of this job every single day. Yes I’m not the mayor and the mayor has a more full-time workload than the deputy and the councillors, but to imply that I don’t understand or appreciate the level of stress that staff carry or that these positions carry, I take great offence to that comment.”

Councillor Bureau said he agreed with the deputy mayor.

I, too, take offence to that. We’re up every morning reading e-mails, every night answering phone calls talking to people. New councillors that come on understand the stress of staff going through budgets, going through day-to-day activities. I think our staff is absolutely outstanding and each one of them go above and beyond. For your worship to say that we don’t understand what goes on in town hall is absolutely wrong.”

Councillor Darling agreed with colleagues that at this time and wasn’t supportive, on a fixed budget, of adding $20,000 for a fourth quarter hire. He thought it was best to defer to the 2024 budget deliberations.

Councillor Barber said while it’s possible this potential hire could ease the burden of other staff, he would prefer to see a job description and thinks it would be prudent of council to put it off for now.

Seeing the will of council, I remove the motion,” Cleveland said.

At the end of Thursday’s meeting, Cobourg council unanimously supported a motion to approve the 2023 Capital Budget in the amount of $32,998,716 and the 2023 Operating Budget with the Municipal Levy of $28,154,601 which represents a 8.1% increase over the 2022 Operating Budget and a 6.6% net increase after allowing for New Assessment Growth of 1.5%.

Deputy Mayor Nicole Beatty noted the budget requires final approval at the next regular council meeting on Feb. 27.

Jeff Gard
Author: Jeff Gard

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