Should Eisen­berger do­nate his hy­dro stipend?

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREW DRESCHEL

Should Mayor Fred Eisen­berger pocket an ex­tra $35,000 for be­ing a board mem­ber of the newly merged Alec­tra util­i­ties com­pany?

Or should he do­nate the stipend to Hamil­ton’s hy­dro relief pro­gram to help low-in­come res­i­dents pay their elec­tric­ity bills?

There’s no doubt where Coun. Donna Skelly stands on the ques­tion.

At a re­cent coun­cil meet­ing, Skelly sug­gested Eisen­berger should fork the money over to the city’s util­ity ar­rears fund, sud­denly mak­ing the Alec­tra pay­ment a very pub­lic and awkward is­sue for the mayor.

“When I first found out the com­pen­sa­tion for Alec­tra, I just about fell off my chair,” Skelly said.

The roughly $35,000 an­nual pay­ment is on top of Eisen­berger’s

$177,000 may­oral salary.

Alec­tra Inc., which of­fi­cially came into ex­is­tence Feb. 1, is the re­sult of a merger with Hamil­ton’s Hori­zon Util­i­ties, En­er­source, Pow­erStream, and the pend­ing ac­qui­si­tion of Hy­dro One Bramp­ton.

The merger cre­ates one of the largest mu­nic­i­pally owned elec­tric­ity util­i­ties in Canada, serv­ing about one mil­lion prop­er­ties in 15 com­mu­ni­ties. Eisen­berger is one of 13 di­rec­tors of the board, which in­cludes four other may­ors.

For good mea­sure, Skelly also sug­gests that Coun. Maria Pear­son, just ap­pointed by coun­cil to re­place the mayor on the Hamil­ton Util­i­ties Cor­po­ra­tion (HUC) board of di­rec­tors, should do­nate her an­nual stipend of about $12,000 to the same relief fund. The HUC pay­ment is in ad­di­tion to Pear­son’s $93,000 coun­cil salary.

“Both these util­i­ties deal with hy­dro, and there isn’t a per­son in this room who can’t say we don’t know peo­ple who are strug­gling with high hy­dro rates,” Skelly said.

Do­nat­ing the money, she said, would send a mes­sage that coun­cil “re­spects” how peo­ple are strug­gling.

Coun. Terry White­head agreed, not­ing that other coun­cil­lors sit on a lot of com­mit­tees and boards without re­ceiv­ing com­pen­sa­tion over and above their reg­u­lar salaries.

In the ab­sence of a pol­icy, he said Eisen­berger and Pear­son should “se­ri­ously con­sider” con­tribut­ing their hon­o­rar­i­ums to help those bat­tling hy­dro bills.

Cor­nered by the spotlight shin­ing down from Skelly’s high moral ground, Pear­son and Eisen­berger aren’t rul­ing the idea out.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing. I may con­sider it, yes,” Pear­son said in an in­ter­view, not­ing she could also flow the HUC hon­o­rar­ium into projects in her ward.

Eisen­berger said he’ll “pon­der” Skelly’s idea, but he also pushed back.

“I think it’s some­what un­fair to kind of put us in this awkward po­si­tion.”

Eisen­berger noted that re­ceiv­ing a stipend for serv­ing on the HUC board has been a tried and true prac­tice for mem­bers of coun­cil for years. He says the po­si­tion takes ex­tra ef­fort and in­volves work­ing on im­por­tant en­ergy dis­tri­bu­tion is­sues.

“I would think it would be un­fair to dis­ad­van­tage any par­tic­i­pant, whether it’s my­self or any­one else on coun­cil … who’s go­ing to do some ex­tra work and put in some ex­tra time and has some fidu­ciary re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.”

Oddly enough, the ex­act stipend Eisen­berger will re­ceive from Alec­tra has not been dis­closed.

It’s been widely re­ported and bandied about among coun­cil­lors that the com­pen­sa­tion is in the $35,000 range, plus ex­tra for at­tend­ing quar­terly board meet­ings.

But Alec­tra spokesper­son John Friesen says he can’t re­veal the ac­tual fig­ure un­til the new util­ity has landed on a dis­clo­sure pol­icy. Guess who de­cides what that dis­clo­sure pol­icy will be? Yep. The board of di­rec­tors.

Eisen­berger him­self pegs the Alec­tra pay at roughly $30,000. He notes that’s only about $10,000 more than he made as a di­rec­tor of HUC. In point of fact, in 2015 Eisen­berger did re­ceive about $20,000 from HUC, but that in­cluded about $6,500 in spe­cial project stipends. In 2014, for­mer mayor Bob Bratina earned $12,375 from HUC.

Eisen­berger re­signed from HUC and named Pear­son as his re­place­ment be­cause he’s now on the Alec­tra board.

If ei­ther was look­ing at the con­se­quent pay as a po­lit­i­cal wind­fall or perk, Skelly has shrewdly con­verted it into a pop­ulist predica­ment.

When I first found out the com­pen­sa­tion for Alec­tra, I just about fell off my chair. COUN. DONNA SKELLY

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