Should Eisenberger donate his hydro stipend?
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