PAY FREEZE FOR COUNCIL
City council voted to freeze their salaries in 2019 during a tense meeting Tuesday where old grievances prompted by the social-media posting of one councillor were renewed again.Council voted 14-1 to freeze their salaries at 2018-levels. Only Mayor Naheed Nenshi voted against the freeze, arguing elected officials shouldn’t interfere with a formula that automatically adjusts pay each year.Tuesday’s debate began as an attempt to address the “state of confusion” created in December when council first rejected a pay freeze in a debate that resulted in the ejection of Coun. Jeromy Farkas from chambers.At the Dec. 17 meeting, council voted to expel Farkas over comments he made in a Facebook post. Farkas’s post could be understood to imply that council had voted themselves a pay raise.Several councillors argued at the December meeting, and again on Tuesday, that they only rejected the freeze because they believed a cut was coming thanks to the advice of the city’s chief financial officer, Carla Male.Subsequently, it emerged that Male’s advice may have been wrong, that she had referenced a pay formula that differs from the actual calculation practice of the city’s human-resources department. According to HR’s practice in recent years, council was set to receive a pay bump of 2.37 per cent — a fact that Farkas repeated in chambers during the meeting.While Tuesday’s meeting saw council resolve the question of pay in 2019 with a vote to freeze salaries, frustration over Farkas’s social-media post brimmed over again. Some councillors suggested that Farkas had made a target of them, leaving an impression with the public that they were “pigs at the trough.”“What continually happens is the rest of us are made to look terrible in the eyes of the public,” said Coun. Jyoti Gondek, who said she’s been “attacked” while out with her family. “I’m actually begging you to stop with the rhetoric.”Farkas stopped short of apologizing for his December post at Tuesday’s meeting, calling it a “misunderstanding” and suggesting that there was “regret on all sides.”His colleagues were furious. A motion from Coun. Sean Chu seeking to drop an investigation by the city’s integrity commissioner into Farkas’s Facebook post was roundly rejected in a 13-2 vote. Only Chu and Farkas voted in favour.“There is no apology here,” said Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra. “The fact is it’s disingenuous to suggest that this was a misunderstanding. This was a deliberate play.”Following the meeting Tuesday, Nenshi said he agrees the integrity commissioner’s investigation into the Facebook post should go forward.“This issue ultimately was not at all about whose formula was correct — the issue was about many members of council feeling that a social-media post implied they did something they didn’t think they did,” said Nenshi.“What is the line there? And what can and should members of council say about their colleagues? That’s really what the complaint was about, and I think it’s important for the integrity commissioner to rule on it.”Nenshi also said Farkas might have won a few more votes in favour of dropping the investigation had he apologized to his colleagues.“I suspect it would have swayed some votes, because likely that’s what the integrity commissioner — if he finds that there was fault — that’s probably what he’ll ask for.”Farkas said he was “disappointed” that council wasn’t able to “bury the hatchet” Tuesday.“For my part, I’m looking forward to being able to proceed without any hard feelings,” Farkas said.“I am disappointed that this is going to continue to drag out. But, for my part, I’m not at all interested in escalating this and trying (to) get into some sort of finger-pointing exercise. We’ve spent enough time on this issue.”Changes could still be made to councillor compensation ahead of the next council term.A council committee is currently reviewing how council pay is determined, as well as looking at ways to improve the operation of the volunteer citizen committee that makes recommendations on compensation every four years.
Jeremy Farkas was one of only two councillors to vote in favour of a motion to drop an investigation by the city’s integrity commissioner into a social-media post that upset his council colleagues.
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