If you’re a masochist, this is the job for you!
City council might have to seek out members of a self-flagellation club in order to live up to a motion passed Tuesday night.Besides voting to freeze their 2019 salaries at 2018 levels (an important and laudable gesture of leadership in a hurting city) council also voted in favour of reconvening the Council Compensation Review Committee (CCRC) in the first quarter of 2020.The fact that a CCRC of five dedicated volunteers issued a report in May 2017, and then promptly had almost all of their recommendations disregarded by council after receiving an unwarranted tongue-lashing at city hall, was not mentioned, though Ward 13 Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart alluded to the dysfunction at Tuesday’s meeting.Peter Bowal, the chair of that committee and a law professor in the business and environment area at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, says he doesn’t recommend any sane Calgarian to volunteer “to be used as window dressing ” and then “cannon fodder” the way he and his committee were in 2017.“I wouldn’t recommend anyone to donate their time and effort on that committee because I don’t think it would make any difference,” said Bowal, who was interviewed Tuesday via telephone.In October 2017, council appointed five Calgarians to the CCRC and those members appointed Bowal as chair. They did not receive one cent of compensation, attended 12 meetings at city hall with absurd procedural rules that hindered their progress, took time off work, dedicated hundreds of hours researching the mayor and council’s compensation package, and Bowal even used his own money to initiate freedom of information requests.At the end of all that, not only was the committee not thanked, it was “vilified” by council when it presented its report. Mayor Naheed Nenshi was not present, and council quickly voted in favour of cutting his compensation by six per cent but rejected lowering their own, including many other of the committee’s suggestions that would have lowered council compensation from being the top in Canada to being in the 75th percentile.“After you’ve dedicated yourself to this public service, the likelihood is that you will be despised at the end of it because the councillors don’t like the results,” said Bowal, who holds law degrees from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto and the University of Cambridge, as well as a commerce degree from the University of Alberta.“It became very personal, very vicious against us,” said Bowal. “If they didn’t like a particular recommendation they said it was biased, that we were biased. Biased? What were we biased about? We didn’t have any axe to grind in this at all, we had no skin in the game other than the fact that we are taxpayers, so we value prudence,” added Bowal.The day the committee presented its report to council, Bowal and the other volunteers took the day off work because they were told to be seated in council chambers by 9:30 a.m. The issue of council pay, however, was put at the end of the day’s agenda — as most contentious issues are.“They were jumping up and giving greetings to every school kid who popped by and sat in the gallery for 10 minutes,” said Bowal.“The items of business before ours mostly involved city employees speaking to council. It was extremely inconsiderate of them,” he said.“We’re volunteers. We’re the ones who have outside jobs, we’re the ones who were doing this out of the goodness of our hearts, and I realized afterwards that we were just cannon fodder for them that went on and on. The questions they asked us weren’t about clarifications about our recommendations but about our qualifications. They threw aspersions on our character and qualifications. Ironically, they turned on the very same people they appointed.”In council Tuesday, before voting in favour of re-establishing the CCRC “to perform a complete evaluation of council’s overall benefits, including but not limited to: pension for elected officials,” one of the councillors said that whatever recommendations are made should be accepted. That, however, is not in the motion. Without it, says Bowal, the entire exercise is pointless.Bowal says there should be a strong presumption to accept the recommendations. “They should have to have a good reason to reject a recommendation, otherwise it’s just a public-relations exercise — it’s just window dressing — which is what happened in our case.”On Tuesday night, many councillors stood up and said that when they said or did something wrong they were quick to apologize “in front of the television cameras” in council. This was said because Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas did not apologize for incorrectly posting on his Facebook page in December that his colleagues voted for a pay raise, when they thought they were voting for a pay cut.Because Farkas did not say sorry, all but Sean Chu and Farkas rejected a motion to call off the city’s integrity commissioner from looking into his actions.Ironically, Bowal and the other committee members — who were publicly dressed down and humiliated — have never received a private apology, let alone a public one from any members of council for their treatment.Bowal complained to the city’s integrity commissioner, who said two councillors did write private apologies but Bowal has never received them.Like I said, if you’re a masochist, volunteering for Calgary’s Council Compensation Review Committee is the job for you.
“I wouldn’t recommend anyone to donate their time and effort on (the new CCRC),” says Peter Bowal, the previous committee’s chair.
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