Not the Solution We Need

Paying city councillors more money for a ­full-time ­workweek promises no improvement in local governance

I SEE THE  issue of full-time London city councillors has reared its ugly and pointless little head again. Let me be clear from the outset, we emphatically don’t need to spend hundreds of thousands of extra dollars a year on salaries for full-time London city councillors. And here’s why:

There’s no pressing need. The purpose of a municipal council is to identify and represent the needs and wants of the constituents and oversee the actions of the civil servants hired to run the city. Think of them like a board of ­directors, charged with regular review of the needs and results of government programs. They are not required to involve themselves in day-­to-day operations.

We can’t afford it. After a brief hiatus, city taxes have resumed their annual, reliable-as-clockwork increase, a pattern that shows no sign of changing for the better anytime soon. Extra pay for councillors will just add millions more to the already-too-high cost of government.

The lack of council diversity will hurt our city. Right now, anyone can run for council who is willing to eat into their spare time in exchange for something more than $50,000 per year. How they will blend that with their other life ­responsibilities is left up to them, as it should be. Make the position full-time and those people who have long-term jobs or businesses or careers they cannot leave will be blocked from serving. That exclusion will largely limit the talent pool to people who can’t find another job, the willfully unemployed and the retired. There may be outstanding candidates in each of those groups, but is it wise to limit our choices to them alone?

There’s no demand for it. I no longer wade through the daily tides of public opinion like I did during my talk-show days, but I still stay plugged in through friends from many walks of life. And none of them has said word one about the need for full-time council members in recent memory.

The argument of one council member supporting full-time council seats seemed to centre around the idea that full-timers would be able to “better serve” the voters. In what ways, exactly?

One long-time councillor tells me a busy city hall week for him would be 20 hours, including research, council meetings and dealing with constituent issues at city hall. And this from a person known as a specialist in constituent ­services in addition to performing his other council duties well enough that he was re-elected several times.

“Make the position full-time and those people who have long-term jobs or businesses or careers they cannot leave will be blocked from serving”

If the red tape has become so daunting there’s a need for councillors to lead constituents by the hand through city bureaucracy, wouldn’t councillors be better focusing on reforming operations to be more useful to taxpayers, instead of adding to the clutter by involving themselves in day-to-day issues? If there are problems with city hall operations, let council legislate new procedures to correct them.

There are always at least two sides to every story—and sometimes more. I am reasonably certain there are extra duties councillors could perform if they had additional paid time in which to do them, and councillors who would see that as a desirable thing.

But that’s not really the issue, is it? Parkinson’s Law states that a task will expand to fill the amount of time available to complete it, so it stands to reason the workload of a full-time councillor would follow that process.

The real question is why spend what will ­ultimately be millions of additional tax dollars on something without a clearly demonstrable need and little or no public interest? Why would we spend what we can ill afford for little if any improvement in outcome, to severely limit the talent pool of those who could run for council and to increase the size of bureaucracy yet again, to no demonstrably positive purpose? Not exactly a winning combination, if you ask me. Not the Solution We Need  Columns Jim Chapman

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