BIZ X MAGAZINE: Windsor’s Council Compensation Review Committee

The City of Windsor’s Council Compensation Review Committee reviews remuneration/compensation and benefits paid to the Mayor and City Councillors, as well as equipment and staffing resources, with a mandate to make recommendations which would come into effect January 1, 2023 for the new term of Council.
Rose City Politics dives into city councillor and mayor compensation.

Jon Liedtke:

A politician known for establishing a regime of patronage once said, “A politician who is poor, is a poor politician”, and while the adage is classist and not applicable to Windsor, deliberately keeping political salaries low distorts the political process in a way similar to patronage: acting as gatekeeper for who can serve.

As a child I remember hearing something attributed to a then-city councilor when discussing whether the role should be “full time”, that it would be impossible to recruit lawyers with a salary of $70k. “What lawyer would work for seventy-thousand annually?” You can probably guess the career of the politician who professed that gem.

But it speaks to a serious question: who do we want representing Windsorites on council? Who are we able to recruit to run when the salary is part time with full time (more) hours?

City council members last received raises in 2019, the first since 2005, with total councilor remuneration going from $40,180 to $45,957 and an all-inclusive amount not tied to boards. While the role of city councilor is part time, those who care, perform the job full time, often overtime, the latter without pay.

It would be remiss not to mention that our mayor’s salary was $198,559 in 2019, while that of Toronto’s mayor was $197,279. Certainly being mayor of Windsor justifies a higher salary than that of Toronto…

The facts remain clear: Windsor has a $889-million operating budget. Who do you want responsible for your tax dollars? Someone working part time?

So What’s Needed?

  • Raise councilor salaries to attract diverse candidates. Windsor only has one woman on council. It’s 2022. What gives? Council only has one blue-collar member. In the automotive capital of Canada.
  • Lower the mayor’s salary & office budget.
  • Annually raise councilor salaries pegged to inflation and review every two terms
  • Provide support staff for Councillors & increase annual expenses; Councillors need the tools to best represent their constituents

It’s time to change the status quo and get more diverse candidates to run for office – and win – and one way to do that is raising salaries and providing necessary tools.

Doug Sartori:

Based on their survey, Windsor’s Council Compensation Committee seems to be taking a thorough look at what the public thinks is fair compensation for the Mayor and City Council. That’s an important element in defining appropriate pay, perhaps the most important element to get a sense of public opinion on. I hope that in their recommendations they also consider the appropriate political balance between Mayor and Council.

Right now, Windsor’s Councillors are compensated for part-time hours with a small support staff to help handle requests from constituents. If they were paid for full-time hours they would be in line with private sector salaries for skilled workers or middle managers. The Mayor’s pay reflects a well-paid top management position and comes with a large staff and lavish budget. This is a somewhat extreme example of a typical pattern in Ontario municipalities.

It is right for the job of Mayor of a large Canadian city to be well-compensated. It’s a position that must be all-consuming if it is to be done well. If you want capable people to apply for the job, it must be well compensated. This is not in itself a problem, necessarily. The problem with our current setup is twofold. 

Councilor pay is unreasonably low considering the workload and expectations. In practical terms this means that many Council seats are occupied by retirees and people whose day jobs require little work.Considering that the Council is our recruiting pool for future Mayors, this policy starves the city of viable potential candidates.

At the same time, the huge imbalance in staff resources between the Mayor and Council creates a situation where it is very difficult for Councillors to work independently and pursue ideas that do not come out of the Mayor’s office. An unscrupulous Mayor can abuse the extensive communication power of the office to promote themselves using city resources.

If the goal is good governance and to attract the strongest leaders possible to serve on Council, the current arrangement falls far short of the ideal. It should change.

Don Merrifield Jr.:

It is that time in the term of council to do their scheduled compensation review. The last review resulted in an 18% pay increase to around $195,000 for the Mayor, and 15% increase to around $46,000 for Councillors. According to the report put out by the committee at the time this was the average pay for a Mayor of a “Tier 1” city, although it did state there were not many that fell into that category. Using salaries from regional Mayors and Councillors, the Mayor was receiving about $25,000 more and Councillors were receiving $22,000 less on average. At the time the 5 person committee consisted of an ex-City Lawyer, 2 board members that deal with the city and the CEO of the hospital. Personally I don’t see that as an “objective community committee”. This time around it is a 3 person committee that seems a bit less connected to the Mayor. 

The city did have a community input survey and meeting but as is usual in Windsor, community input and meetings felt more like, as the mayor once put it, “theatre and a show” for decisions that have already been made. 

My personal opinion is Councillors should be compensated relative to the averages and get big increases, whereas the Mayor should really be compensated to the relative averages too. We all know the odds of that are nil. One factor I doubt is included is the community’s average incomes when figuring out compensation rates. Like property tax rates that should always be factored in. Communities “ability to pay” never seems to be an input. Given this, in my business in the future when I put up a property for sale I will have a committee of my own to review my fees with the property owner. The committee will consist of my Broker, 2 fellow Realtors, my Mom and 2 best friends, in an effort to keep it objective and fair. 


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