TNRD – Sometimes, we politicians forget to think like taxpayers
By MEL ROTHENBURGER
Director, Electoral Area P, TNRD
Sometimes politicians forget to think like taxpayers.
Take Thursday’s meetings of the Thompson Regional Hospital District board and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board, for example.
At both meetings, the issue of pay raises for directors came up. The proposal for regional hospital district directors was that meeting stipends be increased from $160 to $170, reflecting the Consumer Price Index.
I proposed that no increase be given this year. My motion was voted down.
At the meeting of the regional district board that followed, I made a similar motion that no increases be accepted by TNRD directors this year. The reasons I gave included the fact that we need to continue showing leadership and proving to the public we’re worthy of their confidence, and that includes holding the line on our own paycheques.
I pointed out that in 2019 the board had approved 19 per cent pay increases for rural directors and 11 per cent for municipal directors. (By the way, I have donated my increase to charities and local community projects.)
In 2020, I proposed that directors take a pay cut to show leadership during the pandemic. That was handily shot down. In 2021, as the spending controversy raged, the board declined to take an increase.
I said the Bearfoot Bistro (and the big bill for dinner for some of the directors during a Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler) was still very much on the public’s mind.
Most directors disagreed with my opinion. Director Ronaye Elliott commented, “We are still trying to make up for something that we didn’t do,” adding that young people are discouraged from running because electoral area directors don’t get paid enough.
Director Steve Quinn said, “Let it be an election issue.”
Arjun Singh said the board should be proud of the progress it’s made on spending controls. His fellow City director Dale Bass, however, said she still hears from people who are concerned about TNRD spending.
Nine directors of the 25 present voted in favour of not taking an increase. The result is that a stipend increase of 2.8 per cent and a committee meeting rate of $170 go into effect. Rural directors will now be paid $25,256 annually and municipal directors $15,135.
The board’s policy on directors’ expenses also came up. On this one, I moved that a proposal from the policy committee to allow directors attending conferences to go out and buy a meal, then bill for it if they don’t like the food that’s already been paid for through registration fees, be removed.
At the earlier policy committee meeting, some directors had complained that convention food often isn’t very good and that they should be able to buy a meal somewhere else. Others had concerns about dietary needs.
My argument against it is that the taxpayers end up paying twice. Perhaps somewhat undiplomatically, I suggested directors who are unhappy with convention food should “suck it up.”
Director Ward Stamer, the mayor of Barriere, objected to “the innuendo that we’re not being responsible enough.”
To be fair, Thursday’s debate focused more on what to do about directors with special dietary needs than on the quality of food, which had dominated the committee discussion. Director Barbara Roden of Ashcroft proposed an amendment to my amendment that special dietary needs be eligible for an exception to what I was suggesting.
That amendment was approved, and then my amendment, as amended, was also approved with 14 directors voting in favour.
My comments here might not make me especially popular with some of my fellow directors but it’s the details that taxpayers often take as a sign of how politicians think. The CPI raise is small but we should always be aware of the signals we’re sending.
In my view, we weren’t thinking like taxpayers on this one.
Mel Rothenburger is the Director for Electoral Area P. He was elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2018.
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At least this happened BEFORE the upcoming civic election in Kamloops. This approval has now become part of the platform for the incumbents who have or will decide to run for office.
I respect the work that TNRD Directors do, and I know the past couple of years with the Gill affair have not been easy. I am pretty sure though, that I heard on the Radio NL news this afternoon that the Director’s travel expenses policy had been amended so that those TNRD Directors that attended meetings virtually would no longer be paid the travel stipend . I’m not sure why they would have been paid a travel stipend in the first place, for virtual attendance. Seems pretty entitled.
The travel allowance used to be built into the stipend, so that directors who lived farther away received more than directors who lived closer. That stopped making sense during the pandemic when some directors attended a lot of meetings virtually. That led to splitting the travel expense from the stipend, and to a uniform stipend rate for all.
Re: TNRD governance. I am slowly moving towards language including “pretentious,” “sense of entitlement,” and “arrogance.” Those expressions seem to have replaced the older ones, such as service, duty, contribution, leadership, and the like. Pre-retirement, as a high school administrator with over a thousand students, I was on duty an average of fifty hours or more per week, and ate, intermittently, from a lunch bag. That does not include the time spent on evaluating and grading the compositions of my grade twelve English class. Somewhat quaintly we used to refer to that kind of regimen as professional commitment. Governing the Regional District is not a job, but a moral and social responsibility. Who is up next, the cubs and scouts masters?. Citizenship used to be a concept of duty and commitment. I miss it.
But now you dropped your own policy of not commenting on TNRD matters. And that’s OK.
Do we really need that many “directors”?
Do we really need six from Kamloops?
Thinking like a self-employed taxpayer I say…hummmm
Actually, I’m maintaining my policy with respect to commenting on TNRD matters. In 2017, I decided to occasionally comment on the TNRD in my capacity as a TNRD director. That decision was based on the fact that there was almost no media interest in the TNRD at the time and I saw a need for the public to know more about TNRD decisions. I continue to do so for matters I feel are of particular interest, being careful to distinguish between my role as a director and as the Armchair Mayor. I also post articles specific to Area P on my Area P blog. I do not comment on TNRD issues in the editorials and columns I write for CFJC.
I am totally ok with you reporting and giving opinions on all local matters…don’t leave any unturned stones…