Tuesday 14 August 2012

Are we paying our mayors enough?

The pending special mayor episode of Winnipeg Internet Pundits got me thinking about mayors. My particular train of thought revolved around mayoral performance. Why do mayors always seem to under perform? Is it just my perception, or do cities generally have a hard time attracting capable leaders?

I think most Winnipeggers can relate to this. Before our last civic election there was near-unanimous consensus that mayor Sam Katz was doing a poor job: making poor planning decisions, spending too much time in Phoenix and not enough running the city, screwing up rapid transit, screwing up active transportation, doing things that were uncomfortably close to conflict of interest, burying us in an infrastructure deficit, poisoning the relationship with the Province, etc...  Yet, he won the election easily because there was nobody else worth voting for. Why???

We're not alone here, or at least I get the impression we're not. I hear stories from time to time of wacky or incompetent mayors in other cities. Even Toronto, with a population base 8 times ours, can't find a dignified mayor. Rob Ford is a controversial guy who battles with the media and often says ill-advised things like "Roads are built for buses, cars and trucks. Not for people on bikes. And my heart bleeds for them when I hear someone gets killed, but it's their own fault at the end of the day." That's just the start of his controversies, which include reading while driving.

Before Ford, in the late 90's and early 00's, there was a guy named Mel Lastman. Lastman was a furniture salesman by trade, and he didn't change a bit as mayor. He was definitely the Kern Hill/David Keam of mayors. Business acumen is a plus for sure, but crazy TV ads impersonating a US President probably don't help. For whatever good things he did, he is probably best remembered as the mayor who installed giant coloured moose all over the city.

Now, there are certainly exceptions. One might point to Calgary's Naheed Nenshi as an example. However, I believe there is a definite trend. 

The question is: how do we reverse the trend? A while ago I suggested that we should encourage politicians to accept free Jets tickets as a perk to attract better candidates. I was only joking, but that may be on the right track. Are we paying mayors enough? Sam Katz earns $126k per year (plus perks). Rob Ford earns $168k as mayor of The Big Smoke. That seems like a lot of money to an average Fred, but in terms of experienced professionals capable of running a large organization, it's not. Winnipeg's Deputy CAO earns $313k. Even Sam's own chief of staff earns almost as much as he does. In the private sector, management jobs routinely run well into 6 figures. 

You could argue that all public leaders are underpaid, relatively speaking, but the office of Prime Minister for example has the prestige of the job to attract candidates. A mayor's job consists of making decisions about road repairs and trash collection, not globe trotting and hobnobbing with dignitaries. As a result, it tends to attract either long shots with nothing to lose, or wealthy business people who have something to gain. 

Every once in a while a capable long shot like Nenshi might get on the ballot and win, but more often then not our mayor ends up being a business man for whom the job is a hobby or a means to an end. A larger salary could be a small price to pay to improve those odds.


Scott MacNeil said...

Bang on! Given the size of the budget, staff, and policies our Mayor's are entrusted with managing... they should be paid more. Err, as long as there is a recall provision for poor/lax performance.

Vote Livio - Setting an Example said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Can't compare running a fortune 500 company with running a City. Two different animals two different requirements two different structures.

One is profit driven ( innovation, marketing )the other is service driven ( communal requirements profit neutral ).

The notion that a City should behave like a true corporation is flawed and has added layers of bureaucracy and cost which do not benefit the stakeholders.

A City is a social beast and must behave within those confines. Let the private sector go out and attract business.


Anonymous said...

Oh sorry, there was an option. Judy would have made a good managerial mayor. Which in hindsight is what a City needs. But you have to have some checks and balances to keep them inline

If you can place some safegaurds to rein the political aspect in , you can have the governance a City requires.

Safegaurds for starters

Elimination of EPC
Term Limits

I personally believe they make more than enough money. If someone requires a heftier paycheque in order to run for office, I suggest they go start a corporation and use their skills providing jobs and economic benefits to the City.


Christopher Leo said...

Well said. You're absolutely right, and you write well too.
Christopher Leo

cherenkov said...

FA / Liv: Recall is an interesting idea, but seldom do incumbent mayors get defeated, so I'm afraid that all a recall would do is create an unnecessary extra election. A mayor would have to screw up pretty badly and a credible candidate would have to be waiting in the wings to pounce when he does.

Professor: thanks.

Anonymous said...

Great piece! The last bit there about the mayoral duties being treated like a hobby is sooooo true!

cherenkov said...

Thanks Anon.

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