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City councillors joust over pay and perks

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Cathy Dobson

Though he strongly disagrees with his intensions, Bill Dennis says he regrets calling fellow city councillor Mike Stark a “big spender” during a Feb. 11 meeting and has reached out to apologize.

Stark confirmed he received the private apology and a commitment from Dennis to apologize publicly at the next council meeting.

Mike Stark

“I assured Bill that he was not the first nor will he be the last that got caught up in the emotion of the debate, and that lessons can be learned from this incident,” Stark said in an email.

“Moving forward we will all try to do better.”

Tempers flared over a debate about council expenses and compensation.

“You’re a big spender. I guess it doesn’t really matter,” Dennis fired at Stark.

“I take exception to that,” Stark replied.

“Of course you do,” countered Dennis.

“I accept your apology,” Stark said.

“There’s no apology, trust me,” Dennis responded.

At the time, Coun. Dave Boushy was trying to chair the meeting in the absence of Mayor Mike Bradley. Boushy didn’t acknowledge the exchange and moved on to the next item of business.

Stark said he has apologized to Boushy for creating a “difficult situation.”

For his part, Coun. Dennis said he was having a bad day.

“To be honest, it was right after my speech about sanctions didn’t go my way,” said Dennis, who

Bill Dennis

called the exchange embarrassing.

Dennis proposed lifting sanctions the previous council imposed on Mayor Bradley for harassing and bullying senior administrators, but council opted instead to seek outside legal advice.

Stark called the exchange “personal vindictiveness.”

“I’ve seen heated debate but I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Stark, who served on three municipal councils before returning to office last fall after 28 years.

Stark introduced several motions: to increase council compensation, raise per diem rates for travel, and to have taxpayers buy each councillor a new laptop and cell phone.

Council did increase the travel meal allowance to $85 a day from $60, and approved spending $2,000 per councillor for a laptop, plus $500 annually for maintenance.

But they balked at buying the cell phones.

Stark’s request for a pay increase for was tabled. So was Dennis’s move to create a citizen committee to review compensation.

Both issues are expected to return March 4.

Stark said council members deserve a higher honorarium because of the workload, which is so heavy it discourages younger people from seeking office. Those elected often leave after one term, he argued, noting he spends 30 to 40 hours a week on municipal business.

“People have no idea of the preparation involved,” he said. “Our first meeting had a package with 680 pages to read. It’s much more time consuming than it was when I was a councillor before.”

Stark proposes each councillor’s compensation be raised to $30,700 annually from $23,000. The mayor, who currently gets $80,000 a year, including a car allowance and benefits, should earn $82,700 starting next January, he said.

“If you look at a (2018) report of the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario, what I am asking for is what they identify as the average for municipalities our size between a population of 50,000 and 100,000,” he said.

“It’s the gold standard.”

Dennis disagrees.

“This is a part-time job and it’s not difficult,” he said. “I enjoy the invitations, mingling with people and all the fun stuff.

“And you’re serving your community, solving problems. I didn’t get into this business to feather my own nest.”

He called Stark’s request for a $7,600 a year pay increase “irresponsible.”

“I say ‘no’ to an increase for this council.  We have to lead by example.”

Stark said he wants to see an increase for the current council plus a commitment to review compensation the year before an election.

“I know these are politically difficult topics,” he said.  “But I thought it was negligent of the last council not to deal with it.”

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