The most awkward political issue

Breakfast, anyone?

Breakfast, anyone?

One of the most awkward issues politicians face came in front of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board of directors on Friday (March 27) — how much to pay themselves.

It’s a quirk of our political system that politicians are in charge of their own paycheques. It’s long been a bone of contention with the public but it’s no picnic for the politicians either. Most I know would rather that somebody else make the decision because elected representatives are subject o being criticized for being overly generous with themselves.

Sometimes those criticisms are well justified.

Friday’s discussion at the TNRD board table was short. In fact, there was no discussion at all. That’s because the debate had already been held a couple of weeks ago at the committee of the whole level. That’s where the entire board meets as a committee to noodle about ideas without formally deciding on them.

However, the committee of the whole can make recommendations to the board — that is, to itself — and bring them up at a regular board meeting. That’s what happened with the annual review of the remuneration and expenses bylaw.

In committee, proposals were made to increase meal allowances, meeting allowances and communications allowances. There were other minor adjustments, too, but those are the main ones.

A 20 per cent increase in meal allowances, rationalized by the fact restaurant food is getting more expensive, brings the allowances for breakfast to $17 (from $15), lunch to $18 and dinner to $29 (high when doing board business in the Lower Mainland). Meeting indemnities were raised $10 to $150.

The latter are paid to directors for meetings they attend in addition to regular board meetings. The pay setup for directors is sort of like sales people who earn a base and then a commission. Similar idea, anyway.

The communications allowance is meant to cover things like cellphone costs, Internet, office supplies and advertising for local community meetings. It goes from $1,000 to $1,500 a year.

In committee, I voted against the increase in meal allowances and the meeting indemnity because I simply don’t feel they’re necessary. (As one director pointed out, if you eat at home it costs you a few dollars anyway, so directors shouldn’t expect to be reimbursed for the full cost of a meal out.) I voted in favour of the change to the communications allowance because it’s based on receipts and it’s not hard to spend more than $1,000 on communications. Directors must turn in receipts from time to time to be reimbursed.

However, all the increases were approved, by no means unanimously. When they came forward Friday as amendments to the indemnity and expenses bylaw, I voted against them again — since they were all presented within the same bylaw I had to vote against all of them.

The increases also came forward as amendments to the bylaw governing directors’ remuneration for Thompson Regional Hospital Board meetings, so I voted against them there, too.

Despite my opposition, I’m somewhat pleased that the increases are so modest. The board clearly was in no mood to be giving itself generous increases this year and, instead, tread carefully with only small adjustments.

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