When I started here at The Question, just over 10 weeks ago, I made myself a small promise — I would not constantly gaze into the rearview mirror of my experiences in Canmore and compare this community with that one in my columns.
You know what they say about good intentions.
But I break this oath I made for a very good reason and one that has me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside — I actually made a difference.
Sometimes in the world of being the small town media type, you feel as if you are consistently banging your head against the brick wall of mistrust, double speak and message-managing bureaucrats.
It is worse, I am sure, in the big cities and dealing with big governments. I used to think small towns were different, but they too must spin in the breeze of our ever-changing modern information age.
So it was with glee that I read that Canmore’s elected officials, with the hiring of a brand new Chief Administrative Officer, former deputy CAO Lisa de Soto, have taken the bold and progressive step to post her contract on the municipal website. Her entire contract, including salary, benefits, perks, severance entitlements and job description.
Glorious. I love it when the people go beyond paying mere lip service to buzzwords like openness and accountability and actually take action.
The warm fuzzy moment for yours truly comes from the fact that in my tenure at the Rocky Mountain Outlook I covered the unceremonious partings of two CAOs and their subsequent jaw-dropping severance packages totalling $219,053 and $400,776 respectively over a period of five years.
I felt strongly that above and beyond any other public servant the CAO as the head of an administrative team, and council’s only true employee, should be held to a higher standard of disclosure to the taxpaying public. With the hiring of a new CAO this was Canmore’s chance to set an example.
I was backed up by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s spokesperson Scott Henning, who noted when tax dollars are involved, major contracts should be made public in advance. Especially when, like in the Canmore situation, they went outside the norm for compensation in the event council wanted to terminate the position.
“You are a public employee, so the amount we pay you and details are public and if you don’t like it don’t work in the public service,” Henning said, in an article I wrote earlier this year. “We shouldn’t know more about professional athletes’ salaries than our own (public sector) employees — that’s our money.”
By pushing the issue my efforts were listened to by Canmore council and new ground for municipal disclosure was broken. Hence the warm fuzzies.
In sharing this information, I’m not saying Whistler needs to do what Canmore does. They have a CAO in place and it would be cumbersome to demand that his contract be disclosed after the fact, as it was likely not a provision when it was signed. However, it brought to mind one interesting fact that came out of a story last week that it would be useful for all taxpaying Whistlerites to note.
It has not yet been made public what this municipality’s CAO earns for a salary. I even asked for it last week.
I was told we would all have to wait until next June when the next Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) report. The one released this year did not include Mike Furey’s salary as he had been in the position for a mere three-and-a-half months and had not reached the threshold of earning over $75,000 that is necessary to be included in the report.
That means Mike Furey will have been on the job as CAO approximately 21 months before the public is allowed to know how what he is being paid for a year’s work.