Thursday, April 8, 2010

Frank Newman: Pay rise, who decides

Throughout the country the perennial issue of councillor remuneration takes on theatrical dimensions in election year. A case in point is a recent meeting of the Whangarei District Council where one councillor is reported to have said, “We’d be seen as great, big, fat greedy pigs if we took this increase. We need to let our ratepayers know that we have sympathy for them…” (The very same councillor that in the last term of council voted for substantial rate and debt increases!)
Another councillor said, “The councillor’s salary of $41,000 is not enough to attract younger people to stand.” (Which leads one to ask: How young? How much is enough? Why presume younger people will make better decisions?) The mayor said councillors deserve an increase, but not in a recession. While the chamber commentary was characteristically comical there is a serious issue to debate, and that is who should actually decide how much local councillors are paid.

No question councillors can’t be trusted to set their own salaries, but who better to decide than the people who pay their salaries? It is ratepayers who should say whether councillors deserve an increase. Why not ask the good people of Whangarei a few simple questions:

“Councillors currently receive a base salary of $41,000. Do you think this is:
[ ] Too much, if too much how much should they be paid $............
[ ] About right
[ ] Too little, if too little how much should they be paid $...............”

Nothing complicated about that, and it would truly establish the paymaster – employee relationship.

This may seem unconventional to us but not so in jurisdictions that have stronger democracies than ours. In Arizona for example, a citizen salary commission (the equivalent of our Remuneration Authority) reviews salaries every two years and sends its recommendations to voters as a ballot proposition. As it turns out, the voters have rejected the Commission’s recommendation 15 out of 17 times.

If residents were to actually have a say on councillor salaries I suspect they would say $41,000 is too much for Whangarei. Councillors obviously think otherwise but let them put their case and let those they represent decide… after all don’t councillors believe in democracy and respect and trust the will of voters between triennial elections?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is about time that ratepayers had more say in the way local authorities are run. I understand Wanganui has used referenda to some extent. I think it is a great idea and would certainly improve local decision-making, stopping these politicians from wasting our money! All too often, once elected, councillors think they are God's gift. Restricting pay increases would remind them who the boss really is - their ratepayers!