Dermod Travis: White House salaries put to shame by B.C. municipal paycheques

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      Pity Jack Lew, President Barack Obama's White House chief of staff, the highest ranking employee inside the executive office of the President of the United States.

      Earning a paltry $172,200 a year, Lew's salary pales in comparison to George Duncan, the chief administrative officer of—wait for it—Richmond, who pocketed a cool $267,613 in 2010–11 for keeping the lights on in that Lower Mainland suburb.

      And Duncan's salary isn't even an anomaly. The chief administrative officers or city managers of cities such as Delta, North Vancouver (City and District), Kelowna, Maple Ridge, West Vancouver, Burnaby, Kamloops, Langley City, Pitt Meadows, White Rock, Surrey, Vancouver, and Victoria all earned more than the White House chief of staff last year, according to the Vancouver Sun's public-sector salaries database.

      In fact, according to the 30 cities covered by the Vancouver Sun's database, 116 municipal employees in B.C. earned more than Obama's chief of staff and 17 of TransLink's top breadwinners pulled in more than poor old Lew as well.

      The overall winner of the B.C. City Hall Pay Sweepstakes? Penny Ballem, Vancouver's city manager, who banked a tidy $324,110, nearly double Lew's salary.

      And gold-plated municipal salaries aren't just a big-city phenomenon in B.C.

      In the Town of Lillooet, the chief administrative officer is paid $120,316 annually to keep an eye on 2,322 local residents.

      Or put another way: it costs each taxpayer in Lillooet roughly $110 to keep their CAO living in comfort, not even taking into account all of the other town employees they must pay for as well.

      Now compare that Lillooet salary to Obama's principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, described by the Washington Post as a key member of Obama's message team, who makes $123,000 a year at his White House gig and is perpetually a slip of the tongue away from igniting an international incident.

      Still keeping Earnest's pay in mind, consider the plight of Victoria's hard-hit taxpayers.

      In the capital city alone, there are 24 city employees who make more than Obama's deputy press secretary and this in a city where the average wage earner pulls in less than $40,000 per year.

      It isn't just the vast discrepancy between White House salaries and the senior managers of local governments in B.C. that should alarm taxpayers. It's also the duplicity that exists at city halls across the province.

      Imagine how city residents in Victoria felt when they opened a recent Times Colonist to read that: “City execs' salaries rise by up to 76% since 2007.”

      Reportedly, Victoria's councillors were "shocked" by the news. No kidding.

      Victoria's city employees were likely shocked too after reading the news, realizing that they had only recently accepted a two percent pay hike in each of the next three years.

      But at least they can take solace in the fact that in Revelstoke, municipal workers received even less, just a 1.25 percent pay hike in 2010 and 2011.

      Shades of Oliver Twist perhaps?

      With pay rates and hikes such as those given to senior managers at city halls, it's little surprise that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business reported earlier this year that municipal spending in B.C. has jumped to “nearly four times the rate of population growth over the last decade”, even after spending was adjusted for inflation.

      B.C. ratepayers would have saved over $4 billion if local government spending had simply kept pace with inflation and population growth.

      Bottom line though: it's inexcusable for city administrations to tell their unionized workers on the one hand that the cupboard is bare and be happy with a one or two per cent pay hike, while on the other hand rewarding their top guns with increases of 76 per cent over five years, as Victoria did with some.

      It's also less than honest.

      Dermod Travis is the executive director of Integrity B.C.



      Public servant # 3456

      Jul 13, 2012 at 1:58pm

      You don't want a US system, with revolving doors between government and private sector. If public servants are underpaid, they have more of an incentive to play nice with contractors to secure themselves seven figure jobs.

      On the other hand, our executives seem way out of touch, no argument there.

      Arthur Vandelay

      Jul 13, 2012 at 2:13pm

      The number that's really out of skew in all of this is the White House chief of staff’s salary. That's clearly out of balance with the amount of responsibility the position entails and as such, I think it is a (intentionally) flawed yardstick by which to measure GVRD employee salaries for the purposes of this article. As with all public sector salaries they should be measured against comparable private sector salaries. You’d be surprised at how little $200,000 gets in the lower mainland in terms of responsible strategic decision makers.


      Jul 13, 2012 at 5:12pm

      I have never bought the BALONEY that Public Servants would "leave" or we could not hire someone competent if we don't pay large Fortune 500 type Salaries.

      That's one of the biggest loads of crap there is...if they want to leave fine who gives a shit pay em average salaries...

      You forget also the cost of Gold Plated PENSIONS...

      After all they run a MONOPOLY...


      Jul 13, 2012 at 5:27pm

      Cue the standard bullsh*t line "but we must offer great financial incentive to attract the best of the best"...and we all know we ain't getting the best of anything in return.


      Jul 13, 2012 at 7:26pm

      I don't think the laws of supply and demand really apply to these jobs... instead all that is required is a healthy wage, not an extravagant one. If each position dropped in pay by 25% they would still fill the positions with equally capable people. I bet a lot of them would even hang on to their jobs with a pay cut that big, knowing they still couldn't find better paying positions elsewhere.

      Taxpayers R Us

      Jul 13, 2012 at 9:43pm

      Pork-barrel politics at its best, but since this isn't the US, what do we call it? Green-barrel?


      Jul 13, 2012 at 11:48pm

      We need a revolution in this province.


      Jul 14, 2012 at 12:38am

      I think it is important to clearify who is making the big bucks in governments & who isn't. The majority of people are working stiffs just like the rest of us. The clerks, secretaries, labourers, etc. make a decent living wage.

      Its the executives who are being over paid as the comparision to others. Not over paid like CEOs of private companies but still over paid. We have to look no further than the CEO of Washington State Ferries. He's making a fraction of what the head of B.C. Ferries is making.

      Over $300K for Penny Bellam; over $200K for the guy in Richmond. Those salaries are ridiculous. These people are out of touch with their citizens. I'd suggest Ms. Bellam could take a pay cut of at least a $100K. when chief administrators in local governments are making more than the prime minister we really need to have a good look at what is going on.

      I realize it is expensive to live in B.C., but for the taxpayers having to pay for these huge salaries while the rank & file have to fight for every nickel something needs to change. Its the rank & file who provide the front line services not these CEOs in local governments.

      If Ms. Bellam or Mr. Duncan don't want to work for less, I am sure we can pick up some really good administrators from Obama's office at a fraction of the current cost. I understand the people who work in Obama's office are political appointees and chief administrators are actually "employees". However, if you look at it from a "pay equity" i.e. what duties they perform, responsibility, stress, etc. perspective, some one is really being over paid.


      Jul 15, 2012 at 7:43am

      The CAO's just took an increase of 8%, councils 6% then it was off to Saskatoon for some conference and we got to pay for airfares, hotels, meals, drinks, whatever else. Perhaps some winter togs as it was cold in Saskatoon at that time.

      Let's demand an election. NOW!

      james green

      Jul 16, 2012 at 7:43pm

      No public servant should be paid over $200,000 in this region of Metro Vancouver especially in Vancouver. Raymond Louie's leadership of the city's finance committee has left us with a $52,000,000 shortfall and to be clear we cannot afford to pay the salaries many of the senior manager's are paid in Vancouver due to this kind of salary waste.
      The supply argument is straight bull. In tough economic times the boys and girls who captain the economic ship that has been hitting the shortfall iceberg for the last three years need to take cuts in their salaries and the costs of operating the city needs to be cut by up to 20% and I am not talking bout cuts to services to the people of Vancouver.