Pay cuts to Vancouver City Hall managers were not exactly as advertised

A modest decrease for former city manager Sadhu Johnston means that Chief Adam Palmer was the highest-paid person on the payroll of local taxpayers in Vancouver in 2020

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      Today, the first report on the Vancouver city council agenda is the annual statement of financial information.

      It includes the compensation paid to all City of Vancouver employees who receive $75,000 or more per year. 

      This was preceded by a news release last week in which Mayor Kennedy Stewart described the city's efforts to cut expenses in response to the pandemic.

      According to the mayor, that included "laying off 1,800 staff and directing management and council to take 10 percent pay cuts" last year.

      But did those 10 percent pay cuts really occur? Not according to the annual statement of financial information coming before council today.

      It shows that compensation to recently departed city manager Sadhu Johnston declined by just 2.25 percent in 2020. His pay fell to $354,698 last year from $362,852 the previous year.

      Gil Kelley, the recently departed general manager of planning, urban design and sustainability, saw his income shrink by 3.82 percent in 2020. It dipped to $280,733 from $291,879 the previous year.

      Director of finance, risk, and business planning Patrice Impey had a larger pay cut—4.47 percent. She collected $288,130 in 2020, down from $301,609 in 2019.

      The general manager of arts, culture, and community services, Sandra Singh, received a 1.43 percent reduction in compensation—$262,140 in 2020, down from $265,955 the previous year.

      The director of legal services, Francie Connell, was paid 1.48 percent less in 2020 from 2019. Her compensation fell from $298,689 to $294,273.

      Last October, Global News reported that city managers received "merit-based pay hikes", with the average being 4.8 percent. These were reportedly made available to those whose salaries were below the maximum pay range and who met or exceeded performance expectations.

      That was according to then deputy city manager Paul Mochrie, who's now the acting city manager.

      Mochrie, by the way, took a 3.78-percent haircut in 2020, with his compensation falling from $288,475 in 2019 to $277,583.

      Writing in Business in Vancouver last April, city-hall watcher Mike Howell noted that the pay cut for city management and nonunionized employees was "mandatory and comes in the form of an unpaid day off every 10 days".

      This is what Mayor Stewart said in his March 24 news release: “Thanks to the hard work of our City’s Leadership Team, staff, and local unions and with support from senior levels of government, our financial position is now looking much more positive.”

      Police chief's pay increases

      The mayor made no mention in his news release of pay raises for three of the four top Vancouver police brass in 2020.

      Here's a list of their 2020 compensation with their 2019 compensation in parentheses:

      * Chief Adam Palmer: $374,673 ($363,216 in 2019)—an increase of 3.15 percent;

      * Deputy Chief Steve Rai: $278,667 ($276,530 in 2019)—an increase of 0.77 percent;

      * Deputy Chief Howard Chow: $267,234 ($262,496)—an increase of 1.8 percent;

      * Deputy Chief Laurence Rankin: $254,433 ($264,682)—a decrease of 3.87 percent.

      The Vancouver police board pays police salaries with the help of a grant from Vancouver city council. Palmer's raise and Johnston's modest pay cut means that the police chief became the highest-paid person on the payroll of local Vancouver taxpayers in 2020. He oversees a force of more than 1,300 officers.

      This year when council tried to freeze the police budget, the police board asked for a review from the provincial director of police services.

      In effect, the police board wants an unelected provincial bureaucrat to override a decision by the elected Vancouver city council. And this comes after the Vancouver police budget increased from about $200 million in 2010 to $340 million in 2020.

      The police board described the 2021 budget freeze as a "cut" because it had to absorb salary increases, which meant that it would have to reduce personnel.

      "Council’s budget cut undermines the Board’s independent governance role, and will negatively impact public safety, public confidence in policing, and member wellness for years to come," board vice chair Barj Dhahan said in a statement released on March 9.