June 19th, 2024

Municipal manager salary postings could come soon

By COLLIN GALLANT on May 22, 2024.

Council chair Andy McGrogan speaks during Tuesday night's council meeting at city hall.--News Photo Collin Gallant

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

General salary ranges for city municipal managers could be posted soon for public viewing, but similar measures for the energy division will be delayed until at least the fall, and severance information up for discussion this summer.

On Tuesday, city manager Ann Mitchell told council that getting Medicine Hat on the same level of disclosure as the province’s major cities could be done by early July.

That comes after Coun. Andy McGrogan rallied council late in 2023 to support publishing more information about compensation schedules.

“I tried to start a revolution, but what we have is evolution,” said McGrogan. “I’m happy with it … not completely, but I’m thankful for the discussion.”

McGrogan has often stated that he wasn’t seeking a “sunshine list” similar to Alberta provincial government disclosure, but for accessible salary information to assuage concerned taxpayers and dispel myths about high-paid city workers.

Mitchell told council in her report of the subject that salary ranges for most city municipal managerial and non-union positions could be disclosed in terms of minimum and maximum offered. Union wage grids are already widely available. However, the issue of non-union staff in the city’s energy interests would be decided after a business model review is completed later this year.

Severance overview to council also needs further study, she said, but could be discussed this summer.

Mitchell said the number of people in each position is better left blank to better protect single workers who hold against potential backlash in a “social media environment.”

“We want to be as transparent as possible, but also protect those employees,” said Mitchell, who also said minimum salaries will become part of job listings in June, but maximums will be left off to maintain some negotiating strategy when hiring.

Coun. Shila Sharps backed the initiative last fall saying the info could help recruiting, but also could lead to poaching and eventually wage escalation if the city’s wages are relatively low.

“It’s a big entity, and sometimes I don’t think people realize how many accountants we have … we’re a big organization,” said Sharps, also noting some disparity between municipal and energy division salaries based on sectoral expertise.

“I think it’s better to get it out there.”

Coun. Alison Van Dyke backed the proposal as is, and said energy will be discussed in the fall review.

“Other energy companies in Alberta don’t report salaries, and we’re operating it as a business,” she said.

Five collective agreements that the city has with four unions are already posted on the city’s website. The cumulative salary of division heads and several other senior city officers is published each year in the city’s annual report, along with separated out base salary and benefits paid to the chief administrative officer.

This year, the city is budgeted to spend about $104 million on salary, wages and benefits – about half the total value of all $194 million in expenses.

Coun. Robert Dumanowski said the number fluctuates throughout the year in some departments.

“A minimum and maximum in departments makes sense, but I don’t want a crucible of more misunderstanding,” he said. “It’s baby steps … in a year we look at again and talk about enhancements.”

Alberta currently publishes the names, positions, salaries, compensation and severance amounts of those directly employed by the province when income crosses above a certain threshold. That figure was about $126,000 in 2023.

But that doesn’t extend to other bodies, though B.C., Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick have the requirement.

“It’s something that is becoming a reality across the country,” said city human resources director Karla Kochan. “This is a chance for the City of Medicine Hat to get ahead of that.”

Among Alberta’s other 18 cities, Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Chestermere, Red Deer, and the rural municipality of Wood Buffalo (Fort McMurray) publish general wage ranges of union and non-union positions.

Among those that do not include Airdrie, Brooks, Grande Prairie, Okotoks and St. Albert, as well as Strathcona County (Sherwood Park).

Severance disclosure will be discussed in early July once city staffers can provide an overview of how other cities in Alberta handle the issue.

This spring, council has debated an information request from Mayor Linnsie Clark that includes calls for detailed expense payments to all city employees, though without names, as well as severance, turnover and other expense details over several years.

Clark’s request, and several freedom of information requests submitted by members of the public, asks for similar information.

Earlier this month, council directed staff to study potential costs involved in compiling the information ahead of further debate.

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