Nanaimo council members paid up to 41% more than city discloses

Lack of transparency in pay disclosures hides the full benefits of getting elected
Nanaimo city councillors are being paid up to 41% more than what the city discloses in its annual pay report when fees and expenses from external appointments are added.

And with 33% of their pay sheltered from taxes, the sums they’re banking are much higher than people earning the same amount in regular jobs.sofi

This week, the city disclosed pay for all councillors and staff in its annual statement of financial information, which is required by law to be published once per year.

But that report only tells part of the story about council members’ pay. It doesn’t include pay and expenses they get from other boards they’re appointed to as councillors.

Councils could tell the full story, but don’t

While there’s nothing to stop city councils from giving the public the complete picture on their members’ pay from all council-related sources, few if any do. Instead, they divulge only the bare minimum required by law.

Ian Thorpe got 41% more than city said Photo: City of Nanaimo © 2015 HA Photography
Ian Thorpe got 41% more than city said Photo: City of Nanaimo © 2015 HA Photography

That leaves the public in the dark about their real remuneration rates — unless they know where to look and are willing to put in extra research.

Even media outlets that reported the city’s pay figures this week failed to report council members’ pay from all sources, giving the public an incomplete view of the real figures.

Tax-free allowance magnifies take-home pay

Councils also don’t disclose the dramatic benefits that come from their tax free allowances.

A councillor earning $51,000 in pay will take home about $4,062 more after tax than someone in a regular job earning the same amount — $46,408 vs. $42,346 for a fully taxed worker.

But it’s when you add in income and expenses from all sources that the numbers really bulge.

A good example is Councillor Ian Thorpe. The city only disclosed that he got $35,437.73 in pay and $1,729.79 expense reimbursements.

However, his pay and expenses jump to $50,714.13 — or 41% more than the city disclosed — when payments he got from the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) are added to the total.

Jerry Hong
Jerry Hong highest paid councillor. Photo: City of Nanaimo

When payments from all sources are factored in, freshman councillor Jerry Hong got the biggest cheque. He received $60,148.40 related to his city and regional district duties. That is almost 34% more than what the city’s report disclosed.

Other councillors whose pay and expenses rise by 35% or more when all sources are added include:

  • Jim Kipp, whose payments rocket 39% from $39,927.49 to $55,435.50 when his RDN payments are added;
  • Bill Bestwick, who also got 39% more than the city disclosed — $54,435.63 compared to the $39,277.20 reported;
  • Wendy Pratt, got 36% more — $59,363.90 vs $43,668.60 the city reported; and,
  • Bill Yoachim, who saw his payments rise 35% from the city’s disclosed $42,289.60 to $56,939.20 when the math is done.

Fuller and Brennan got least — and voted against pay hike

Of course, as has been often reported Mayor Bill McKay is by far the top earner and spender on Nanaimo’s council. In addition to his city pay and expenses, he also received payments for his role on the RDN, the Island Corridor Foundation, and the Island Economic Trust, both of which pay stipends per board meeting, as well as expense reimbursements.

When you add it all together, the mayor’s pay and expenses are 15% higher than the city reported — $141,326.51 vs $123,999.90.

The lowest paid councillor is first-termer Gord Fuller, who received $37,105.41 in pay and expenses from all sources — or only 2% more than the city disclosed due to him filling in for absent RDN reps. His payments are $23,043 less than freshman counterpart Councillor Hong’s.

Gord Fuller
Lowest paid Gord Fuller also voted against pay hike. Photo: City of Nanaimo

Councillor Diane Brennan, serving her fourth term, was the second-lowest paid member. Her total pay and expenses from all sources was $44,993.71, or 2% higher than the city disclosed, also due to her alternate RDN duties.

Councillor Brennan sits on the board of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) and is entitled to claim expenses but didn’t because 2015 meetings were held in Nanaimo.

Interestingly, councillors Brennan and Fuller were the only council members who recently voted against paying themselves the new acting mayor stipend of $1,189.00 each, which will be included in next year’s pay report.

Glaring gap for Tracy Samra

When it comes to city staff, the most glaring gap in the city’s pay report was the complete lack of information about the highest ranking staff member, City Manager Tracy Samra.

Since she only joined the city on November 19, 2015, she wasn’t paid enough for the year to reach the $75,000 threshold where her pay has to be disclosed by law.

Of course, there is nothing stopping Ms. Samra from voluntarily reporting what her pay package for the current year is expected to be.

Tracy Samra
City manager Tracy Samra: no response

Doing that would give the public the ability to compare to other staff at the city past and present, as well as to other cities.

Ms. Samra did not respond to a request to proactively disclose her expected pay. The public will likely have to wait another year to learn how much they are paying her.

Of course, there is no legal requirement for Ms. Samra to disclose her expected pay, nor for council to publish a report showing payments they’ve received from all sources related to their office.

That’s the difference between compliance, a minimum standard, and being transparent to ensure the public has all of the facts.

True transparency is about doing things right rather than doing nothing wrong.