CoH officials vote to be paid
Five of nine councillors approve of breaking tradition
By Gareth Finighan
Corporation of Hamilton officials have voted to give themselves massive compensation payments for attending council meetings that could cost ratepayers more than $100,000 each year.
The vote came at a special meeting on Tuesday night, with a majority of councillors arguing that they deserved to be paid for carrying out Corporation business.
Five of the municipality's nine councillors voted for a proposal to pay themselves a $375 “stipend” for attending monthly Full Corporation meetings.
In addition, elected officials are to be paid $175 for turning up at committee meetings, which are held six times a month. It is understood that, on average, each councillor attends around four committee meetings monthly.
And it was also agreed that the payments should be backdated to May 2012 when the current Team Hamilton administration was voted into office. That decision means that each councillor can now expect to pick up as much as $20,000 in back payments.
The motion was backed by Mayor Graeme Outerbridge and Deputy Mayor Donal Smith, along with Alderman Carlton Simmons and councillors Keith Davis and George Scott. Alderman Gwyneth Rawlins and councillors Larry Scott and Troy Symonds refused to support the payments, while councillor RoseAnn Edwards was absent.
Currently elected officials of both Hamilton and St George's Corporations receive no financial remuneration for their work. But under the Municipalities Amendment Act 2013, which was approved last week by MPs and passed by the Senate yesterday, municipality members will be entitled to payments for attending council meetings at the same rate that members of Government boards are paid — $50 for regular members and $100 for board chairmen.
Earlier this year the Corporation hired a consultant to examine the issue of salaries, with Alderman Simmons arguing that payments were deserved because current councillors had a far greater workload and more responsibilities than previous administrations.
The report concluded that Mayor Outerbridge deserved to be paid $75,000 annually, and that aldermen and common councillors should get $42,000 and $30,000, respectively.
Although the salary option was eventually dropped, speculation about a payment package was fuelled earlier this week by Mr Simmons.
At a press conference on Monday addressing the Municipalities Amendment Act, the alderman said that Government's proposed $50 payment per meeting was in fact less than that paid out to Government Board members, and was “disrespectful” to elected officials.
Mr Simmons complained that he had sat in the House of Assembly until 2am last Thursday listening to MPs debate the Act — and yet his family had not received any financial compensation to put “food on the table” in his absence.
“This speaks to a lack of respect and it's very hard to believe that it doesn't have anything to do with race,” he said.
“The people of Bermuda need to know that the OBA Government has no respect for the small guy. People in Bermuda feel they are being trampled on.”
Tuesday night's vote is in marked contrast to the views of fellow councillors sitting on the Corporation of St George's.
Town Mayor Garth Rothwell — who currently receives no payment for his role as chief administrator for the municipality — said that a number of his corporation colleagues had discussed the issue of remuneration, but it was decided that any compensation would be seen as inappropriate in the current economic climate.
“We all knew when we took the job on that there was no pay and in fact we end up being out of pocket some of the time,” Mr Rothwell said.
“But I think, given the current financial crisis and the fact that we knew what the agreement was when we stood for election, it would not be right to start getting paid now.
The Royal Gazette last night e-mailed questions about the payments to a spokeswoman for the Corporation, but she said she was unable to get any response from mayor Outerbridge. “Everyone is at an event which is why no one is answering my calls,” the spokeswoman said.