Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

How Much Is Enough? A Study of Municipal Councillor Remuneration

Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

How Much Is Enough? A Study of Municipal Councillor Remuneration

Article excerpt

Introduction

"Remuneration is a difficult, if not nearly impossible, self-reflective decision-making process for elected bodies at all levels. Every option available is argued for and against. At the centre of the debate are those who are elected on the premise that they serve the greater good of the public, and not seek personal gain. It is, ironically, the one issue with which a publicly elected body is least equipped to deal, yet nevertheless must ultimately render a decision" (City of Halifax 2004: 4).

Historically, when a municipality in Canada approves a salary increase for its councillors, the percentage increase is often greater than the rate of inflation. One reason for the large increases is that salaries of councillors are deemed to be below a reasonable remuneration because council has foregone increases for a period of time. A second reason is that the process used by most Canadian municipalities is inherently flawed. Many municipalities across Canada use quantitative analysis and recommendations from comparative studies of other municipalities to determine the appropriate level of remuneration for elected city councillors. Notwithstanding these attempts at rational decision-making, Canadians facing tough economic times are challenging significant pay increases to public officials.

Previous studies on pay for politicians have modeled behaviour, whereas this study categorizes the actions of local governments. Using a cross-Canada sample of twenty-two municipal remuneration and compensation reports, this article identifies four common themes within the reports with a focus on operationalizing the common key criteria found within those themes. It then uses those criteria to suggest a four-stage process for conducting remuneration reviews. In a departure from traditional econometric modelling, this study is grounded in the field of government and not-for-profit performance measurement and provides a blueprint for linking municipal remuneration to the objectives of the municipality.

Methodology

A multiple case analysis approach was employed for this study where each municipal report represents an individual case. Cases are an appropriate method for answering research questions relating to the "how" and the "why" of a phenomenon (Yin 1994), and the case study method has been repeatedly cited as being effective in generating theory early in the research of a new topic (Denzin and Lincoln 2000; Eisenhardt 1989). For this study, all of the information comes from secondary sources that were readily available in the public domain or were solicited directly from specific municipalities. Solicitation only occurred when a report that was referenced in the public domain was not available for preview. It should be noted that not all Canadian provinces are represented in this study. The basic premise of the study was that the reports needed to be in the public domain, and thus while no province was specifically excluded, some were excluded because they did not have remuneration information in the public domain.

Eisenhardt (1989) and Pare (2004) identified three steps to follow when conducting case analysis: coding, within-case analysis, and cross-case analysis. All three steps were used in this study. Coding involved reviewing the municipal reports and then identifying the underlying criteria for the review, the methodology, or any other factors that a municipality considered important. All of the information was entered into a qualitative analysis tracking software (NVivo 8). Once all the cases were entered into NVivo, within-case analysis meant trying to parse the reports into categories. With no preconceived model, the within case analysis developed as more cases were examined. As unique criteria or items were identified, the model grew. Cross-case analysis involved a second review of each municipal report to categorize any areas of commonality within the reports. The cross-case results became the basis for the common themes within this study. …

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