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Part-time status of position could limit who runs, councillors say

Many say the job’s hefty time requirement could act as a barrier for those who decide to pursue the role.
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Being a part of St. Albert council is technically a part-time position, but councillors say their hours extend far beyond that, especially if they join committees. Photo taken in 2017.

Though St. Albert city councillors are classified as part-time workers, many say the job’s hefty time requirement could act as a barrier for those who may want to pursue the position. 

In St. Albert, councillors are paid $51,390 each year and represent St. Albert at large, as opposed to representing segments of the population, such as wards. Their remuneration is comparable to Sturgeon County, where councillors make $52,060 a year and are elected to one of six divisions totalling around 20,000 residents.

Similarly, in Spruce Grove, councillors make $48,173 to govern the area at large, which has a population of around 34,000.

However, in these positions, councillors are able to make per diems, which often compensate them for time spent doing additional work on committees or at community events. In Sturgeon County, per diems can range from from $75 per meeting to $385 for a full-day meeting.

When St. Albert councillors assume the role of deputy mayor, the councillor’s salary does not change. This is not the case in Sturgeon County, where councillors are paid an extra $7,809 to take on the role, which can also include additional committee time. 

In Strathcona County, another comparable municipality with around 98,000 residents, councillors are designated full-time employment to govern one of eight wards and paid $83,172. 

The last time a council remuneration committee met in St. Albert was 2016. On recommendation from the committee at that time, per diems were removed in favour of an increase to $50,000 yearly remuneration from $36,460. 

Workload on the rise, councillor said

Councillors said their work weeks ranged from 16 hours a week during the summer, to 60 hours during the year’s busiest times, with an average week typically ranging about 40 hours.

Coun. Ken MacKay said over the last four years, he has noticed a large increase in terms of council workload. 

“It used to be possible to maintain a full-time job in addition to sitting on council, but I believe those times are changing” MacKay said. “The workload is becoming heavier, from what’s required in background research to reading different reports relating back to administration.”

Coun. Wes Brodhead said while “being a relevant and informed councillor” can often easily eat up 40 hours a week, this does not include the extra commitment of participating in optional aspects of being a council member, such as sitting on committees. 

“If you participate in things like the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, that bring larger value to the community of St. Albert because you influence regional and provincial and national questions, it's definitely a full-time job,” Brodhead said. 

Coun. Ray Watkins, who also works as a developer, emphasized he enjoyed his time on council, but added the time commitment was a surprise. 

“It’s not really a part-time job,” Watkins said. "I’m glad I had the opportunity to do the service, but financially it was a sacrifice because you can’t do a full-time job while working [on] council." 

Watkins noted pay isn’t always equal to hours of work, and said he went into the position knowing what he signed up for. With this in mind, he said the position’s part-time designation and remuneration could limit who is able to pursue it, giving the example of a single parent without support from a partner.

“It’s a tough job,” Watkins said. “I went into it knowing what I was taking on, but I also think St. Albert could get even more options if people were paid a little more, and you made it a full-time job, which is what it really is.”

Coun. Jacquie Hansen said as the city grows, it will become more essential for future remuneration committees to “think very carefully” about whether to keep the councillor role as part time.

“If you really want people to put their all in, they need to have the time to do that,” Hansen said. “If we want strong leaders, we need to provide them with a salary that is fair so they can provide for themselves, rather than having to make a difficult choice.”

She argued council remuneration should be important for voters to consider as well. 

“There is an expectation for voters that when they go to the polls they are electing individuals who will put a significant amount of time into being a councillor,” Hansen said. “Do electors want part-time councillors or do they want full-time councillors who are paid a part time wage?”

Coun. Natalie Joly seconded Hansen. 

“They’ll need to make sure they're creating the environment where there isn’t an expectation to work full time if it's not a full-time job, or to recognize it is a full-time job and to make that accessible to people who are, frankly, not wealthy,” Joly said. 

The Gazette reached out to Coun. Sheena Hughes but did not hear back before the time of publication.

Rachel Narvey

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