Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps will be able to hire a new chief of staff for up to $90,000 in salary plus pension and benefits.
Victoria councillors who earlier in the day reduced the proposed salary for the new position — to be called head of strategy and operations — to $80,000 plus pension and benefits, nudged it up by $10,000 at a council meeting Thursday night.
Pension and benefits add about 20 per cent to the base salary, bringing the new total for the position to about $108,000.
Helps, frustrated that councillors thought the $120,000 to $125,000 salary proposal recommended by staff was too rich, suggested that she might drop the hiring altogether.
Coun. Sharmarke Dubow recommended increasing the base salary to $100,000, saying “the best of the best” was needed in the mayor’s office.
As compromise, Coun. Ben Isitt, who initially proposed the $80,000 base salary, suggested it be increased to $90,000.
“We need some context of what most people in our community make. I think Mayor Helps can find the person she is looking for. I think she would have no problem finding that person for $80,000,” Isitt said. “The suggestion that you only get good people if you pay very large sums of money is false,” he said.
“If you look across different sectors you’d find people who are extremely competent who often go to different types of employment because of the challenge and the work and not because bucket loads of money are going to be thrown at them.”
Following council’s decision Thursday evening, Helps said she’ll see if she can fill the position.
“I’ll see if anyone wants to come and work for that amount,” she said, adding that she doesn’t want to waste taxpayers’ money.
“If I can’t find somebody for $90,000 plus pension and benefits to do the work that I need then I’m not going to hire anyone because it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money to do a job that I don’t need them to do.”
Helps made headlines in 2015 after being elected to her first term when she announced she wouldn’t be hiring an executive assistant at a salary and benefit package of $98,774 a year.
The mayor’s executive assistant was a job created by Alan Lowe when he was mayor and continued by Dean Fortin when he was elected mayor.
Helps said in 2015 that she didn’t see the need for an executive assistant and that not hiring one would save the city $400,000 over the course of the term.
Helps stressed Friday that she doesn’t need an administrative assistant.
“I worked for four years without any extra support in the mayor’s office and I felt I got a heck of a lot done. But looking back now over those four years, I know what I need to be even more effective in the role and to advance council’s strategic priorities.”
Isitt said there are alternatives if Helps is looking for someone who, like a deputy minister, can speak or operate on her behalf.
Some municipalities appoint a councillor to act as deputy mayor, he said. If one of the eight councillors had the confidence of the majority to be a deputy mayor that person could act in lieu of the mayor.
“That could actually be more accountable,” Isitt said.
Helps, who received $104,000 in salary and filed expenses of $22,949 in 2017, originally recommended the new position pay $130,000 a year — which she called “an honest assessment of what it will take to get the kind of support that will help in my office.”
Helps will seek someone with at least a maste’rs degree in business or public administration and at least 10 years related experience for the four-year job, which is to end with the conclusion of her term in office