As the new Vancouver Council rolls forward with regular meetings, committee meetings, and public hearings (available for public viewing via the city’s streamed broadcast), I’m struck by the performance of various levels of staff at the podium.
Some pretty impressive people in streets, waste, planning, engineering, licensing, social and cultural programs have been presenting and answering questions — sometimes technically complex or strategically nuanced, but often both — the past few months, and giving their elected representatives their first few impressions of the calibre of the people who really run the city.
It’s also the first time for members of the public — a few dozen in attendance at City Hall and apparently not many more online — to recognize and parse out this dynamic. In other words, even as I work, I get to watch them work. A lot of hoop jumping, and careful performances. It’s not to be envied, and it prompts a lot of questions about the staff-council dynamic.
Are they understanding each other? Is there mutual respect? Do they agree with, or even like, one another?
My impression is that these questions are less important to answer than the other question that’s often raised about city staff — why are they costing us so much?
Critics of past, and usually the most recent, councils have pointed to the number of city staff that have been hired, the number earning in excess of $100,000, and both issues at once (and let’s not forget all those people in Communications…and yes, we want more consultation).
But in order to run a city that is simultaneously rated one of the world’s greatest for quality of life, and one of the world’s most expensive in which to live, shouldn’t we hire very experienced, highly skilled people, and pay them well enough to stay? So they too have a reasonable chance to live in the city, and be positioned to do their jobs at the highest levels?
I think so, and perhaps we can phrase the question another way: why might we want to pay government workers less than a highly-competitive wage, and what are the associated risks of this?
As for headcount overall, another question: how would fewer resources jibe with Council’s desire for staff to sustain our long-term — and, for some, improve our immediate — quality of life?