Richmond Hill resident Yoke Wong, who recently served on the Council Compensation Review Committee, appeared at the June 22, 2022 Council meeting to speak about the 30 year old Council Severance Policy and why she believes it should change.
You can watch Yoke's delegation here or read the full text below.
The Richmond Hill Council Compensation Package is comprehensive and includes a salary, car allowance, disability, health and dental benefits, life insurance, retirement benefits and a generous severance policy.
For their salary Richmond Hill Council members are getting roughly the same as their peers in towns and cities that deal with much greater budgets for much larger populations.
The committee that I was a part of, spent three months reviewing the current compensation package and made six recommendations for the next term of council. The current council has the power to approve, reject or amend any or all of those recommendations.
Two weeks ago, on June the 8th council chose to approve the recommendations that increased their compensation and rejected the one recommendation for their severance policy that would decrease it and save the city money.
You might ask why should the council severance policy be changed the simple answer is the times have changed and the Richmond Hill Council Severance Policy is over 30 years old.
Today severance policies are leaner and more restrictive or non-existent. Today council members already get fair compensation. Cities are tightening their belts and residents are demanding fiscal responsibility.
The Ontario government defines severance pay as compensation that is paid to a qualified employee who has their employment severed. It compensates an employee for losses that occur when a long-term employee loses their job.
Did you know that in the private sector generally employees get severance when they are let go and not when they die or retire or resign. Imagine if a person went into work tomorrow and handed in their resignation would they expect severance pay?
Did you know that cities like Brampton, Kitchener, Oakville and others do not give severance pay to Council members and those that did faced intense public outcry?
Richmond Hills Severance Policy enacted in 1991, allows a payout for any reason a Council member leaves their post. If they lose a re-election, when they retire or die, if they resign or if they resign during a term and then go on to win a seat for the very next term. The only exclusion is if while still on council they are charged and convicted of legal wrongdoings.
This 30-year-old policy has been amended only once in 2001 to increase the payout (from 6 to 18 months).
How much has the city paid out in servants all these years? To date about 200 months worth of severance has been paid to 21 council members. As at this year Richmond Hill is liable for another estimated 77 months of severance.
If all nine members quit tomorrow the City would pay out roughly $560,000 and if the severance policy remains unchanged for the next term of council that estimate increases to about $800,000. This is a hefty bill a financial liability that can only go higher each year which the city is obliged to pay.
The Committee's recommendation would disallow a severance in all scenarios except when a Council member loses in a re-election similar to a private sector being let go from their job. This change will eliminate payout in cases of resignation, retirement and death.
When the motion was put forward on June the 8th without the severance recommendation. one Council member raised the idea of a legacy clause a reasonable compromise which in hindsight may have swayed the outcome however Council chose not to amend the motion that day.
The motion as is was passed by all members present without any change to the severance policy without any savings for the city.
In closing I would say that the Committee made valid arguments of changing times. Of fiscal responsibility. Public expectation. But it is a tough sell to get council to agree that a change to that 30-year-old severance policy is long overdue.
No Resident Committee will ever be able to change a policy when it rests solely in the hands of Council whose members benefit personally and financially from the status quo.
Perhaps my words today will be cast aside by Council but I hope they resonate loudly and clearly with the residents of Richmond Hill.
Times have changed so should the Council Severance Policy!