Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Local Councillors
Overpaid or undervalued?

This is the hoary old chestnut that rears its head every now and then. It's a fair question and one which I think Councillors ought to be prepared to have asked and to answer.

Are we overpaid or undervalued. Well obviously I think the latter. But I am prepared to defend it and illustrate why I think so. The electorate will get their chance to decide in a very tangible way on June 5th of this year.

I see two interesting and contrasting articles on this very issue covered in the pages of this weeks local newspapers (a mine of interesting information! I love them!).

One from the current Mayor of Tramore, a young man whose wife either just had or is about to have, their fourth child (congratulations on that). He is not running for election again as he simply cannot fit in family committments, with his job and his Council duties. That, to me, gives some indication of the type of time that is required, if you are committed and in it for the right reasons, to do this job properly. I commend Cllr Hayden and I wish him good luck. Perhaps we will see him back in politics one day when his family is older.

Then I read a 'Press Release' from a proposed candidate for the local elections - and not in my area so I have no vested interest in his winning or losing. He is basically indicating that Councillors are over-paid and not 'sharing the pain'. Now I'm sorry but firstly, the firgures he quotes (averaging €32,000 p.a) are certainly much higher than the city average - and much, much higher than on Tramore Town Council (from whence Cllr Hayden is retiring) but even outside of that it smacks to me of one who (a) doesn't know what he is talking about in regard to the amount of time (most) Councillors put into their work and (b) he is trying to be sensationalist in the hope that rounding on those whom he hopes to join will curry him some favour with a worried electorate.

For the record and to facilitate my arguement, let me deal with the amount of time I personally spend on Waterford City Council and related work. It would be difficult enough to list all the committees that I sit on but here's a lash: Waterford City Council itself, plus all workshops; two Strategic Policy Committees namely Planning & Environment and Transportation & Infrastructure; Waterford City Vocational Education Committee; Waterford Youth Committee (which I Chair); Waterford Area Partnership (which I also Chair); the South East Regional Authority; the Regional Planning Guidelines Implementation Committee; the Board of Waterford Youth Arts; the Governing Body of Waterford Institute of Technology and the Internal Audit Committee; the Board of Management of Mount Sion Primary School; the Board of Waterford Museum of Treasures, the Joint Policing Committee and several others which I can't bring to mind at the moment.

I'm expected to be fairly knowledgeable on all aspects of planning, housing, transportation, green issues, waste management, water services, budgets, auditing, legal issues, education provsion from primary through secondary and onto furthe education, adult education and third level, universty arguements, literacy issues, community development, poverty issues, youth issues, anti-social behaviour, local issues, pensions, job provision, health care provision, lobbying, and many many other things. And thats BEFORE I do a single thing to help those who need it in my constituency whether you are ever likely to get a vote out of it or not - mostly not probably.

Anyway. The point is: the time committment is, quite simply, enormous. I know people in full time employment who spend less time at their work than I do. Now, in case anyone is getting excited - I'm not complaining, merely stating the case. This is what I've signed up for and I love it. But it is, in all reality, practically a full time job.

I have three children aged from 15 down to 1. My husband works away from home most of the time and I can tell you, if I didn't have my mother and father stepping in, then the monies I receive from the Council simply wouldn't even pay for childcare!

When I initially ran for the the Corporation in 1999, there was no pay. It was a voluntary job and I was advised that it amounted to "about 2 meetings a month" and would easily fit into my schedule. I was running my own PR and communications company and had a young daughter at the time. Was that ever not accurate! I have had to give up the PR company (which I can assure readers was more profitable than being a Councillor) a decision I took when it became obvious that I wasn't 'superwoman' and just could not fit it all in. At that stage after asking people to give me their vote I couldn't turn around and whinge that it was all too much - afterall there wasn't even another woman elected on the City Council at that time. So I made my choice and I'm happy about it. But to say that it's part time, or easy, or overpaid is to quite simply, not have a clue what you are talking about.

However, I will concede that, as in every job there are some who are only in it for the money and are not in it for the right reasons and who do very little indeed. One can only hope that this is recognised by the electorate. One way or another, it has to be said that the electorate will get their chance to decide mine and all our fates later this year. And may I add that it is much easier to dump a Councillor than it is to get rid of an under-performing 'employee' in any other sector of society be it public or private.

Add to that that Councillors - even those with no other income such as myself - are forbidden from paying PRSI and may not therefore claim any benefits although we do pay tax. So at the end of it all I won't even have a Contributory Pension. I will get a lump sum payment - but nothing like the amoount needed to buy a pension.

And no, this won't stop people making wisecracks about us all being 'the same shower' or whatever. But I won't be laughing. I got into this game to try and make a difference. I think I do. I work very hard at it. If people don't agree with me - they are my ultimate employers and they may fire me. That's the way it works - and I wouldn't even be able to sign on!

Photo shows my three children in tow, waiting for their mother at yet another meeting.

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