By Mike Bridge
Most of us don’t receive bonuses or six-figure salaries but when it comes to city governance, that’s not the issue we should reflect upon, or, in isolation, the recent pay raise for Regina city manager Glen Davies. Instead, two useful questions taxpayers should ask themselves are: Do you want someone in charge who knows how to run an $386-million operation? And second, how well is that operation run to justify (or not) the salary, a pay raise or bonus?
The answer to the first question is easy, at least in theory: A manager of an almost $400-million entity can expect to be remunerated well for competent management — incompetence costs a lot more. So Davies’ pay rise may well be justified. The problem is that taxpayers do not know, in specific, how well the city of Regina is performing. That’s because transparent performance measurements are not clearly featured in the city’s annual report.
For example, public transport was a key performance area cited by Mayor Pat Fiacco as a reason for the pay hike. However, read the city’s annual report and one struggles to see useful performance measurements. The simplest most important metric that voters might look for, the level of ridership compared to last year, is not available from the annual report.
Compare this to Prince George, B.C., which has performance indicators for annual ridership, rides per hour, the number of annual complaints and even the average response time to complaints. Closer to home, Saskatoon publishes similar information including the number of annual rides, decrease in trip denials and the overall increase in public transit ridership.
Davies’ success in providing municipal recreation facilities is also cited by councillors. Again, the city’s annual report lacks substantiation for this claim. While the report discloses that $79 million was spent on ‘parks, recreation and community services’, there is no information about public utilization of these facilities, nor is there any data on value for money.
The city of Christchurch in New Zealand measures the number of visitors to its Botanic Gardens, the area of urban park per 1,000 residents and even the provisions of recreation facilities per 1,000 children. Kelowna and Prince George each have similar performance measurements including the timeliness of park servicing and the percentage of weed and disease invasion in municipal parkland grass.
It’s not that Regina necessarily performs badly in these areas; rather, there is a lack of information. There are ten expenditure items in Regina’s annual report, but only four have objective performance measurements. This also compares particularly badly to Christchurch, which measures the performance of nearly every area of expenditure. In its annual report, Christchurch discloses the cost of each service, a numerical performance target and the actual performance result.
Informing residents about the cost of a service only tells half the story. To identify the number of people who use the service provides better insight into the value for taxpayer dollar.
A notable and laudable exception in performance reporting at city hall is the water, wastewater, and drainage expenditure item. In this case a comprehensive performance report is available, but, perhaps tellingly, this is a provincially mandated requirement specific to water and wastewater rather than a city hall generated initiative.
This is not the first time Regina’s performance measurement has been questioned. In July, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies ranked Regina 17th out of 31 cities, well below second-ranked Saskatoon. Rather than taking this as an opportunity for improvement, councillors made bizarre claims that it was prejudiced against Regina because its findings were published in Maclean’s magazine.
At the same time as councillors mocked this study, Davies himself pointed out that the city had not provided it with any data. Whatever the accuracy of the Atlantic Institute’s report may be, and we would defend that institute’s methodology, it was not helped by a city which makes it almost impossible for anybody to measure its performance.
If the chief executive of a private company went to stockholders requesting a pay increase while simultaneously withholding evidence of his or her performance, they would be laughed out of the boardroom.
Paying good managers sound market rates is to be expected, but let’s have some measurement to make sure the salary and raises are justified.
– Bridge is a policy analyst with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and author of Pulling Back the Curtain: how transparent are Regina and Saskatoon?