Taxpayer dollars at work — sometimes every day of the week

Some taxpayers who hear about the salaries of municipal employees feel they earn too much for what they do.

Here's the other side of the story.

Chief administrative officer Debra Oakman

Chief administrative officer Debra Oakman

Some taxpayers who hear about the salaries of municipal employees feel they earn too much for what they do.

Here’s the other side of the story.

Municipalities and regional districts are required each year to release statements of financial information, which include the salaries of administrators.

Last year, a total of 45 staffers at the City of Courtenay, Town of Comox, Village of Cumberland and Comox Valley Regional District earned more than $75,000 each. Twelve exceeded the six-figure mark.

Topping the list was Courtenay administrator Sandy Gray, who made $175,112 plus $10,645 in expenses. Other six-figure earners in Courtenay were operational services director Kevin Lagan ($131,178), financial services director Tillie Manthey ($107,958), community services director Randy Wiwchar ($106,734) and planning services director Peter Crawford ($105,464).

Gray said his salary has often been published in a “one-sided perspective” in newspapers during his 35 years in local government. Without appreciating the complexities of city government, he feels the public can easily jump to conclusions about workloads. Council meetings, for instance, comprise about five per cent of Gray’s responsibilities.

As CAO of a “multi-facet organization,” Gray manages the city and reports to a board of directors (city council). He is literally accountable for everything.

Of critical importance is providing strategic direction to council and senior staff about a long-term vision in terms of the local economy, infrastructure, culture and social issues such as the proposed homeless shelter.

“It’s helping develop the strategic agenda that you want to achieve in the next five, 10, perhaps 20 years,” said Gray, who started his career at the Port Alberni Regional District, then worked in Nanaimo and Victoria before moving to the Valley nine years ago.

“Where do you want to position yourself as a community? My role is to make that happen. It’s a huge task. If you don’t have an idea where you want to go in those areas, you’ll never know if you got there.”

Other questions concern stream protection, and diversifying and expanding green areas.

“Environment was never an issue that was very big on the agenda 30 years ago,” said Gray, who has a political science degree. “This community is not unlike any other where you see the pitfalls in some of the decisions that were made by past governments.”

In terms of finance, the city manages about $120 million worth of assets such as water, fire suppression, roadways and traffic signals.

“There’s hundreds of pieces of infrastructure we run,” Gray said, noting the City operates on an annual budget of about $40 million.

Comox Valley Regional District

Chief administrative officer Debra Oakman, who earned $161,042 plus $11,287 in expenses last year, administers a $56-million annual budget.

An employee of the CVRD board, she is responsible for providing advice, developing and recommending policies, and for ensuring strong customer service and professional operations among staff. Her work week can range from 35 to 50 hours and from five to seven days, depending on the time of year.

A typical day, however, does not exist for Oakman, especially when confronted with emergencies such as flooding.

“It evolves from year to year,” she said of her job. “The only thing constant is change itself.”

Property services manager Kevin Lorette made $124,122, community services manager Ian Smith earned $115,401, and public affairs/information systems manager Leigh Carter made $110,461 plus expenses.

Like Oakman, Carter rarely experiences a typical day at the office.

Often acting as the district’s corporate spokesperson, Carter had 21 years experience at a senior management level in corporate communications, some with Metro Vancouver, before joining the CVRD in 2005. She also spent several years on both sides of the microphone or camera at Lower Mainland media outlets, including CKNW and BCTV.

“Because I have experience in managing people and departments, and because the CVRD is a fairly small organization, my expertise is efficiently used in leading various teams here, not just corporate communications,” said Carter, who has a bachelor of arts.

Over time, she said corporate communications has evolved from the ‘cake and balloons department’ to an area that keeps abreast of issues and develops strategies to proactively address issues.

Carter also oversees the information services (IT) and bylaw compliance departments, and advises the CVRD board and Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District on various issues. In addition, she produces the district’s annual report, resident surveys, speaking notes for the board chair and material for briefings with cabinet ministers.

Town of Comox

Topping the six-figure mark were CAO Richard Kanigan at $118,299 plus $8,450 in expenses, and director of finance Donald Jacquest at $102,279.

Village of Cumberland

CAO Anja Nurvo, and corporate services manager Christine Mathews earned $108,736 and $92,334 respectively. Both have moved on to other municipalities.

The Comox Valley-raised David Durrant, who last year earned $86,527 as the Village’s manager of community services, was recently appointed acting CAO. He feels the Valley is a better place to live compared to 50-plus years ago in terms of infrastructure, parks and recreation, and other improvements “across the board,” thanks to the efforts of retired and serving municipal employees, mayors and councillors.

Durrant, whose job title has grown to include deputy administrator, has been a manager in local government for more than 30 years, 25 with the Town of Comox. He oversees planning, recreation, parks, public works and the Cumberland fire department. His usual work day from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. becomes longer with meetings. He is always on call.

“I love going to work every day,” said Durrant, who holds three designations from three different universities, including an advanced masters degree. Each designation pertains to local government operations. He continues to take courses and attend workshops, typically four of each in a year.

“Serving the public is a remarkable career,” Durrant said.

Gray concurs, noting the mutual respect and level of trust that is required between staff and elected officials.

“It’s about relationships,” Gray said. ”At the end of the day everybody feels like they’ve been heard.”

reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Josie Osborne was sworn into the Legislature virtually on Nov. 24. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne named minister of municipal affairs

The position was previously held by Selina Robinson, who is the province’s new finance minister

The Royal Canadian Legion’s annual Poppy Campaign poppies. This year the fundraising effort was mixed for local legions which have suffered from financial strain due to COVID-19. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
Mixed year for local legions during annual poppy campaign

Some find success, some struggle amidst the pandemic

There are more apartments coming for downtown Cumberland, but council wants to look at how to make sure there are rental units available. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Cumberland council calls for rental zoning options

Provincial amendments have only allowed communities to consider rental zoning since 2018

Comox and the school district are looking at formalizing a piece of school property for a dog park. Black Press file photo
School District 71, Comox work on formal dog park agreement

The site on unused school district property is already being used by dog owners

Lake Trail Middle school in Courtenay. File photo
Lake Trail Middle School closed due to threat

The credibility of the threat is being assessed and the investigation is being completed

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 887 new cases

Another 13 deaths, ties the highest three days ago

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Gracie couldn’t stop nursing from her previous owner’s goats which was problematic given the goats were trying to be dried out to breed. Gracie now lives at A Home for Hooves. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)
Cowichan animal sanctuary gets international accreditation

A Home for Hooves farm sanctuary accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries

B.C. Premier John Horgan, a Star Trek fan, can’t resist a Vulcan salute as he takes the oath of office for a second term in Victoria, Nov. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
Horgan names 20-member cabinet with same pandemic team

New faces in education, finance, economic recovery

The Comox Valley Regional District and the Economic Development Society hope to establish a Rural Community Food Hub at the Merville Hall. Black Press file photo
Comox Valley Regional District board approve grant to establish rural food hub

The Comox Valley Regional District board has approved a $576,340 grant application… Continue reading

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

Port McNeill councillor Derek Koel busts a rap to help promote the town’s active transportation plan. (Facebook video screenshot)
VIDEO: Vancouver Island councillor makes rap video to promote active transportation plan

Active transportation is a personal matter for councillor Derek Koel.

FILE – A paramedic holds a test tube containing a blood sample during an antibody testing program at the Hollymore Ambulance Hub, in Birmingham, England, on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Simon Dawson/Pool via AP)
Want to know if you’ve had COVID-19? LifeLabs is offering an antibody test

Test costs $75 and is available in B.C. and Ontario

Most Read