Calgary

Committee tracker finds disparity in who shoulders Calgary council's workload 

City council now has proof that not all councillors have the same share of their committee workload.

Some councillors score much higher in committee work ranking than others

A project to track how city council's committee work is divvied up shows a wide gap between different councillors' workloads. (CBC)

Calgary city council now has proof that not all councillors have the same share of their committee workload.

Using a council committee tracker created by city council last year, an analysis shows that some councillors are carrying more of that workload than others.

The city clerk's office created a time value scale for the many committees, boards and commissions that have city councillors as members.

Not all committees are equal on the scale so posting a high score is not just a matter of being on the most committees. But that does help.

The scale assigns a points value to each committee, board and commission. The points are based on the frequency and length of meetings; requirements for travel; sub-committees: and time requirements outside of meetings like the volume of reading material.

Additional points are added if the councillor is named a chair or vice chair of a committee as that entails more work.

Using that scale and the assignments councillors had over the past year, the results paint a picture of how much committee work each of them has shouldered in 2019-20.

Click here to see a larger version of the chart below.

When it was approved by council in September 2019 as a pilot project, the purpose was to establish a point range for councillors which could then be the target for a future rebalancing of the workload for the entire group.

Committee work does not reflect all of the work that councillors do. 

Councillors also do ward, community-specific work

Besides their legislative obligations, they also have ward and community specific work as part of their job description.

When council voted to set up the tracker, several councillors noted the workload in each ward can vary for a number of reasons beyond just committee work.

For example, councillors meet regularly with community association boards in their wards. Some wards have more than 20 communities while others may have fewer than 10.

There are different growth or redevelopment concerns in each ward which can also have a bearing on workload for the elected officials.

Some work harder

Lori Williams, a political science professor at Mount Royal University, said the disparity in committee work revealed by the tracker is noteworthy.

"It certainly appears that some councillors are working very hard on a variety of committees and in fact, exercising a significant amount of leadership on those committees," said Williams. 

"Some are appearing to work much less."

She said it's likely that councillors are aware of the disparity in workload. But this information might also be of interest to voters.

"I think the bigger impact will be on voters who say: Well, are you really working? Are we getting value for money? Are you just sort of taking advantage of the fact that you get elected once every four years and coasting?"

The committee assignments are sorted out each October when council takes part in its annual organizational day.

This year's shuffling of the deck happens on Monday, Oct. 26. 

Concerns about tracker were raised early

Some councillors did raise concerns about the tracker when it was created because getting fewer assignments sometimes doesn't happen by choice.

Coun. Sean Chu has one of the lower numbers using the tracker's methodology.

When council approved the system last year, he voted against it and called the idea unfair.

For example, one of the committees with a higher time value score is the Calgary Police Commission. 

Chu, as a former police officer, is not allowed to sit on that panel.

He also said it's also possible for groups of councillors to use their votes to block other members from getting a particular committee assignment.

"We all know that. There's a game, a political game being played behind the scenes as who supports what," said Chu.

"If you don't like certain councillors, we're going to gang up on a certain councillor so you're not going to be on a certain committee."

Chu told council that he was "kicked out" of the Calgary Housing Company board because he asked too many questions.

Meanwhile Coun. Jeromy Farkas, who finished in the middle of the pack, said because committee work is only one part of a councillor's job there are limitations to the data.

"I know for my part, as Ward 11 councillor, I represent more than 25 different community associations in my ward. There's some other councillors who represent maybe only two, or two community associations," Farkas said.

Mayor says data helps

The tracker doesn't affect the mayor because that office has its own workload which is unlike that of councillors.

But Mayor Naheed Nenshi supported the creation of the scoring system because he too has heard complaints about the uneven distribution of the workload.

"I actually find that those moments of political 'you scratch my back, I scratch yours or vice versa, I don't like you so I'll get rid of you' are very rare," said Nenshi.

From his vantage point, he said it's going to be up to council itself to determine how to use the tracking tool.

A former member of city council agreed that when voting to determine assignments, it's hard to freeze out some members simply because there is so much work to go around.

Brian Pincott, who was a member of council from 2007 to 2017, said councillors are well aware some in the group take on more work than others.

"People choose to do more than the minimum and it's usually because that's how they want to work," he said.

Other priorities

Pincott said the disparity in this year's numbers might also be because some councillors place less of a priority on the legislative aspect of their work.

"It's how you see the job and how you want to balance the job. There are members of council who look at it and say: my primary focus is going to be the residents in my community and their very specific needs," he said.

"If that is their focus, then committee work — which is stuff that is about the entire city and often times for some of the committees outside, it's provincial or national — that's not where they want to put their energy."

While the tracker might raise awareness of who is doing how much work relative to others, Pincott is concerned if there's too much attention paid to it rather than using the tool as a guidepost.

"You don't want to force it so that people are playing for points because that would be just as bad as bullying someone onto a committee."

However, it all might be a non-issue. In response to the results, Nenshi said that so far, council hasn't shown any interest in using the tracker to help redistribute the workload.

"We definitely have the targets. What we don't have is the ability to force anyone to do one or the other," Nenshi said.

"And so far anyway, council has not shown much propensity to actually say to one another: 'Hey, you're not doing enough. You should do more.'"

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