Ottawa

Why Arnprior's new mayor is juggling a second job

Lisa McGee now also works as a constituency assistant for an Ottawa city councillor. And for many small-town politicians, having a second job is hardly uncommon.

Lisa McGee also working in office for councillor representing nearby Ottawa ward

Lisa McGee, an Arnprior town councillor, defeated the incumbent mayor in the October 2022 election.
Lisa McGee, the mayor of Arnprior, Ont., now also works as a constituency assistant for West Carleton-March councillor Clarke Kelly. (Submitted Lisa McGee)

Friday was Lisa McGee's first official day as a constituency assistant for neophyte Ottawa councillor Clarke Kelly, who represents the West Carleton-March ward on the city's western edge. 

The next morning, McGee helped judge an ugly sweater contest in the neighbouring town of Arnprior, Ont.

"Oh my gosh, it's really something special," she said of that annual event, which raises money for the local hospital in honour of a late Arnprior resident.

McGee wasn't hobnobbing with Santa Claus and The Grinch on behalf of Kelly — rather, she was carrying out her other job as Arnprior's mayor.

Voters in the town of over 9,000 elected McGee to the community's highest seat in October, after she served a single term as councillor. 

McGee served as a judge during an ugly sweater contest in Arnprior on Saturday. She says her Ottawa job is just a 13-minute commute and won't hamper her ability to perform her mayoral duties. (courtesy Brenda Deugo-Mills)

McGee said travel concerns meant her previous job as a customer service specialist wasn't going to gel with her new mayoral duties. 

So as an empty-nester not ready to retire, she found a more flexible position on Kelly's staff, having served years ago in a similar position for his predecessor, Eli El-Chantiry.

"I could potentially do it with just the mayor's salary," McGee said, referring to annual pay that was hiked by Arnprior council earlier this year from around $37,000 to nearly $49,000. "I do have a supplementary income elsewhere as well, a passive income stream."

But McGee added she likes to stay busy — and the mayor's position is only guaranteed to last four years.

"Time on my hands is never, never a good thing."

Online concerns

McGee said what she's doing isn't unique: last term, four Arnprior councillors, herself included, held more than one job.

She said she hasn't received any direct pushback for her decision, only messages of support. But she has responded to online comments expressing concern about conflicts of interest and whether her Ottawa job could take time away from her mayoral duties.

"I'm not sure what you think I will be able to undertake without the will of full council," she wrote to one commenter. "All of our discussions and decisions are transparent and public-facing."

Dan Lynch, Arnprior's county councillor, told CBC he had no concerns and pointed out that a previous Arnprior councillor, Mark Wilmner, juggled a job with the former City of Nepean.

If you want progressive leadership, you can't wait around for a 75-year-old retired white man.- Sophie Smith-Dore, Arnprior resident

Resident Sophie Smith-Dore said juggling two jobs is a necessary byproduct of trying to attract a more diverse slate of people to municipal politics.

"If you want progressive leadership, you can't wait around for a 75-year-old retired white man," Smith-Dore said.

"We have a young mayor serving our town in a part-time role," echoed Arnprior Coun. Chris Couper. "Being able to obtain additional employment is a necessity for elected officials who aren't retired and/or living on a pension."

During this fall's elections, several politicians told CBC higher pay is needed to attract more people to municipal politics. 

A 13-minute commute

McGee said the Arnprior mayor's job "certainly isn't full-time hours over the course of seven days," she said.

It's also just a 13-minute drive from her home in Arnprior to Kelly's headquarters, she said. 

"The beauty of technology is that I don't have to be in [the town] office necessarily to be doing a lot of what I'll be responsible for. A lot of that can happen in the evenings when I'm reviewing agendas and responding to emails."

A portrait of a man.
West Carleton-March Coun. Clarke Kelly said McGee's experience working in the office of his predecessor, Eli El-Chantiry, is an asset. (clarkekelly.ca)

As his constituency assistant, McGee will handle "incoming casework" and correspondence with constituents, Kelly said. 

"She thought with her knowledge of municipal affairs, and with the Ward 5 office being fairly close to Arnprior, that it might be a good fit," he said. 

Kelly said he consulted an integrity commissioner and a City of Ottawa clerk on protocols to avoid conflicts of interest.

McGee said she won't use any Ottawa property when carrying out her Arnprior mayoral duties.

McGee poses with the rest of the recently-elected Arnprior town council. (Town of Arnprior )

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa, originally from Cornwall, Ont.

Story tips? Email me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca or DM me @gqinott on Twitter.

with files from Kimberley Molina

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