The Regional District of Central Kootenay is exploring the possibility of compensating directors for childcare expenses.
The board directed staff last month to review the directors’ stipend and compensation policy with the possible inclusion of childcare.
Discussion was charged at times on a motion to accept a staff report which reviewed results of a directors survey on the issue and included a draft child care policy.
Some directors felt the current stipend could be used for childcare costs.
Rural Kaslo director Aimee Watson said while serving as an alternate, she heard a lot about the promotion of women in politics.
“We do it by pens, by buttons and by things that are tokens,” she said, “but I don’t see a lot of actual policy implementation to support that potential.”
Rural Salmo director Hans Cunningham, Slocan Valley director Walter Popoff and Arrow Lakes director Paul Peterson opposed the policy.
Cunningham said many directors serve at personal cost to a business or career. Cunningham and Popoff both suggested a review of all allowable expenses.
“Almost all of us are here at some cost,” said Cunningham.
Peterson voiced concerns that a new expense policy could lead to more expense requests from those taking care of an ailing family member.
Rural Creston director Larry Binks said it may appear that Watson was in conflict because she has a child, but Watson retorted she was not.
“So if we were talking about a car and gas allowance, having cars and gas would be a conflict of interest?” Watson asked.
Watson said while the policy doesn’t apply to her as her child is in school, she knows a lot of women who would love to be involved in politics but for the childcare question.
Rural Nelson director Ramona Faust spoke in favour of a policy to encourage people to get involved with local politics at a younger age. She also suggested revising the wording from “child care” to “dependant.”
“For the world that we are facing now, not enough young people are getting involved and running [for office],” she said.
Faust said she was one of those who sacrificed a job to remain a director.
“That was a choice of mine. When you decide to have a family, I think it is different than me deciding to give up one of my jobs. It is one of those large life decisions that shouldn’t preclude your talent and skills being contributed to the community.”
She said the fact the board does not have evening and weekend meetings makes them very different from some municipalities and regional districts.
“We are taking normal employment time when often spouses are working, or, if you’re a single parent, that’s not even applicable.”
Cunningham suggested holding Saturday or evening meetings could be another solution, although it could incur staff costs to have them available outside office hours.
Salmo director Stephen White supported the development of a policy, adding he has heard similar conversations about what is now a normal standard of maternity rights and parental leave provided by statute and the government.
“When I began my career, I sat across from employers who said, ‘Are you insane? You want women to have time off to have children? They should resign and make way for some somebody who really wants the job. That’s what’s done, get with it.’
“And I watched as we moved ahead and moved away from that. Not a lot of people recognize that those changes were not done initially by government, but by other organizations pushing for workers’ rights that eventually applied to all of us.”
White voiced his concern that only two board members may be affected.
“That’s what it’s about,” said White. “More members of this board should be affected, not less.”
White welcomed the fact the regional district would be only the second local government in BC to adopt such a policy.
“Great,” he said, “and then there will be third hopefully, and a fourth, fifth … and it will become the norm.
“This is for the future,” said White, who is in his 60s and noted he is past his “child bearing” days, with a 26-year-old daughter.
“My greatest difficulty is when I look around the table and I see that the majority of the people are my age. Where are the people we represent? Shouldn’t they be at this table?”
In response to another director’s comment of “Who knows what other doors this will open?” White said: “Opening the door to other things: yes, that’s the point.”
“We need to be going beyond pens and posters,” he said. “This is one thing that we can say, ‘we recognize this will not be on your plate’.”
Later White told the Star he recently heard Invermere mayor Gerry Taft, who is in his 30s, speak at a conference about how his council chose to increase their remuneration to attract younger people.
In October 2011, Inveremere councillor wages increased from $8,900 to $12,000 annually while the mayor’s salary rose from $16,500 to $20,000. Taft was 26 when he was first elected and is now serving his third term as mayor.
“No one wants to increase their stipend,” said White, “but it would help recognize the additional costs of a preschool-aged child.”
Silverton director Leah Main was in favour of a new policy.
“We are an aging board,” said Main. “It is important that we develop policy to welcome and retain new and younger people to participate without penalty.”
Rural Castlegar director Andy Davidoff said he appreciated the conversation because, “I needed to hear it.”