Fassbender urges pause on TransLink CEO hiring

New minister suggests talks to reform governance, executive pay before recruiting new transit system boss

Communities Minister Peter Fassbender is urging TransLink to pause its search for a new permanent CEO while mayors, the board and the province consider possible governance reforms.

The suggestion from Fassbender, the newly appointed minister responsible for TransLink, may ease concerns from Metro Vancouver mayors about the pay and bonus provisions for the next CEO after an online posting by TransLink offered the same compensation package as the old CEO.

RELATED:Pay offer for next TransLink CEO under fire

“It’s not just about the compensation issue,” Fassbender said.

“Any  person worth their salt is going to want to know clearly what their terms of reference are, what are their responsibilities and whose responsible to whom.”

He said he wants mayors, the board and the province to meet as soon as possible about possible changes and “have that hard discussion before any suggestion is made about a new CEO.”

Fassbender also said he intends to quickly appoint two directors to the TransLink board to represent the province, joining the two mayors who sit on the board as had been anticipated in the previous governance changes.

“We need to change either the reality or the perception that the public has” that TransLink is inefficient and ineffective, he said.

The defeat of this year’s plebiscite on a 0.5 per cent sales tax hike for TransLink has spawned some accusations that the outcome puts mayors in exactly the box the premier wants – able only to raise TransLink property taxes but not tap any other new revenue source.

“The mayors will only be in a box if they put themselves there,” Fassbender responded, adding he wants to explore all potential options, both short- and long-term, to increase transit funding.

Fassbender said road pricing – which mayors want to study – deserves a “serious and concerted look” to determine how and when it might work.

“I think it has potential here but it’s not going to happen overnight,” he said. “In the meantime, how do we continue to build a system that needs expansion and provides more buses and more services for underserviced regions?”

A delay in the hiring of a new CEO would also allow more time for mayors and the board to come to agreement on new lower limits for executive compensation – mayors feared a new CEO would be hired at the old rates otherwise.

“It makes absolute sense,” said Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew, who also welcomed Fassbender’s comments as a clear indication the province recognizes the need to reassess governance.

“The governance model that the province has provided is nothing short of a gong show,” Drew said.

As for how much a new CEO should be paid, Drew suggested it be in the $250,000 to $300,000 range, but without any added bonuses.

That would be approximately what many provincial government deputy ministers are paid to run complex ministries, but not as much as a number of other public sector executives.

Metro Vancouver’s chief administrative officer gets total pay and benefits of $340,842, Surrey’s city manager collects $302,000 and Vancouver’s gets $335,000.

Fraser Health’s CEO is paid a base salary of $345,000, while SFU’s president collects $395,000.

And Crown corporations that pay their CEOs still more include WorkSafeBC ($553,000), BC Ferries ($461,000) and BC Hydro ($422,000).

Former TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis, who was replaced in February but continues at the same pay as a consultant until his contract runs out, receives a base salary of $319,244. Bonuses, pension and other benefits took his total compensation to $440,000 last year.

The July 23 posting to WorkBC on behalf of TransLink listed the same base pay for the new CEO, plus bonus of up to 30 per cent, a $14,400 car allowance, $2,500 wellness allowance and $1,200 parking allowance.

“I can pretty much assure you that the mayors wouldn’t approve what was put out there,” Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore said.

He said most mayors think the Jarvis package must be trimmed while remaining attractive enough against competing offers from other public sector agencies to recruit a strong leader who can turn TransLink around.

Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation said the next CEO should not earn more than a typical B.C. deputy minister, adding that should be the cap for any public service or local government executive.

A 2014 amendment to TransLink’s legislation says the executive compensation range to be drawn up must not exceed that of similar B.C. public sector employers or similar organizations elsewhere in Canada.

The board was to have submitted the compensation plan to the mayors council for approval within four months of that amendment taking effect, but it’s way overdue.

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