Councillors question Iqaluit mayor’s absence during crisis
“Has he gone AWOL?”
Iqaluit Mayor John Graham’s long vacation absence drew questions from city councillors June 11, when a bylaw amendment on the deputy mayor’s compensation package came up on the agenda.
The amendment calls for an increase to the deputy mayor’s salary to the same level as the mayor’s, in the event that the deputy mayor “performs the duties and/or exercises the same powers of the Mayor when the Mayor is absent or unable to act.”
The question of salary is timely, given that deputy mayor Mary Wilman has been serving in the mayor’s position for the past four weeks, in Graham’s absence.
Councillors acknowledged that Wilman put in the same full-time hours — 35 a week — as the mayor. In her extended time serving in that position, Wilman oversaw the city’s efforts to control the largest fire ever seen at the city’s landfill site.
Fire chief Luc Grandmaison, who heads up emergency services at the city, confirmed at the meeting that city staff have put in exceptional amounts of overtime to deal with the fire.
Councillors said they haven’t seen Graham since mid-May.
“All we know is he is on vacation,” Wilman told Nunatsiaq News. “He is visiting his family in Scotland.”
Wilman couldn’t say when Graham would return, which baffled some councillors, given that the landfill fire seems far from over, and continues to drain the city’s resources.
“Does anyone have an update on when the mayor will return?” Coun. Terry Dobbin asked at the meeting. “We’re practically in a crisis situation here, and people are asking all sorts of questions. Is there no update? Has he gone AWOL?”
“All we know right now is he’s on vacation in Scotland. Thank you,” Wilman said.
“In most crises, usually people return from vacation,” Dobbin said. “We’ve got a dump fire over there. In my opinion, that’s a critical situation.”
Coun. Joanasie Akumalik asked if discussion of the remuneration bylaw put Wilman in conflict of interest. Other councillors referred to the acting mayor during discussions.
“This is not about me,” Wilman levelled. “This is not about Mary Ekho Wilman being mayor, this is about the bylaw for deputy mayor. We could have anybody as deputy mayor.”
Coun. Bell noted that the mayor “must work a minimum of 35 hours a week,” and suggested the bylaw should be amended to include that detail.
Iqaluit’s deputy mayor earns $8,000 a year, and councillors earn $6,000. Unlike these, the mayor’s position is considered full-time, and draws an annual salary of $109,000.
Council increased the mayor’s compensation package in 2012, raising it from $70,000 to $109,010.22. That figure increases each year in amounts equal to the incremental increases that the city’s unionized employees receive under their collective agreement.
The bylaw also stipulated that the mayor would work a minimum of 35 hours per week, receive four weeks of vacation each year and seek permission from council to hold any other employment.
Chief administrative officer John Hussey said that the proposed bylaw amendment for the deputy mayor’s position “was strictly something to have going forward,” in situations when the mayor is absent for an extended period of time and the deputy mayor must step into that full-time position.
Council noted the bylaw had to specify when a deputy mayor serving the mayor’s position becomes entitled to the higher salary, and how long the deputy can serve in the position.
Councillors agreed to pass the bylaw at first reading on condition that changes are made before second reading.