The Curious Case of Councillor Ross

GregRoss

Village of Pinehouse ignores Freedom of Information request about the Councillor’s unusually high pay in 2013 and 2014

On August 2, 2016, the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner issued his ninth review report of the year criticizing the North Village of Pinehouse for failing to comply with the Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (LA FOIP).

In this case, a Pinehouse resident had requested information concerning the unusually high pay received by one of the Village councillors, Greg Ross. In 2013, Mr. Ross received $71,100 in remuneration, almost as much as Mayor Mike Natomagan ($87,100), and more than all the other Village councilors combined.

The Freedom of Information (FOI) request had asked for:

(a) documentation regarding Ross’s remuneration for the years 2013 and 2014;
(b) minutes of Village Council approving payment of all time vouchers and expense claims he submitted;
(c) minutes approving appointment of Ross to salaried positions from 2011 to 2014;
(d) copies of job descriptions and posted job competitions to which he was appointed; and
(e) minutes showing whether or not Ross absented himself from meetings where there was discussion and approval of any salaried positions.

The FOI request was ignored by the Village administration, prompting Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner Ronald J. Kruzeniski to issue his most recent Review Report on August 2. “The Commissioner determined this was a deemed refusal” and has recommended that the requested documentation be provided by the Village. He also indicated in his report that “I will be writing the Ministry of Government Relations and asking them to intervene and provide assistance to the Village in understanding its provincial obligations and the need for it to comply with LA FOIP.”

An FOI response from the Village earlier this year revealed that from January 2011 to May 2012, Ross received a generous salary for “Government Relations” responsibilities in the Village administration amounting to $74,205 in 2011 (more than Mayor Mike Natomagan at $69,105) and $31,325 in the first five months of 2012. The released documents show that Ross quite often claimed per diems of $200-$300 per day for meetings attended, even though he was already being compensated through his bi-weekly salary. No explanation has been provided by the Village administration with regard to how or why the Councillor was assigned these responsibilities with extra compensation.

It would appear that, despite not being on salary from June to December 2012 (the last election year in Pinehouse), Councillor Ross was quickly restored to a salaried status in 2013. The Village financial statement for 2014 is almost a year overdue and has not been released despite several requests to do so. As a result, we don’t know if Ross’s salary continued in 2014 because of the failure of the Village Office to publish the financial statement for that year.

The Northern Municipalities Act Section 128 stipulates that “No member of council is eligible to be appointed as an employee of the municipality or of any committee or controlled corporation of the municipality in which he or she serves as a member of the council.” It would appear that Greg Ross is now Superintendent of Community Projects for Pinehouse Business North (PBN, the Village’s municipal development corporation). Is he serving as a salaried PBN employee? Is he receiving a salary in addition to (or instead of) the “Government Relations” position he previously occupied? This is something we have asked the Saskatchewan Minister of Government Relations to investigate. At any rate, the taxpayers of Pinehouse are paying Mr. Ross more than generously.