Inside the Boardroom
I was an elected official. It was a stressful but profound time in my career. It was the greatest professional honor of my life thus far, but finding balance was hard. For one, I rarely had a home-cooked meal throughout my 4-year term so healthy, catered dinners and lunches at the board office were a saving grace. I gained a lot of weight in general through that crazy lifestyle of being a single dad, and coach, employed full-time in the private sector, and serving ‘part-time’ as a school trustee. I can only imagine my health had it not been for someone caring about what was on my plate as elected officials and senior staff broke bread before board meetings or during committee breaks.
I believe the story goes that when Trustee Robert Barlow passed suddenly in 2013, that a plan was put in place to ensure catered meals at our board office were healthy. By the time I was elected in late 2014, I was eating healthier than I had the past couple of years fending for myself at home.
From board meetings, committees, reading through lengthy reports, community speaking engagements, volunteering at schools, and coaching my kid’s sports, to phone calls and in-person meetings with constituents, I’m here to say that the job of school trustee is mostly thankless, and it should be a full-time role. $13K a year is a pittance for what is packed into each month
Our counterparts at City Hall, on the other hand, are paid over $90K and their role is full-time, but it’s still mostly thankless and the level of abuse they have to weather is 10-fold compared to a trustee. $90K isn’t even a lot of money in 2024 for an executive role. Their reports are much longer and there are more of them, there are more committees, community engagements, double the constituents, and for 6 months every 4 years, ward officials are running up and down some 30,000 stairs to beg you to do all this work again, on top of continuing to serve their communities.
Okay, sure. Many city staff – and the Mayor of course – are on the Ontario Sunshine List, but even if you low-balled the number of city staff at meetings at say 10 throughout the month, that’s $1,200 a year or $105 a month per person. What’s the long-term cost of unhealthy staff or the re-election of a deceased elected official?
I believe fiscal responsibility is of utmost importance in these leadership roles, but I would place physical and mental health before everything else. In responsibly spending public dollars, it’s also important to think about the greater cost of our savings.
I would have to agree with Ernest here.
Lastly, what is the social benefit of learning about the human side of our colleagues during these meals together? In these moments we learn about our children’s struggles and success within the education system and express compassion during hard times like the destruction of character in the media or the loss of a wife, father, or cherished colleague. We share the joy of a first grandchild, see one another’s children grow right before our eyes, and learn about the paths that have brought us together in these moments. These connections help us see past ‘us’ versus ‘them’ – left versus right – to find common ground in our joint desires to create better outcomes for those we have been elected to serve.
Sure, we can go to our offices and eat our homemade lunches, or meet a friend or spouse for lunch at a local eatery. However, when we take these rare breaks from the battlegrounds of politics, there is a genuine opportunity to bridge divides on the issues that otherwise tear us apart because we see the human behind the point of view – not our political stripes.
To me, this is what $33K a year gets the taxpayer. Speaking from experience, it’s in these moments where I created real life-long connections, which in turn made me a better person, and a more effective champion for the issues that mattered to my constituents, and the broader education community as a whole. It’s where I traded activist for advocate, and where I learned to care about the success of my colleagues and staff in what they wished to accomplish within their roles.
It’s not just a meal. It’s an olive branch.
My elected official is worth $105 because we all benefit from caring about their mental and physical well-being.
Let’s throw in that secret Jacuzzi room while we are at it.