THERE has been a lot of talk this week about pay rises to be paid to Bathurst's mayor and councillors, and a fair bit of discussion about who knew what and when.
I learned very early in my career as a journalist that while facts are finite, the truth is a matter of perspective.
So I won't try to convince you of the truth of this sorry mess; rather, I'll present some facts and let you draw your own conclusions ...
At the council meeting of Wednesday, June 17, councillors voted to approve the 2020-21 budget, including that "Councillors (sic) remuneration be set at the maximum level for the category applicable to Council as published by the Local Government Remuneration Tribunal".
On Wednesday, June 10 - seven days earlier - the NSW Local Government Remuneration Tribunal published its 2020 determination, including the reclassification of 24 council areas (including Bathurst).
Councillors were sent an email on Tuesday, June 23 advising them of the reclassification which effectively meant a pay rise of $4000 for councillors and $20,000 for the mayor - based on their vote six days earlier to take the maximum available.
So councillors now say that when they voted on June 17 to take the maximum available that they did not know the reclassification had been approved and believed they were voting to accept just a 2.5 per cent increase on the 2019-20 remuneration (though neither the general manager, director of finance nor mayor mentioned that when I spoke to them on Wednesday this week.)
When my article was published, there was an outcry. It's a terrible look for elected representatives to be receiving pay rises of more than 25 per cent at a time when public sector wages have been frozen and many ratepayers have seen their own jobs disappear.
But councillors' cries that it is the independent tribunal that sets their remuneration and that councillors have nothing to do with it simply rings hollow.
The tribunal sets a minimum and maximum allowance and it is then up to each council (through a vote of the councillors) to decide just how much they will take.
In 2019-20, the mayor's total remuneration was $64,530 and councillors received $20,280. If they truly believed they were voting for a 2.5 per cent pay rise on June 17, then there's nothing to stop them now voting to accept $66,143.25 and $20,787 respectively for 2020-21.
Those figures represent the 2.5 per cent rise they say they thought they were getting and, conveniently, fall within the ranges set down by the tribunal.
So far, no one has indicated to me that they plan to do this.
For what it's worth, I don't believe councillors and the mayor are overpaid. If we want good candidates to stand for these roles then, as a community, we should be willing to pay them well for their service.
By the same token, though, the ratepayers who pay the mayor and councillors surely have the right to know what they're paying them - and now they do.