The Mayor’s Profession
Similar to other employees, Mayors embark on their full-time responsibilities each day. They could function as educators, public servants, attorneys, or even engage in occupations such as factory work. Some may take on roles like chauffeurs or physicians. Others may pursue careers as skilled tradespeople, or they might have transitioned into retirement.
Much like typical employees, individuals in roles akin to Mayors encounter daily challenges and issues which they must independently tackle and resolve. Those who are self-employed and assume the responsibilities of Mayors must safeguard their peace of mind by securing their daily income, as there is no guaranteed fixed monthly salary.
In contrast to other typical workers, the distinction lies in the fact that, as the day comes to a close, one cannot simply head home to family time. Instead, these individuals are obliged to proceed to the Council office to address any problems and issues that may have surfaced throughout the day. The visit to the Council serves as an opportunity to engage with residents and, when possible, confer with the Executive Secretary (if still present) to discuss tasks and priorities for the upcoming days. I mention this not to undermine the role of the Executive Secretary but because the Mayor’s visit to the Council office coincides with the time when the Council employees are wrapping up their workday.
Moreover, those working in the private sector, would have already availed themselves of a number of hours taken as vacation leave in order to attend meetings with government officials, organizations, or other governmental agencies. These instances often extend for these individuals to attend to consultation sessions with the Council’s architect concerning any projects within the vicinity, provided there aren’t any court session underway, due to instances where someone files a case against the Local Council on specific issues.
With absolute no consideration to flexibility and family-friendly measures most of the Mayors and Councillors, particularly those working in the private sector, would have already availed themselves of all of their vacation leave by May or June for work related to the Local Council.
Nevertheless, there’s an additional layer to consider. Unlike Ministries or Parliamentary Secretaries, Mayors operate differently and are a one man show with no support staff (chief of staff, secretariat, public relations officers or personal assistants). Mayors need to self-handle any Council statements, press calls and should they need third party consultation they need to fork out the expense themselves. All of these tasks are to be carried out outsaid the usual working hours.
Under these circumstances one must understand that whatever happens in the locality always ends up on the Mayor’s lap. This is the reality each Mayor or Regional President has to face especially of the these would really want to render the best and most appropriate service within their locality; one must also keep in mind that not all Mayors allocate this much quality time to their Local Council.
It is highly important that on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the presence of Local Councils in Malta this role would be seriously considered from a democratic and constitutional perspective. One must stress the importance of having full time Mayors as the responsibilities they encounter even from a legal perspective go beyond those of backbenchers ( I am stating the latter with utmost respect since most of the backbenchers would have previously occupied this position)
Each Mayor or Regional President more than ever must bear the full responsibility if they ever are in any financial breach of their administrative tasks. We require excellence in the Mayoralties, which necessitates a substantial transformation, not solely in their appointment but also in the number of elected councillors.
Every Mayor, Councillor, or Regional President should comprehend the duty to advocate for and serve everyone impartially, without showing favouritism to any resident or employee. In the context of Mayors, Regional Presidents must establish well-defined criteria for the requisite skills when applying for or contesting the position. Additionally, the candidate’s past history, where feasible, should be considered to uphold the principles of transparency and good governance.
The major political parties bear a duty to refrain from nominating or endorsing individuals with a track record of mismanagement or those lacking the essential skills for carrying out this role effectively.
Candidates must also publicly disclose their intentions regarding their commitment upon election, indicating whether they will serve as full-time or maintain their respective profession. This transparency is crucial because residents are entitled to prior knowledge of which candidates are prepared to wholeheartedly devote themselves to the community. It is their right to be well-informed when casting their votes, ensuring an informed and accurate decision based on their judgment.
The electoral process should undergo a change. Within a single election, there should be distinct votes for the Mayor and the Councillors. This implies that political parties must beforehand declare their mayoral and council candidates. Consequently, voters should receive two separate ballot papers, one for selecting the Mayor and another listing the names of potential Councillors if elected.
Additionally, this minimizes confusion since all candidates would be fully aware of the roles they will undertake if elected before the election commences.
Way back the Mayor’s role used to be mistakenly compared to that of a parliament backbencher, however this does not hold water. As I previously mentioned, the functions and responsibilities are distinct. Elected officials should be entitled to a salary that aligns with their responsibilities. Anyone arguing that a Mayor should not be entitled to a higher salary than that of a backbencher is lacking a proper understanding of the daily duties of this important role. Furthermore, I believe that a one-size-fits-all salary system doesn’t make sense, regardless of the size of the locality. While some may disagree, I see a significant difference between overseeing a community of 30,000 residents and one with 3,000 residents. This discrepancy should be reflected in the Mayor’s bonus in relation to their salary.
The approach to this matter is subject to extensive debate. One possible fair solution could involve setting an equal base salary for all initially, followed by an additional bonus dependent on the size of the locality. A portion of this expenditure could be claimed from the Councillors’ allowance pot following a scientific study that concludes a decrease in the number of warranted Councillors.
The undermentioned are approximate salaries of Mayors of other countries:
Approximate Mayor’s salary in Germany: €130,000
Approximate Mayor’s salary in France: €50,000
Approximate Mayor’s salary in Estonia: €55,000
Approximate Mayor’s salary in England: €70,000
Based on a survey conducted by the Congress within the Council of Europe for Local and Regional Authorities, out of the 33 member responses, 27 countries have established a system for full-time Mayors, while the remaining 6 do not have full-time Mayors but grant them allowances. Apart from the usual salary, in numerous countries, Mayors and councilors are also granted by their respective councils a number of paid leave days. Furthermore, in certain instances, some countries offer a “loss of earnings” bonus; this bonus compensates the candidate when the previous salary of his position prior being elected a Mayor would have been in a higher bracket.
Undoubtedly one cannot shift and adopt the practices of other countries as these vary greatly. However, based on my firsthand experience with Mayors and councilors, I believe that there is an immediate need to kick off a local national debate on this matter. At the very least, locally it would be fair to consider establishing a basic salary of approximately €38,000 (adjusted according to the locality’s size), along with a 20% allowance based on performance, governance, and the implementation of the principles of local democracy by the respective Council.
This also opens the door for a discussion regarding the salaries of members of the Cabinet of Ministers, which, in my opinion, also deserve an upgrade. Nevertheless, one should not hold back the other, and they should progress concurrently and be treated fairly.
This argument does not relate to the “backbenchers,” as the latter could concurrently resume with their profession along with the Parliament’s role.