Friday was Lisa McGee’s first official day as Constituency Assistant for newbie Ottawa Councilor Clarke Kelly, who represents the West Carleton-March ward on the city’s west end.
The next morning, McGee helped judge an ugly sweater contest in nearby Arnprior, Ontario.
“Oh my God, this is really something special,” she said of the annual event, which raises money for the local hospital in honor of a late Arnprior resident.
McGee wasn’t hanging out with Santa Claus and The Grinch on Kelly’s behalf — instead, she was doing her other job as Mayor of Arnprior.
Voters in the town of more than 9,000 elected McGee to the community’s highest seat in October, after serving a single term as a councillor.
McGee said travel issues meant his previous job as a customer service specialist would not overlap with his new duties as mayor.
So, as an empty nest not ready to retire, she found a more flexible position on Kelly’s staff, having held a similar position years ago for her predecessor, Eli El-Chantiry.
“I could potentially do it on just the mayor’s salary,” McGee said, referring to the annual salary that was increased by Arnprior council earlier this year from around $37,000 to nearly $49,000. “I also have additional income elsewhere, a passive income stream.”
But McGee added that she likes to keep busy – and the mayoral job is only guaranteed for four years.
“Time on my hands is never, ever a good thing.”
McGee said what she was doing was not unique: Last term, four Arnprior advisers, herself included, held more than one job.
She said she received no outright rejection for her decision, only messages of support. But she responded to comments online expressing concerns about conflicts of interest and whether her job in Ottawa could take time away from her duties as mayor.
“I don’t know what you think I will be able to do without the will of the full council,” she wrote to a commenter. “All of our discussions and decisions are transparent and public.”
Arnprior County Councilor Dan Lynch told CBC he had no concerns and pointed out that a former Arnprior councilor, Mark Wilmner, juggled the former town of Nepean.
If you want progressive leadership, you can’t wait for a 75-year-old retired white man.– Sophie Smith-Dore, Arnprior resident
Arnprior resident Lauren Pilon, however, said McGee ran for mayor on a platform of transparency and public trust.
“Then, weeks later, I found out that she had been hired full-time to work for the adjoining ward councilor in the City of Ottawa,” Pilon told CBC via email.
“I understand that being the mayor of the city is not a full time job and if someone is not retired they need a second income. If she worked for a neighborhood that does not was not directly adjacent to many common interests and projects, it wouldn’t be so concerning.”
Another resident, Sophie Smith-Dore, said she didn’t share Pilon’s concern, and that juggling two jobs is a necessary by-product of trying to attract a more diverse slate of people to municipal politics. .
“If you want progressive leadership, you can’t wait for a 75-year-old retired white man,” Smith-Dore said.
“We have a young mayor serving our city in a part-time role,” echoed Arnprior Coun. Chris Couper. “Being able to obtain additional employment is a necessity for elected officials who are not retired and/or living on a pension.
During this fall’s election, several politicians told CBC that salaries needed to be raised to attract more people to municipal politics.
A 13 minute journey
McGee said the mayor of Arnprior’s job “is definitely not full-time seven-day hours,” she said.
It’s also just a 13-minute drive from her home in Arnprior to Kelly’s head office, she said.
“The beauty of technology is that I don’t have to be in [the town] office necessarily do much of what I will be responsible for. A lot can happen in the evening when I’m checking calendars and answering e-mails.”
As constituency assistant, McGee will handle “incoming business” and correspondence with constituents, Kelly said.
“She thought with her knowledge of municipal affairs and the Ward 5 office being quite close to Arnprior, it might be a good fit,” he said.
Kelly said he consulted with an integrity commissioner and a City of Ottawa clerk on protocols to avoid conflicts of interest.
McGee said she will not use any Ottawa property in the performance of her duties as mayor of Arnprior.