Surprise resignation: Revelstoke City Councillor Steven Cross quits, citing ethics concerns over council self-pay raise

In a surprise development, Councillor Steven Cross has resigned from Revelstoke City Council over a plan to significantly raise compensation for mayor and councillors.

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File photo: Councillor Steven Cross. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

Revelstoke City Councillor Steven Cross came to the January 21, 2020, council meeting with a resignation letter tucked into the breast pocket of his coat.

At the meeting, he presented a motion to stop council from voting themselves a substantial pay raise, which was first proposed by Revelstoke City Councillor Cody Younker in late 2019.

Coun. Younker’s plan was to raise council remuneration by $10,000 from $15,500 to $25,000, and to raise the mayor’s salary by $45,000 to $70,000.

The pay raise idea was presented in a verbal report from Councillor Cody Younker at a November committee meeting, came as a surprise, and since then has been the cause of controversy at the council table.

Watch: Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine journalist Aaron Orlando interviews Councillor Steven Cross about the reasons for his surprise resignation. 

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The council pay raise idea has suffered from a lack of clarity and documentation from the start. Younker’s council raise initiative came in a verbal report and was not on the agenda of the Nov. 7, 2019 meeting where it was presented, and there was no written report outlining details of the raise structure made available on the city’s public agenda for the meeting.

The idea was to increase the raise gradually, and have the full raise come into effect following the next election, but the schedule of pay raises remains unclear, or at least not effectively communicated to the public. The raise has been the subject of discussion at budget meetings, but it’s unclear at the time of writing exactly what the latest version of the raise structure is.

At council’s Jan. 9 meeting, a letter from councillor Cross, who was not in attendance, was presented by Coun. Mike Brooks-Hill. The letter asked for a third-party review of council remuneration but was rejected by council, with councillors Brooks-Hill and Jackie Rhind in support.

Brooks-Hill then presented a motion to defer the raise to future budget discussions, and another one to reduce the amount of the raise to a total of $50,000 for the mayor and $25,000 for councillors, but that motion also went down to defeat, with councillors Brooks-Hill and Jackie Rhind in support.

Cross was back in attendance at the Jan. 21 council meeting, where funding for big-ticket infrastructure items was on the agenda.

Councillor Cross presented a motion to remove the raises from the budget for the next three years and divert the raise to into infrastructure projects, such as paving.

“With the number of things that are facing us, we should maybe slow down this process,” Cross said. “I don’t disagree that at some point we have to look at these raises for council in order to attract other people, but I don’t think this is the time, and I think we need to discuss the [raise] process.”

In discussion, Cross said council raises should be reviewed by a third-party reviewer. “So the public can have faith that we’re not just making it up.”

Mayor Gary Sulz opposed Cross’s move to put the pay raise into infrastructure projects. “I have heard you state about ethics before on many occasions. If we’re not the ones to look at our own raises when we actually put on the table the services for the rest of the community, who should be looking at that?” Sulz asked. “I firmly believe going to third party is not the way to do it.”

Coun. Cody Younker said he felt there was adequate information about the raise, citing a CBC interview he did about his proposal, and suggested people could watch his interview.

Video: At the Jan. 21 city council meeting, Coun. Steven Cross presents a motion to divert funds from a council pay raise into infrastructure projects. The motion was defeated, and soon after Cross reads his resignation statement. This video is cued to the start of that discussion:

He said he felt council salaries were low in comparison to other municipalities, and added that some other municipalities include additional perks for council. “The vast majority, on top of having extensively higher salaries also are paying now per annum, so if you attend a council meeting as a councillor … $200 let’s say, plus a travel fee, plus meals,” Younker said.

Councillor Mike Brooks-Hill was the only other councillor at the table to support Cross. “When we all ran for office, pretty much all of us said we wanted to work for a better community. None of us said we wanted to increase council salaries. This motion is about talking about putting money into the community, or giving money to ourselves. It’s that simple,” Brooks-Hill said.

When mayor Sulz called the vote, only councillors Brooks-Hill and Cross supported the plan to divert the raise to infrastructure projects, with mayor Sulz and councillors Rob Elliott, Nicole Cherlet, and Cody Younker opposed. Coun. Jackie Rhind, who at previous budget meetings had voted In support of Cross’s previous attempt to stop the raise plan, was not in attendance at the Jan. 21 meeting, but her vote wouldn’t have tipped the balance.

Soon after, Cross pulled out a resignation letter and read a resignation statement. “Approving pay raises of 134% for mayor and 67% for councillors in a budget year when our town has a $500,000 revenue hole to deal with and our roads are a mess is a choice of self interest over mission of service to our community. I can’t support that,” he said.

He added several other reasons, saying the pay raise “erodes public trust” and puts “personal benefit first.”

Following the resignation, there was some discussion about details, and it appears Cross will remain on council for two weeks until the resignation comes into effect.

There was no discussion at the council table about steps beyond the councillor’s resignation, but with council just over a year into a four-year term, a by-election is coming.

This story has been updated to include more information, context, improve quote attribution and correct typos and errors. The story may be updated with additional comment in the coming days.