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Controversy brews over new Translink CEO’s possible pay in B.C.

A Skytrain travels past the downtown skyline in Vancouver, B.C.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

TransLink hasn't even finished the search for its new CEO and already there's controversy over what the winning candidate will be paid.

The transportation agency's search firm posted a job advertisement online last week that outlined a compensation package very similar to that of former CEO Ian Jarvis. The compensation package posted by Boyden Global Executive Search specifies $319,000 in base salary, a bonus of up to 30 per cent, a $14,000 transportation allowance and a $1,200 parking allowance.

Executive pay was one of the frequently cited sore points during a recently defeated plebiscite that asked Vancouver-area residents to vote on a new sales tax to fund transit improvements.

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That has prompted questions from the agency's long-time critics, concern from Transportation Minister Todd Stone and confusion among the region's mayors, many of whom said they knew nothing about how the decision on compensation was made.

"I don't know how they can have a recruitment when they don't have an approved executive-compensation plan," said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie. "I don't know how they can designate remuneration."

Mr. Brodie said many mayors in the region would likely not be in favour of the new CEO getting the kind of pay his predecessor received – pay that Mr. Brodie said increased substantially since the mayors last had control over TransLink – in 2007.

"I think many mayors would have a problem with this," he said.

The mayors were given the right to review executive compensation by the province last year in response to their lobbying efforts for more control of TransLink.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Barry Forbes, the vice-chair of TransLink's board, said there is a process to review the compensation package while the job search is under way.

Mr. Forbes sent an e-mail to the mayors late Monday spelling out the details and saying the compensation question is being assessed with the help of a third-party consultant.

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"Discussions with some representatives of the mayors' council have taken place in order to get feedback on the proposed compensation plan, including CEO salary ranges, and we look forward to presenting our recommendations to the mayors' council," he wrote.

Mr. Robertson, one of two mayors with a seat on the board, said the job posting reflects the salaries of both the former and interim CEOs.

Asked if he believed the salary should be rolled back, Mr. Robertson said "it should be competitive with other cities. Obviously we want to have great people running our transit authority here, and at the same time it shouldn't be at the high end of the range."

The TransLink CEO's pay has been highly scrutinized in recent years, partly because it rose so sharply and partly because of the attention the agency's spending gets.

According to a public-salary database compiled by The Vancouver Sun, Mr. Jarvis, the previous CEO, had the 39th-highest compensation package of about 75,000 employees of provincial or municipal government agencies. (The database does not include federal employees.) That was more than the deputy premier but less than the CEOs of Port Metro Vancouver, a federal agency, and BC Ferries.

Mr. Jarvis was removed from his job by the board just before the plebiscite voting started. Interim CEO Doug Allen leaves the job Aug. 10.

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