COLUMN: TransLink bloated at the top

The transit authority's number-one goal needs to be getting costs under control – starting with the salaries of its top executives.

Yet another shoe has dropped at TransLink, which continues to be the target of enormous criticism.

On Tuesday, it was announced that two of its most senior executives had been let go. Doug Kelsey, whose involvement with transit in the region predates TransLink’s creation, was most recently chief operating officer, and also president and CEO of the B.C. Rapid Transit Company. His 2014 salary and other payments totalled $355,000, and his severance is likely to total in the hundreds of thousands, if not into the millions.

Bob Paddon has been executive vice-president and was one of the most-quoted senior executives, given that part of his responsibility had been media and public relations. His 2014 salary was $299,000.

He was also overseeing long-term planning, which has been thrown out the window by the public’s overwhelming rejection of the sales-tax plebiscite.

In addition, Doug Allen, who took over as interim CEO in the midst of the plebiscite campaign, has stated he will only stay on for another month. A permanent CEO has not been found.

Former CEO Ian Jarvis remains on the payroll as a consultant, at close to $400,000 per year.

While the executives and their pay have been the cause of much of the anger, what this signals is another era of uncertainty. Kelsey and Paddon were both very experienced and, to the best of my knowledge, not the cause of significant problems.

The new permanent CEO needs to start work at a lower salary than Jarvis, Kelsey or Allen have all been pulling in, and take quick and decisive steps towards reducing all executive compensation. If that means people quit, so be it. No one, other than the CEO, should be making more than $200,000.

TransLink pay reflects the pay that top municipal managers make. Their wage levels are significantly higher than they need to be, too.

The new CEO also needs to take a long, hard look at the TransLink Police and see if there is value for money there. As Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has pointed out, most of them are glorified fare collectors. Most have minimal files to deal with, as compared to their municipal or RCMP counterparts. Yet in 2012, more than one-third of them earned more than $100,000 per year.

Many are retired police officers who already get pensions from other jurisdictions.

Some of us had expressed hope that Allen was starting to cut through some of the heavy underbrush which has impeded TransLink’s cost efficiency.

If Surrey and other South Fraser areas are ever going to get better bus service, it must come through a single-minded concentration on cutting costs and spending money wisely.

This may be the first step in that direction, or it is nothing more than window dressing.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for the Peace Arch News. He is the former editor of the Langley Times.