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Sandra Hollingsworth, the scarlet letter and salary shaming

Twenty years after Ontario first required disclosure of the names and salaries of public-sector employees earning more than $100,000 a year, Ward 2 Councillor Sandra Hollingsworth compares it to the 17th-Century practice of making the debauched wear scarlet letters.
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Lillian Gish playing Hester Prynne in the 1926 film adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter: A Romance.

Like reading how much people make in the top taxpayer-supported jobs?

You terrible, terrible, terrible person!

Ward 2 Councillor Sandra Hollingsworth says knowing how much we're paying those poor high-earners only feeds negativity.

So-called 'sunshine' lists, she says, are fit only for coffee-shop gossipers.

With Ward 3 Councillor Judy Hupponen at her side nodding in stern agreement, Hollingsworth compared public-sector salary disclosures last night to the 17th-Century practice of making the debauched wear scarlet letters. 

Hollingsworth was responding to a bid by Ward 6 Councillor Ross Romano and Ward 3's Matthew Shoemaker to ask the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp. and the Innovation Centre to reveal the salaries and taxable benefits of employees earning $100,000 a year.

"It seems to be becoming more of a common practice in society today," Hollingsworth said. "I don't know if I agree with that practice. I think there's a lot more that we have to look at than just publishing names associated with a salary, and I'll tell you why."

"When I see this, I almost see it as if we are wearing the scarlet letter back in the good old 17th-18th Century days, when apparently if you were considered practising witchcraft, you were given a scarlet letter."

Witchcraft? Or adultery?

In fact, as portrayed in Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1850 novel : The Scarlet Letter: a Romance, the practice in Puritan New England was more closely associated with adultery than with witchcraft.

But 20 years after Ontario first required disclosure of the names and salaries of public-sector employees earning more than $100,000 a year, Hollingsworth says it's a bad idea. 

"What's that going to achieve? What's the benefit?" she asked last night.

"I'm not convinced that by publishing a person's name, it's going to really benefit. It will benefit the coffee-shop conversations and it will give more gossip and it's going to re-create more negativity in the city."

"Yes, I understand what you're trying to say about accountability and being transparent. I fully understand that."

But instead of salary-shaming, Hollingsworth wants City Council to look at alternative forms of compensation to keep salaries under control.  

"I'm not saying I agree that some individuals are making a hundred thousand dollars or more. I'm not saying that their salaries justify the results that we are receiving or not receiving."

"If we're bringing new people in, how are we going to control their salaries?"

"We should be looking at different compensations with regards to how it links to our strategy planning, and basically looking at a reward recognition practice. So that maybe in the future, we have people who are not at $100,000 and they still want to work for the city."

"I just believe in privacy....I'm very cautious about linking the name with the salary," Hollingsworth said.

'I don't think it makes any difference what anybody is making'

Councillor Hupponen was fully onside with Hollingsworth.

"What difference does it make, knowing what a person is making salary-wise?" Hupponen asked.

"I don't think it should be on the sunshine list . . . I think it is pointing the finger and I think that it is coffee-shop gossip. Quite honestly, I don't think that it makes any difference what anybody is making in any of the departments, as long as the job is getting done and we're happy with it."

Hupponen and Hollingsworth were the only councillors opposed to public disclosure of top-level earners.

Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Shoemaker believes city's accountability agreements with the EDC and Innovation Centre should include a requirement for disclosure of salaries for employees making more than $100,000 a year.

"Our strategic plan said that we are all about transparency, all about accountability, that we know how our taxpayer dollars are being used," Shoemaker said.

'It really would reassure people'

"It really would, I think, reassure people from the community," Shoemaker added.

"We're not pointing the finger here and saying: 'You make too much.' What we're doing is saying: 'Here are all the details. Here's what we do. Here's where we use our money. You can have confidence that it's being well used' . . . This is the way that all public institutions are moving, towards more disclosure."

Ward 5 Councillor Frank Fata: "If we're going to sit here and have this conversation that public servant salaries shouldn't be disclosed, this is the type of conversation that we will be creating in the coffee shops tomorrow morning. This shouldn't even be an issue . . . I can't believe that we're having this conversation."

Ward 2 Councillor Susan Myers: "I'm a former employee of the Economic Development Corporation so I can put myself in the shoes quite readily. I have absolutely no issue whatsoever in my salary being disclosed . . . I think that it gives a great opportunity to allow the employees to be identified with the work that they do. A workman is worth his wages . . . We don't have the legislative authority to require it. It's a request. If you don't agree, maybe we'll say: 'You have no funding.' It's a request that we're making."

The following is how councillors voted on asking the Innovation Centre and EDC to disclose names, salaries and taxable benefits of individuals earning over $100,000:

How they voted (Innovation Centre):

  • Ward 1 Councillor Steve Butland - For
  • Ward 1 Councillor Paul Christian - For
  • Ward 2 Councillor Susan Myers - For
  • Ward 2 Councillor Sandra Hollingsworth - Against
  • Ward 3 Councillor Judy Hupponen - Against
  • Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Shoemaker - For
  • Ward 4 Councillor Rick Niro - For
  • Ward 4 Councillor Lou Turco - Absent
  • Ward 5 Councillor Marchy Bruni - For
  • Ward 5 Councillor Frank Fata - For
  • Ward 6 Councillor Joe Krmpotich - For
  • Ward 6 Councillor Ross Romano - For

How they voted (EDC):

  • Ward 1 Councillor Steve Butland - For
  • Ward 1 Councillor Paul Christian - For
  • Ward 2 Councillor Susan Myers - For
  • Ward 2 Councillor Sandra Hollingsworth - Against
  • Ward 3 Councillor Judy Hupponen - Against
  • Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Shoemaker - Declared pecuniary interest
  • Ward 4 Councillor Rick Niro - For
  • Ward 4 Councillor Lou Turco - Absent
  • Ward 5 Councillor Marchy Bruni - Declared pecuniary interest
  • Ward 5 Councillor Frank Fata - For
  • Ward 6 Councillor Joe Krmpotich - For
  • Ward 6 Councillor Ross Romano - For


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