At what point are members of the executive well paid?

11/10/2016

Salaries for members of the executive are often a political issue. Should their salaries be public knowledge, and at what point can we speak of a good salary? Reto Steiner talks with the Zürichsee newspaper. 

140,000 to 215,000 Swiss Francs per year: is that an appropriate salary for a mayor in the St. Gallen Linth region?

Reto Steiner: Management of a municipality in the Linth region is comparable to management of a small or medium sized enterprise (SME). If you look at the salaries for heads of SMEs throughout Switzerland, the average salary turns out to be about 150,000 Francs. So we can say they are well paid.

Why are the salaries for mayors in this region so high?

The Cantons of St. Gallen and Thurgau are unique in Switzerland: their mayors are not only responsible for strategic leadership, but also have an operative role. That is why these cantons mainly have full-time mayors.

Does a mayor's job really vary so much among municipalities?

The task of the municipal councils is comparable across Switzerland. The municipality has to be represented in relation to various stakeholder groups; they have to lead the executive and organize strategic development of the municipality. What is different are the sizes of the municipalities. Small communities and large cities entail very different responsibilities. The second difference is how involved the mayor is in operative management.

In the St. Gallen Linth region, the mayors are highly involved in operations. Is this model up-to-date?

In Switzerland as a whole this model is increasingly falling out of favor. The mayor should be focused primarily on long-term development. In addition, this also allows for better maintenance of the "checks and balances" principle, because power is divided among several people. Operative management is in the hands of a municipal secretary, who has the function of a managing director. That seems more future-oriented to me.

Can you explain why the mayors were reluctant to publicize their salaries for so long?

I don't understand that at all. Mayors perform their job at the behest of the voters. The voters are their employers, who express trust in them at the ballot box or municipal assembly. So it is clear that voting citizens need to be informed and should also decide what kind of jobs the executive members have and what salary they should receive for their function. If the voter does not know the salary, he cannot appreciate the supervisory function.

Mayors are worried about the publication of individual municipal council salaries. "We believe there is a danger that council members will not make themselves available in future if their individual compensation is being publicly debated." Are these worries justified?

Transparency is not an obstacle to running for public office. Candidates themselves also need to know what compensation they would receive for the job. If the numbers are not published, to me that seems like a lack of respect for the voters. Of course in Switzerland we have trouble finding municipal councilors - especially when people depend on compensation in order to be able to perform the office at all. Canton Aargau is working on raising salaries for subsidiary offices substantially.

Salary transparency is already a reality in many cantons. Has this led to lower or higher salaries for municipal politicians in the past years?

In most cantons there is transparency regarding salaries because the salary systems are determined by regulations and the principle of public access to records requires them to be published. So far this has not caused them to level out on the lower end. However, there are individual instances of salaries being reduced. But these were all above 200,000 Francs and at that point the people have a right to ask critical questions. On the whole the salaries are still fair and the people are not acting according to a culture of envy.

Let's take a look at the town of Rapperswil -Jona: the current mayor Erich Zoller (CVP) earns about 250,000 Francs.

I wouldn't presume to say whether a given salary is too high or too low. Good work should certainly be appropriately compensated. But a decision of that kind cannot be made by those receiving the salary; rather, the right to determine the salary belongs in the hands of the citizen assembly.

In the St. Gallen Canton Council, there has been a proposal to entrust voters with the responsibility for salary systems for members of the local authority. This is already a given in other cantons. What do you think of this proposal?

Not every individual salary has to be determined by legislators, i.e. by the parliament or the municipal assembly. After all, it's clear that after five years of work one should get a higher salary than after two years. On the other hand, the basic salary system should be regulated, and those regulations should be decided by the legislators and subject to referendum.