During a Chamber of Commerce function last month, Squamish’s mayor announced she would not be seeking re-election in October.
After one term in office as mayor, Karen Elliott is abandoning the opportunity to extend a prominent civic calling that pays $95,126 annually.
In hindsight, her declaration was by no means surprising.
At that gathering, she said, “It has been an absolute privilege to serve as your mayor for the last four years…many of the policies I felt were missing or needed to be updated have been completed or are well underway, and I would like to turn my time and energy to new career challenges and opportunities.”
When contacted for additional details, she said conversations about what comes next are on the horizon, and she plans to spend more time with her family after the end of her term.
Still, there is certainly more to this saga than those standard-issue political exit taglines.
For starters, her responsibilities are not defined specifically as part-time or full-time.
According to the District’s spokesperson Rachel Boguski, the mayor is on call 365 days a year, “whether responding to an emergency, taking time out of typical office hours to attend a community event, engagement session or functions, or stopping to chat with citizens wherever they may be.”
And her take-home pay gets whittled down significantly once federal and provincial taxes are extracted.
Let’s remember, in 2021, the salary of the District’s chief administrative officer was the not-so-paltry sum of $229,163, and the general manager of corporate services pulled in $185,180.
Even after taxes, those are substantial stipends.
According to the Community Charter, the mayor is the municipality's head and chief executive officer.
In other words, the corporation’s CEO is paid considerably less than her subordinates. At the same time, her duties can be as extensive and time-consuming, or possibly more so, than those performed by the District of Squamish executive staff.
The holders of those top-drawer muni positions also operate, to some extent, removed from constant public scrutiny and are seldom subjected to the slings and arrows of social media pundits like a mayor is.
The relatively meagre pay package may have contributed to the mayor’s departure this coming October. But the likely defining moments that convinced her to bid adieu to the coveted position she so eagerly sought in 2018 had less to do with money than the escalating level of online toxicity she faced.
The mayor and three councillors have been assailed in online attacks online and in snail mail campaigns.
Following those online affronts, Elliott told The Chief the realm of public discourse in this community has changed. What’s different now “is a purposeful, ongoing, well-funded misinformation campaign” generated by social media platforms that have “every desire to sow distrust, throw accusations around, and create chaos,” she said.
Back in February 2021, she made a similar pronouncement after becoming the target of the online smear campaign. During a presentation to the local business community, she noted that some observers claim those confrontational scenarios are what elected officials should expect as part of their job description. “I disagree with that fundamentally,” she said and added that female leaders are often on the receiving end of political intimidation tactics.
She also pointed out that being the mayor and a member of council means she has bigger, more important issues to focus on. “I’m not going to be distracted by this kind of junk,” she vowed.
But in the end, when push came to shove, she decided it was time to shove off.
Helmut Manzl is a long-time Squamish resident and political commentator.