After my appearance on Metro Morning today, an interesting question came up from a caller — am I paid for the work I do by the TTC?
The answer, quite emphatically, is no. The last time the TTC paid me for anything was in 1969 when I left a clerical position there to return to school.
My professional life throughout the entire period of my transit activism has been in the Information Technology sector, most recently as Operations Manager for the Toronto District School Board’s IT department. I have my opinions about how TDSB was managed, but I keep them to myself as befits the role of an employee, and my advocacy has been in other sectors, mainly transit. I retired at the end of March. And, yes, as a manager I appeared on the “sunshine list” for 2008.
Over the decades, I have co-authored a few small reports for non-TTC agencies and have received small honoraria for appearing at community events. A $50 Chapter’s gift card is not going to change my lifestyle or buy my opinion.
I’ve been to countless meetings where the refreshments ranged from pizza and sandwiches, cookies, coffee, cold drinks (if you get there early), water or nothing at all. People buy me a beer now and then. Oh yes, Bombardier bought me breakfast once. I think it cost them about $15. Dinners at the Ritz are not my lot.
I am actually paid, but not much, for the articles I write in spacing magazine. The hard copy version, not the blog.
Part of being a “transit advocate” is to talk to people, to advise them on the details of my thoughts on issues. These have ranged over the years through the media, many parts of City Hall and Queen’s Park, community groups, even people within the TTC. Some listen more than others, but an advocate can’t expect to hit 100%. It’s the consistency and credibility of the message that matters.
I must say that the current environment both at the TTC and City Hall are a vast improvement over the days when talking to me was a firing offence at the TTC. That was a few Chief General Managers ago, and it’s not hard to figure out which CGM might have been so insecure as to have such an attitude. David Gunn was a huge breath of fresh air by contrast.
There are times that what I say supports TTC policies, and more times when I am highly critical. Indeed, there have been occasions when I do a better job of explaining what the TTC is up to than their own staff do (or can, given constraints on what employees can say).
Would I like to be paid for all of this? Well, at times I wonder why I do it, particularly all the work of maintaining this site, but it’s for a good cause. My cause may not align with the views others have of Toronto’s planning and transit. They are free to advocate on their own, although I have a few years’ head start.
The moment I get paid, my role would be suspect, and after a long period as a pro bono advocate, showing up as a paid spokesman might confer a credibility undeserved by the client. I’m not selling my reputation.
The 2005 Jane Jacobs Prize was a special honour in recognition of years of work. When I did a quick calculation, the $15k award came out to well under $1 an hour, although it was tax free. The honour was to receive this from Jane while she was still alive, and that I share it with so many others of distinction in our city. There is no formal requirement of the prize, although continuing my effort is likely assumed. It’s hard to imagine anyone on that award list treating it as a chance to retire from public life.
If I ever take on paid work, I will be the first to declare it here so that any possible conflict of interest is visible to all.