How did City staff allow a political appointee to become chief spokesperson for Vancouver City Council?
The water cooler talk burning up at Vancouver City Hall concerns a news release distributed by the public servants in the City's communications department on December 12th, about the hiring of Penny Ballem as the new City Manager.
To outsiders, it's a trifle. So what if public servants send out political press releases?
Inside City Hall however, it had much deeper implications for the politicization of City staff. Vancouver's professional staff and its management succeed in large part for their ability to remain out of the political fray, and they take great pains to remain so.
Politics is left to members of City Council and the Mayor, plus his immediate staff.
In the case of last Friday's CoV releases, rather than following the normal practice of using the name of a City staffer as the primary media contact, the public service chose to only list the name of a partisan political appointee in the Mayor's Office: Kevin Quinlan, aka the blogger Vancouver Kid.
What complicates this issue further is that the authority to hire and fire the City Manager rests with Council, which includes NPA and COPE elected members. Ellen Woodsworth, David Cadman and Suzanne Anton are all veteran City Councillors -- would they have knowingly allowed a release to go out on their behalf signed by a Vision Vancouver political hack? Probably not.
If I were either Councillor Suzanne Anton, David Cadman or Ellen Woodsworth I would be asking some tough questions about how this breach of protocol happened, and I'd make sure it never happens again.
Staff's longstanding tradition at Vancouver City Hall of being apolitical is under threat. We have to rely upon the opposition Councillors to see that this tradition is upheld.