The Judy Rogers firing is not only sending shockwaves through Vancouver City Hall, Victoria, VANOC, Translink and Metro Vancouver, it was a textbook example of the art of government spin control. It also sends a signal that Vision Vancouver is undertaking to "politicize" City Hall operations.
As Daniel wrote earlier, Friday afternoon press announcements are referred to as "Take out the trash Fridays." Weekend news reports are simply not as popular as those during the week. Most reporters file early in the day, talk shows are winding down and most of us are thinking about taking the kids to soccer or making dinner plans. So if you're going to slip in a controversial announcement like firing the head of your civll service, Friday is your best day.
The Vancouver mayor's office appears to have successfully controlled the spin on Judy Rogers firing. Here is how they did it:
- The announcement of Judy Rogers' firing was released on a Friday to time with other major news announcements. The verdict on the Robert Dziekanski taser death inquiry was scheduled for the exact same time, and every PR flack in the city could tell you it would dominate the headlines that morning.
- Council's opposition voice was not given any advance notice of the agenda of the "emergency" in-camera meeting giving Coun. Suzanne Anton no ability to form a response on the decision to dump Rogers and appoint Penny Ballem without any hiring process.
- After Gregor Robertson read his statement about the "dismissal" (read: sacking) of Judy Rogers, mayor's office handlers refused to let reporters scrum the mayor (meet with him as a group). France Bula has a good account of this here. Instead one-on-one interviews with Mayor Robertson were only allowed with certain reporters, where as Bula describes it, he was highly scripted. Mayor Robertson in his statements positioned the firing as a "Mutual Agreement Departure" (M.A.D. for short). It sounds a lot better than we just canned our City Manager and now you taxpayers are going to foot the bill.
- They didn't release how much she got in severance claiming this was a personnel issue. If the public knew, they would likely to have been outraged. The mayor's office is probably hoping nobody does the F.O.I. request on what it is costing taxpayers.
- In an unprecedented move, the City of Vancouver's heretofore "non-partisan" communications department (more on the communications dept. relations with the mayor's office here) sends out a release signed by a mayor's office staffer (the first of two that day). This action signals a policy shift, whereas political communications used to be steadfastly avoided by city staff during Sullivan's term as mayor.
- On Friday afternoon, following the 2nd in-camera meeting of the day, the communications department of the City sent out another release about the controversial Olympic Village loan fiasco. In political parlance this is called the "broken-wing" trick. Just as a mother bird will draw attention away from herself to protect her young from a predator, it is hoped the other news release might actually distract the media away from the less favourable Rogers story.
For reporters getting spun is just the nature of the business, but it still must annoy the hell out of them. And for Vancouver taxpayers, the fact staff are aiding the political goals of the mayor's office is one more bellwether that Vancouver City Hall is in a new line of business.