Leadership 101...from the peanut gallery

Post by Mike Klassen in ,


Leadership 101 for Vancouver's Mayor

First of all, thanks to The Province's Mike Smyth for the great shout out in today's newspaper. My mom will probably buy several copies as a result. Mike made his regular appearance on CKNW's Morning News with Philip Till, and had a few things to say about Vancouver vs Seattle's response to the weather crisis. Here's the clip (email subscribers click here):

We said earlier that the glibness of the response of Mayor Robertson and Councillor Louie reminded us of another similarly underwhelming response to a weather emergency -- George Bush and Hurricane Katrina. We all remember when in August 2005 President Bush, after being holed up on holiday in Crawford, TX, saw fit to fly Airforce One over New Orleans after the levies broke.

When landing at YVR on Saturday after a Mexican siesta, do you think Gregor grasped the scale of the problem back home?

Stinging from criticisms from CityCaucus.com and others, this is what Mayor Robertson had to say:

"It's silly to politicize an extraordinary event," he said. "But it's fairly predictable that the political peanut gallery would do this."

He's particularly miffed at the suggestion he should have done media interviews from Mexico.

"I was in daily contact [with city hall] during my so-called holiday -- to the chagrin of my family," he said. 

I'm going to let this rather selfish sounding statement from Vancouver's Mayor slide for now. Although I'm reminded of particularly vitriolic attacks from the Vision Vancouver campaign when NPA mayorality candidate Peter Ladner candidly admitted he'd like to take a week off after campaigning all year. The campaign posted a YouTube video (now taken down) titled "Peter's first week in office" and circulated it to supporters.

If Gregor's post-holiday snow troubles isn't a case of what goes round comes round then...

Since the Mayor is struggling with understanding how he and City Council failed Vancouver, here is a quick Leadership 101 to kick start the post-mortem process.

  1. Communicate with the public. If your Director of Communications took holiday time over Christmas then there is no reason that this person and support staff should have conditional job descriptions that require 24/7 availability during any crisis. The City Manager must be able to get a hold of this staff anytime, and must have the ability to post bulletins through web, media releases and any channels available.
  2. Get on the phone with the unions. A bunch of city staff would not come off holidays to shovel snow. This is a BIG problem. The unions spent a LOT of money and time to get you elected. Mike Jackson of CUPE 1004 will pick up the phone if the Mayor calls. You tell him, "Look, you got me elected, and now you're making me look like a chump. Get your staff back on the roads..."
  3. Let the City Manager know her responsibilities. We have to ask, if Judy Rogers was still City Manager, would we be in the mess we are in now? Gregor hired Penny Ballem. She owes him big time. The Mayor should have called Penny to get her to bust some chops in the communications and engineering departments.
  4. Own this. DO NOT blame CityCaucus.com or CKNW for your problems. You ran to lead this city. So lead.

You're welcome for this free advice. Now get to work and find a way out of this avoidable disaster.



Agreed! Of course, it's hard for the mayor to expect people to come back and work during a crisis when he's sitting on a beach in Mexico!
A leader would have flown back, called the media and put cameras on him shovelling out the storm drains on his block and around city hall.
Instead, we got to pay overtime rates to plough drivers. Traslation: We paid twice as much for half the service. God forbid the snow removers have to report to work when it snows.
I also noticed that the city property tax office was closed from Dec 24th to Jan 5th. Did these days count against city workers holiday time?

Referencing point #1. Lack of communication leads one to look for other clues to fill the information void and the state of unshovelled sidewalks and steps of city hall in the days around christmas were telling the public "no one is home".
So from the homeless to the homebound, who would be there for the citizen in need?

Your colours are showing guys. Never to early to start NDP bashing before an election, eh? Your buddy in Victoria spends our tax dollars on pre-election advertising and now you guys have your website. Doesn't matter. He's gone, gone, gone.

With regard to the comment that the city property tax office was closed from Dec 24th to Jan 5th, there was a closure of City Hall services from December 24th thru January 1. This is an annual cost-saving measure on the part of the city - all city hall employees are required to take these days as vacation or as unpaid time off. If staff don't want to take the time at Christmas, well then I guess they're out of luck. That would also explain the unshovelled steps at City Hall - the building was closed.

You have got to be kidding. Comparing Hurricane Katrina to a Vancouver Snowstorm. How pathetic and in fact quite disgusting actually.

First of all, was anyone in danger of dying due to the snow? Did anyone die? Were there food shortages? Did anyone need to be evacuated?

Quit trying to politicize this and quit whining. If people would winterize their cars, learn to drive, buy a shovel and dig out their sidewalks then we'd all be a bit better off. I managed just fine.

By the way, where was Sam while the city was on strike? Where was the NPA and the BC Liberals while Coast Mountain was on Strike? Yeah, sitting on their hands doing nothing. Sam would've done nothing more than Gregor in this situation. The NPA had been in power long enough in this city, they could've drafted a "rare snow event" policy that could've been implemented. They didn't though did they? Just like they didn't do a lot of things they should've.

Ken, I'm not kidding. There are people who have not left there homes for 3 weeks. I hope that they are all well and safe. The 80-year old who lives across the street from me I checked and she is fine thanks to stocking up. She's seen winters like these in Vancouver in her years, so she knew to prepare. Running low on milk though, and we'll get her a bottle.

There are undoubtedly hundreds in this city in the same situation. Running low on rations, seniors, widowers, too proud or not fluent enough in English to ask for help. Has the city thought to set up some kind of help line? I would suggest strongly that they do.

Emergency visits have skyrocketed. ICBC claims are off the charts. Much of this preventable with a clear strategy and communication. Run down Sam all you like. Gregor is the new boss, and he has to wear Vancouver's poor response.

Yeah, I'm going to have to second Ken, here. Comparing the inconvenience of a snowstorm to Katrina is, quite frankly, reprehensible.

Why? Both were about a failure of leadership, albeit on different scales. My gawd, how many times have you seen leaders cut off vacations during a crisis? Many. When they don't, like say Putin during the sinking of the Kursk, the leader has to wear it.

Frankly, I'm hearing panic from Vision supporters, not good arguments. No one in this whole city will say this snow mess has been handled well. Stop attacking the critics and help to fix this mess.

Actually, it was Gregor Robertson who compared this to a Hurricane Katrina!!! He was quoted on the news saying that this was a "one in 50 year event." So I guess the next question should be, 'if a one in 50 year event doesn't bring the mayor back to the city (from Mexico on vacation 6 weeks into his new job) to lead through a crisis, what does?'

And to the NDPers, who will ignore the facts and just write-off my comments to partisanship, 'the problem with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money.'

I'm entirely non-partisan [not NPA but non-partisan] on this issue, and I don't really care if it's Robertson or a Giraffe in office, but he failed on this issue. Failed, failed, failed. As for his Mexican vacation, methinks he doth sound a little Antoinetteish.

So, criticizing the Mayor and Council for their timidity and silence in the face of blocked roads is -- NDP-bashing? I don't think so, although it's nice for a change to hear the Mayor's friends call him what he really is. No, this is about a practical problem of great simplicity, albeit considerable volume, and Vision was in charge, so don't try to distract everyone by talking about the NPA. The NPA was gone. Vancouver's permanent resources are too limited to clear all the snow, but everyone is now asking why the excess emergency work wasn't simply contracted out to private operators who have bobcats, graders and heavy trucks for hire. This isn't some big complicated decision, it's just work, and it should have happened within a few hours of the problem becoming apparent. Instead, there is ongoing paralysis in Vancouver's streets and lanes while smaller towns like West Vancouver and Chilliwack long ago cleared their side streets. The apologists for all this inaction sound pretty lame to anyone with common sense. Taxpayers should be raising the roof over the Mayor's AWOL performance and his failure to take charge in an emergency and take effective action to immediately clear the roads and lanes. Get it done. Now. Quit making excuses

So it's the position of City Caucus that the Mayor should have called the union bosses to "get" staff to not take their holidays against their will. I can't imagine how union bosses insisting to their members that they must work the holiday wouldn't constitute workplace intimidation. If the mayor instigated that and was caught, it would be a scandal which would make "Snowmageddon" look like...well...a bunch of snow. And you guys would be the first to say how inappropriate it was. With advice like this I can see why Sullivan had such horrible union relations.

To answer your question about where the NPA was when the city was on strike... well, my mom was an NPA city councillor during the strike so I can tell you a bit about where she was. When she was in my line of sight, such as when she was at home eating dinner with us, or when we were all out for dinner, she was constantly working on getting the best deal for city staff and getting services back to the citizens of Vancouver. She never put her blackberry down. She was often emailing on her blackberry and talking on her phone at the same time. It was very obviously a time of crisis and a serious issue as far as my mother was concerned. My mom deeply cares about the city staff that worked with her and formed lasting friendships with many of them and she also cares about all city staff in general (without them, we wouldn't have a city). The idea the only NDP-type politicians care about city staff is pure lunacy and it truly made me sad to see that strike turn into a political smear campaign when my mother was obviously working so hard for staff and for all citizens of Vancouver.

Seriously. She was working during dinners, after work while watching her favourite television show (which meant she wasn't actually watching it at all) , while grocery shopping, while with friends and up so late that some mornings I wasn't sure she'd actually ever gone to bed. (and, when it wasn't "crisis time," things weren't actually that different as far as the amount of extra work she put in)

So, to hear our new Mayor say "I was in daily contact [with city hall] during my so-called holiday -- to the chagrin of my family," when my mother, a city councillor, never once took a vacation during her term (as far as I can remember) and was in literally minute-to-minute contact during a crisis situation. It makes me angry that it appears, from Gregor's quote, that a city councillor took her job more seriously than our current mayor of Vancouver. And it also angers me that our current mayor's family doesn't seem to support his chosen career in politics. I know that my mother discussed her career move into politics with us before she committed to the job. It is important to have family support. Gregor has presented his family as selfish and I am sorry to say that they are sadly in for three years of misery if they were annoyed by his contact with city hall during their vacation. It's only going to get more intense... trust me, I know, I've been there. Mind you, I understood the worth of it because I care about my city just as much as my mom does.

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