Newly renovated City Manager's office tossed for new digs

Post by Mike Klassen in ,


penny ballem proposed office move

Questions are being asked why Vancouver's City Manager is planning a costly move to the 6th floor; meanwhile the future of the Mayor's new office furniture is in limbo

Despite facing a daunting 10%+ tax increase, Vancouver taxpayers may soon be on the hook to cover the costs for the Mayor and Councillors to expand their offices on the 3rd floor of City Hall.

In an email leaked to (pasted below in its entirety) Vancouver city staff are trying to accommodate the City Manager's proposed move from her newly renovated offices on the third floor of City Hall up to the sixth floor, while juggling an apparent need for close access to the elected officials. In a bizarre twist, new mayor's office furniture is in limbo after it was deemed "too toxic" by Mayor Gregor Robertson because of the odor the chairs gave off initially when unwrapped from protective packaging.

The City Manager's office underwent a costly renovation only eighteen months ago to accommodate additional staff. The need for extra space for the Mayor and elected officials on the third floor signals rumoured plans to expand the size of political staff and redirect policy-making into the hands of partisan aides. Kevin Quinlan, the Mayor's Executive Assistant, foreshadowed this change of direction when he posted on his Vancouver Kid blog (site taken down) in June 2007 the following:

I'd argue that this stems from Vancouver's still-imbedded-but-painfully-outdated (sic) notion of civic government as non-partisan and being solely concerned with efficiency and delivering services. Why does the Mayor need staff when the bureaucracy makes all the policy ecisions (sic), right?

In the blog post Quinlan cited the size of the Seattle and Toronto mayor's offices, with their dozens of political staff, as a good model for Vancouver. Quinlan was paid part-time staff for Vision Vancouver when he blogged as Vancouver Kid.

The Mayor's Office is more cramped now that Robertson has already increased the number of political staff working at City Hall. The working conditions for his increased staff are less than ideal as they are double bunked in a cramped, windowless office just off the reception area.

Sources within City Hall also confirm that $35,000 worth of new furniture ordered for the Mayor's Office by the public service is now in limbo after Robertson complained it smelled bad and was "laced with toxins." Four new chairs were delivered to Robertson's office last week (photo below), but he ordered them out of his office after a few days due to the "toxic odor" which apparently bothered him and his staff.

If you recall, it was former MLA Gregor Robertson that brought forward a private member's bill to remove toxins from the BC environment. At the time of the news conference, the NDP MLA said the passing of this legislation was going to be his number one priority. Soon after the photo op he attended with his wife and kids was over, he bailed from the Legislature and announced he was making a run for the leadership of Vision Vancouver.

Mayor's rejected chairsOur crack research team visited City Hall recently and inspected the alleged "toxic" chairs now sitting outside the protocol office on the second floor. We also sent our scientific advisory team out there to do a chemical test to see if in fact the chairs were indeed toxic. We can thankfully confirm that not only do the chairs not smell, they won't kill the Mayor or his staff. The furniture cannot be returned to the manufacturer.

A City Hall source confirms the move of Ballem's office upstairs is meant to accommodate "a planned increase in the number of political and support staff" after the upcoming city budget is approved. The move request has raised eyebrows from a number of City staff who are busily working to figure out how they can accommodate Robertson's request to cut back on budgets and lay off contract employees in order to save money. There is currently a staff hiring freeze in place.

It is unknown at this time how much the move of the City Manager's office up to the sixth floor is going to cost taxpayers, or what the budget would be for an expansion of staff and office space on the third floor.

Here is the email to the City Manager from staff:

From: Bradshaw, Garrick 
Sent: Thursday, February 19, 2009 6:13 PM 
To: Ballem, Penny 
Subject: RE: Chairs in council


I have asked Geoff Wright to contact Council members regarding the chairs.

The meeting with Mike Magee scheduled for last week had to be rescheduled to Mon, 23 Feb due to conflicts with his schedule.

Facilities staff (Robert Skene) has been working on possible reconfigurations of the 3rd floor to provide the Mayor and Council with additional space by moving the Offices of the City Manager off the 3rd floor. He has brought forward the following initial comments:

He advises against moving your office group to the 4th floor as:

  • The building steps in at that level and the office would overlook rather unattractive, roof areas.
  • The 4th floor has a single sex washroom and additional services would be costly to install

He has recommended the 6th floor as a better prospect for the City Manager's Offices to avoid the above issues. As well, the cost of renovations on the 6th floor would be less. The 6th floor is still accessible by the Mayor's elevator.

I realize that this results in a larger separation between your offices and the current executive floor so I thought I would enquire before we do more detailed planning and costing. Is this too far from the 3rd floor?

Your thoughts?

Garrick Bradshaw 
Facilities Design & Management 
City of Vancouver 
Tel: 604.873.7616 
Fax 604.871.6084


So renovating part of the 3rd and 6th floors is wasteful spending but building an entirely new City Hall is a prudent "shovel-ready" economic stimulus?

How about they just knock the walls out with shovels, that's a good compromise.

But I do love the info about the rejection of the furniture, perhaps he was having a bit of a Green Diva moment. Anyway, nothing gets rid of that poisonous new furniture smell like a good Lost Lagoon Mango scrub-down.

lets not forget to mention that they also just saved 90million in interest on the loans from the previous council....who as you mentioned did their own costly reno 18months ago!
If they reno the 6th floor - I really dont see a big issue here...its not like they are not going to use the 3rd floor anymore (unlike gordo who demolished the new toll headquarters just after it was finished!) at least more areas will be used...and long term it will likely involve more efficiency and likely save more of those tax dollars....Please also mention that the current mess leading to 10% tax increase was inherited - not created in the past 8 weeks!!

Engineering Services who currently occupy a portion of all the floors in City Hall except the 3rd floor will be moving to Crossroads (NW corner of Broadway and Cambie) in the summer.

interesting email. notice how staff are concerned that the city manger might be "too far from the 3rd floor". I guess she doesn't want to be too far from Robertson. At least they will still share the same private elevator to talk about how they are going to cut staff and freeze budgets.

How much is all this renovation going to cost taxpayers? Why don't they just wait until the budget is balanced? They are going to lay off a lot of contract workers at city hall to pay for new carpets and a better view? Can't believe what I'm seeing.

What is going on with the Vision party I voted for? Can't they stop this madness? The city manager should be told to stay in her office and not spend a dime on this silly move. The Mayor is quickly losing support from people who once thought he was a bright hope for the future. This is just more of the same. Where's COPE when you need them!

Check out!

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