Can't you hear the whistle blowing?

Post by Mike Klassen in

10 comments

whistle
Once advocates of whistleblower legislation, Vision now opts for stealth

We'll begin with a quote from the Vision Vancouver election platform, signed off by then mayoral candidate Gregor Robertson:

"We will begin by rebuilding trust with Vancouver’s citizens through a more effective, open, and accountable municipal government."

If this is a goal for which Mayor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver government are to be judged, then after seven months they get a failing grade.

A week ago CityCaucus.com broke the story that the City of Vancouver would be hiring former BC Liberal candidate and broadcaster Robin Adair as an intergovernmental liaison. He will NOT be hired by the Mayor's office as political staff as was erroneously reported elsewhere.

Only look at recent comments coming out of the Mayor's office about "heads rolling" (circulated by fellow blogger Frances Bula as a warning to staff) on the untimely release of news about a recent hire at the City of Vancouver. This, from a party that advocated for whistleblower legislation.

Given CityCaucus.com's wide array of sources within Vancouver City Hall, how would it look if a vindictive administration took to punishing staff for making public information public?

We might also point out that there is a City Hall hiring freeze with all departments in lock down mode, but we guess this freeze does not apply to senior management.

On the one hand we want to compliment Ms. Ballem on a good hire. Undoubtedly, Robin Adair will be a welcome representative of the City Vancouver in Victoria. If not for about 400 or so votes Adair would be sitting as part of a Gordon Campbell government. His experience in the Victoria scene is top notch, and he knows the government inside and out by most accounts.

However, was any search for this newly created position posted internally at the City? Was there any indication of compensation for what this position might be, or an open competition for this job? Here, in her memo to staff released yesterday this is how Ballem justifies the hire:

Being Host City for the 2010 Winter Games brings remarkable opportunities for Vancouver. We need to leverage these to our full advantage as we consider the implications of hosting government leaders from around the world. In addition, the commitments of the provincial and federal governments to stimulus and infrastructure funding, the significant policies and capital infrastructure plans under consideration by Metro Vancouver, Translink and member municipalities; and the complex environment of First Nations relationships all point to a need for enhanced intergovernmental activities at a senior staff level.

I am pleased to announce that Robin Adair will be joining the City on July 20, 2009 as General Manager, Intergovernmental Relations and Strategic Partnerships.

Bringing with him extensive experience and expertise in building partnerships with provincial and federal governments, the business community and the media, Robin will be working over the next 18 months to build a platform for these critically important relationships.

Translation: we've decided that we need a go-to guy who's buddies with the Premier, and we've made that decision and you just have to accept this bafflegab as justification.

But what's that we hear blowing in the wind? Listen. Yes, it's the reverberating echoes of Councillors Louie, Deal and Stevenson yelling for three years that Mayor Sullivan should be the City's ambassador, not a third party. Yes, that was then and this is now as they say, but the hollering from Vision over their opposition to hiring a lobbyist still rings in the ears of City Hall watchers. "Why don't you pick up the phone and call the Premier," they howled. Blecch. What hypocrisy.

Back at City Hall staff and managers who are slugging it out with no overtime, no new head count and no replacements for staff who go on mat leave, quit or retire have to be just a little grumpy over the City Manager's decisions.

As for the ongoing practice of secrecy under this Vision government, there's little evidence that they'll soon practice what they preached.

10 Comments

Don't you think nowadyas that it's not different to be a General Manager or any manager at the City? because you can just hire more low levels of managers or key staff who would do more and more real work for you! The key is of course to get the job without an open competition! Saving for taxpayers? who cares!

That's not just a new position; that's a whole new department. Adair will need staff as well.

I have a few additional questions regarding this new appointment:

1. Where is the money coming to pay for it? Will it be taken out of other departments?

2. When did Council approve the creation of this new department? Was it part of the recent 2009/10 budget deliberations? If not, why not?

3. How many employees will be reporting to Adair besides Wendy Au? What is the overall budget for this new department?

4. Was Mayor Robertson briefed in-camera on this new hire beforehand? What about Council as a whole?

It doesn't seem Ms. Bula said anything about Mr. Adair being hired within the Mayor's office. She simply states that Mr. Adair will be occupying a new City post for inter-governmental relations. Maybe the confusion arises from the aside that Mr. Humphreys was informally doing similar work out of the Mayor's office, but she never stated that his new position would be out of the Mayor's office.

Also, the idea that punishing staff for leaking confidential City information on prospective hiring is "counter-transparency" has made my morning, thanks.

Although, I am looking forward to the FOI on how much Mr. Adair will get paid. I expect it will be nowhere near the 300G/annum Geoff Plant was being paid for similar work, and because he's a City employee now, we can expect that he won't have his name on any campaign contributions to the ruling party like Mr. Plant did in the last election. Tsk tsk.

I was just about to post when I read your latest bit of news on Diane Watts hiring her former campaign manager as Intergovernmental Liason.

So let me get this straight... Vancouver's left-leaning Mayor reaches out and hires a BC Liberal and CC has nothing but bile to say about it, then the right-leaning Mayor of Surrey hires her own damn campaign manager and what does CC have to say about it....

"You have to give Watts credit, although she has given her campaign manager a plum position with the city including full benefits, she at least went through the motions of hiring a search firm. In Vancouver, there was no posting for the General Manager position, nor was the public even aware the new position was being created by the City Manager until we broke the news to our readers."

A search firm!! That was an easy contract! "We would like to recommend to you....your own campaign manager! He's great, you'll love him. You'll never guess how we found him... he was in your office!!"

You only need a search firm for something like this if you're planning on hiring someone partisan like your own campaign manager. If your going to reach out and hire an employee from the other end of the political spectrum there's no question of partisanship so you can just hire the guy. Oy CC!

Michael, it's great to hear from you again. Here's Frances' response to a commenter who asked if Adair would be hired as part of the Mayor's staff:

http://www.francesbula.com/?p=1801#comment-13608

The Project Civil City *office* (staff & facilities + Plant's secondment) totaled $300,000, not his salary. If I'm a betting man Adair will not only be getting more in terms of annual compensation, but as staff he will be also treated to healthy vacation, EDO and other benefits.

If you've read our posts a little more closely you'll note that we've simply pointed out two facts. 1) the City's hiring freeze has not been observed in the Adair decision, and 2) there was no attempt to make this job public. Hiring Chris Gardner is not entirely surprising for Mayor Watts as he's been a significant political connection to her as well as Kevin Falcon. Should she have? The people will judge. But at least she didn't attempt to hide the hiring process like Ballem did.

Both cities hired BC Liberal insiders to lobby a BC Liberal government. Sure it's opportunistic, but would you do anything else if you wanted results? If Carole James was Premier today, you can believe that someone like Bill Tieleman would be landing all these gigs.

Michael,

Thanks again for your thoughtful commentary as always.

Yes, perhaps there was a bit of confusion around whether Adair was going to work in the Mayor's "partisan" political office, or for the City Manager in the "non-partisan" public service. In the "good old days", that used to be easy to distinguish.

Having watched the goings on at City Hall lately...it really is hard to tell the difference any more between who's partisan, and who's not...so I can see why there is all this confusion.

Glad you missed me!

Well, it's a bit of a stretch to say that Ms. Bula "erroneously reported" the fact that Mr. Gardner will not be in the Mayor's office from that one vague phrase in her comments thread but that's ok.

Likewise, I shouldn't claim that Geoff Plant was making $300,000 a year when it was in fact his *office* that was earmarked for the $300,000, very true.

I should have known that Mr. Plant was in fact earning only a paltry...oh where is that contract...I thought I had it here....oh yeah, I forgot, its a big fat secret because he was an outsourced party whose contract with the city can't be FOI'd. In fact, it never even made it to council, but rather was approved by the City Manager. So much for transparency.

At least Mr. Gardner will not only be listed under the City Manager's office but will in fact be a city employee. I'm sure your FOI is already in the mail.

Anyway, I should have done my homework about Geoff Plant and the
$300,000 so I did.

It seems that, despite the public's understanding that the office was going to receive $300,000 a year, the closing operating budget for the Civil City "office" for 2007 was in fact $872,000.

http://vancouver.ca/fs/budgetServices/pdf/Budget2008.pdf p.90

Now how much of that went to the former attorney general and how much went to the secretaries?

I for one have full confidence that Mr. Plant could have received no more than 3.5% percent of that budget since his contract didn't require approval from council as any external consultancy contract over $30,000 dollars would under City policy AF-005-01 section 1.1, which I know CC is familiar with.

http://vancouver.ca/policy_pdf/AF00501.pdf

Michael...you are so well briefed. Are you sure that Kevin gave you everything you needed?

With regards Michael's comments I'm puzzled by two things.

1) Why are Vision running to the defense of Frances Bula? I thought she was the "non-partisan" civic affairs reporter.

2) Why ignore the basic premise of this post, which is Vision are huge hypocrites on the matter of hiring a lobbyist.

You can try to put up a smokescreen with numbers, but there's no getting around this is a big flip-flop by Vision.

1)
I'm not "Vision" although that's flattering.

Ok, I re-read Ms. Bula's whole original post and comment and on second reading, although both are very vague, it leans toward implying that Mr. Adair will be right in the Mayor's office, although she never explictly says this. I just thought it was a bit nasty to say that a reporter "erroneously reported" news based on a vague comment in the comments thread like

"He really is being hired as a staffer, as I’ve been assured multiple times in a round of emails."

Staffer can mean any kind of city staff, but the question she was answering used the term staffer in the sense of Mayor's office staff, and that's where the confusion is.

2) Here's what you can say about Vision: they didn't recognize the value of having a person close to the Provincial government during the last council, and early this council. This is a fault but not hypocrisy because if they really felt that having a BC Liberal liason around was worth it the whole time and were just mouthing off, they would have hired one in the past 8 months.

Instead, what probably happened is that some negotiations with the province started to go sideways, maybe it was realized that having a former-Harcourt aide as head of communications/intergovernmental wasn't the greatest idea, and now they are trying to fix the problem with Mr. Adair.

However, most of the complaining about Mr. Plant being a lobbyist, in my recollection, concerned the secrecy of his contract, the pay of his office, and his extraordinarily partisan affiliations, and that's what I was alluding to when I said that this wasn't the same case at all. When the opposition said "get on the phone, call the premier" that now seems incorrect, but opposing the way Mr. Plant operated was correct.

The numbers are no smoke screen. Hiring an intergovernmental liason as staff, fully transparent, avoids a situation where you have an unbudgeted $872,000 coming into an office whose principal is working for a firm that is a long-time supporter of the governing party, a person primarily hired for connections obviously, who ends up earning an undisclosed tax payer paid fee which one hopes and expects to be under $30,000 or else it would have to be put before council which it wasn't.

Now that's what a lack of transparency means, not reprimanding staff for leaking the name of a new hire, which was the basic premise of the post.

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