Staff exodus a sign something is rotten in Denmark

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


CityCaucus was provided with a leaked copy (see above) of Vancouver's Human Resources Manager's letter of resignation

The rumours had been swirling over the last few days that another "biggie" was about to pack it in at Vancouver city hall this week. Given that a few of the top brass are busily meeting with headhunters on a weekly basis, it was anyone's guess as to who that "biggie" would be.

As Frances Bula first reported on her blog (note we're acknowledging her excellent sleuthing and giving her credit...let's hope that starts to go both ways) Kevin Ramsay, the city's human resources chief, has called it quits and by doing so has given Mayor Robertson's hand-picked city manager a human resources headache.

I placed a few calls in to city hall staffers this evening to gather some of the early reaction to Ramsey handing in his resignation to Penny Ballem this afternoon. The general consensus is that he left because he wasn't prepared to work under the new political "doctrine" being imposed on senior managers and frontline workers alike.

I'm told that corporate management team meetings are now almost always very tense affairs. Everyone is on pins and needles waiting to be the next one to be yelled at for whatever else has "gone wrong" at city hall on any given week. Morale is at an all time low, and those senior managers who still remain (and there aren't many folks) long for the days when the team was all pulling together for a common goal. Ballem's musings about rolling back the pay for senior managers as part of the Core Review process has not helped improve matters any.

In the last several months since Robertson was elected, there have been many changes in his senior personnel. Here is a summary:

Regardless of what kind of spin the mayor and his staff (and all others drinking the Kool-Aid) want to put on this, the firing, resignation and shuffling of so many senior managers in such a short period of time is clearly a vote of non-confidence in both Robertson and his new city manager. 

As reported here earlier, I'm also told at least one other corporate manager had also handed in a letter of resignation, but was convinced to stay least for now.

It's my understanding that all these changes in the senior ranks are having no impact on Ballem at all. As far as she's concerned, the recent resignations of the city's collective corporate memory are part of a general housecleaning that should have happened years ago. As any good doctor might say, it's a "healthy" part of the renewal process.

The problem Ballem faces is that after a few months on the job, she too would like to make a few changes of her own at the top. I'm advised she was just about to let a senior member of the corporate management team go when she received the letter of resignation from former deputy city manager James Ridge.

Once Ridge had quit, she couldn't let anyone else depart for fear that it would look like the boat truly was sinking under her leadership. Ramsey's departure gives her even less wriggle room to make the kind of changes she would like to make at the top - despite the fact her political masters and some developer types are apparently calling for it.

There appears to be one more major shoe to drop, perhaps as early as this September when another senior member of the corporate management team looks to be calling it quits. Once the ink is dry on what appears to be somewhat of a lucrative offer, Ballem will have almost no corporate memory left at her management table. This at a time when the city will be needing that memory most as it is about to host the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Kevin Ramsay was a great public servant with an even better reputation for getting along with almost everyone. Even the union heads seemed to pleased with his new, even-handed approach.

Now he's heading off to work in the quaint community of Squamish, B.C. about an hour north of Vancouver. Yes...he's leaving the most beautiful city in the world that's on the verge of hosting the biggest event in its history to go work in Squamish.

Don't get me wrong - I love Squamish. But my heavens, things truly are a bit stinky in the state of Denmark when a tiny logging town has more allure than working at Vancouver City Hall. A bit sad I must say.


Kevin is a good guy and I am surprised (well, maybe not) that he is leaving especially only months away from the Olympics. Oh well, as we are all finding out, ya need to take care of yourself because the city certainly won't!

What is happening at City Hall??? This is the SIXTH senior manager to leave Vancouver since the new government took power. The body count is mounting.

This isn't a murder mystery anymore, its a serial killing. In case you're thinking 'good, this is a case of gettting rid of the dead wood', think again. Four of these five top managers in the City were in their positions for less than two years before the new regime took over. At least one, and probably two, were in their forties. Mr. Ramsay was tough on issues, but fair. He genuinely cared about this City and the people who chose to dedicate their careers to public service here. Those who squared off against him knew what to expect: he always reflected the interests of the taxpayer.

Up until last November, Vancouver was one of the best run cities on the planet. It has been ranked one of the most liveable cities on the global stage again and again. Top politicians and private and public sector executives from around the globe came here regularly to learn from Vancouver's top team.

This carnage and bleeding out of the top talent at City Hall is beyond just plain said for Vancouver taxpayers. Where is the continuity of leadership? Where is the staff morale? What can it possibly feel like to work there now? Duck and cover. Keep a low profile. Stay out of the gun sites.

How much is Vancouver having to shell out for executive temination packages? For those who don't know, Vancouver has a massive unfunded liability in terms of staff who have worked too hard to take their time off. This time off accrues year after year and must be paid out by law when an employee's employment terminates. Now, this rapid rate of senior executive turnover turns unfunded liability into a cash flow problem, at a time when the new regime is making all sorts of noise about pinching pennies (sorry, no pun intended Ms. Ballem). Watch for the numbers next spring when the Courier does its annual salary report on City Hall. But add to that the costs of at least national recruitment for these executive positions. And program and customer service slippage. And international reputation damage. Will Vancouver continue to be one of the top empoyers in the country? Lets wait and see. Wouldn't look too attractive to me if I were a young professional looking to start a career in public service.

This is a needless tragedy that is degrading Vancouver's public service to an all-time low, and just doesn't seem to be ending. Good luck to us all, and hang on to your cheque books.

Vancouver's loss is Squamish's Gain.

Ramsey signed on as Chief Administrative Officer this week.

That's a pretty big score for Squampton.

Check out!

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