Ballem's memo challenge's Park Board independence

Post by Mike Klassen in


Respect for the independence of Vancouver's Park Board given the boot
Respect for the independence from City Hall of Vancouver's Park Board given the boot

When the Courier's Allen Garr said Vancouver City Manager Penny Ballem was a "nanomanager", he really meant it. Exhibit A is a story CKNW's Janet Brown broke reported this morning regarding Ballem's plans to hire the next Park Board General Manager after Susan Mundick announced her "retirement."  Vision's Raj Hundal, Park Board Chair, had told the media earlier this week there would be absolutely no interference from City Hall in the recruitment of a new General Manager.

In spite of the fact it receives a large sum of its annual operating budget from City Hall, the Park Board has staunchly fought for its independence as a governing body. To have a City Manager send an edict to the Park Board that she will be hiring the new General Manager is an unprecedented level of interference. It also sends a clear signal that the meddling of the City Manager and Mayor's office in Park Board affairs knows no bounds.

In a post to be published next week, I will explain Vision's plans to ensure that all of the key senior management hired under previous administrations are wiped out. It will help to explain why in less than nine months, there remains only a few managers with any corporate experience left standing at City Hall. Word is that Vision (formerly known as COPE when they had a majority on council in 2002) "learned their lesson" by not "cleaning house" during their first term in government.  By replacing all of the city's key leadership early in this mandate, Vision has assured itself of a fair degree of influence and loyalty within the senior ranks of the public service, regardless of the outcome of the 2011 election.

Ballem has asked to meet with Mundick and Raj Hundal, the Chair of the Park Board tomorrow at 12:30 in her office. We have it under good authority that Ballem has asked the Mayor's political right hand, Chief of Staff Mike Magee, to attend the meeting with her. The purpose of the meeting is apparently to determine how quickly Mundick can "retire" from the Park Board. The complete memo reads as follows:

Dear Susan,

First as I indicated last night you will be missed by the city as you move to retirement. Your contribution over the last 11 years has been very significant and is much appreciated. As we move forward over the coming weeks I would like to clarify a few issues related to your plans for retirement. I think I understood from our conversation last night that you were planning to proceed with the process of the recruitment of your successor.

Your offer is appreciated to do this however I have signalled to the chair that it would be appropriate for me to work with the parks board to undertake this work. The general manager of parks and recreation has a line of accountability to me as well as a reporting relationship to the parks board and I will work with Raj and the other commissioners to support this work in relation to choosing your successor. Secondly I understand that you are contemplating some organizational restructuring and potentially naming a deputy general manager.

I would like to ask you not to proceed with these plans. We currently have a hiring freeze and with the implementation of the vsr and the overall budget plan for 2010 you are aware that we will be constrained in our ability to create new senior management positions. Any new appointments you might wish to make will put the city at risk if we have to reorganize again and therefore it is not appropriate (sic) to undertake anything like this. I am happy to discuss your ideas and better understand your goals and aims but I ask you not to take action.

Finally I think it would be helpful and appropriate to meet asap to discuss the transition plan and establish your retirement date. Thank you for your cooperation and I look forward to meeting with you over the next couple of days. pb

This current Vision-dominated Park Board has been roundly criticized for being completely ineffective on a range of issues. Not only were most of them totally silent when Vancouver Council recently cut back their global budget (the exception being Commissioner Ian Robertson) but their public meetings have often turned into chaotic and unproductive events.

Ballem and Mayor "bubble boy" Robertson have only two real options when it comes to finding a replacement for Mundick. They should acknowledge the independence of the Park Board and let them manage their own affairs, or they should bring a motion forward to Council wiping out the Park Board (yes, they do have the authority to do that).

I somehow think we'll continue to see a hybrid solution whereby Council quietly assumes the Park Board is there to do their bidding, while trying to hoodwink the public into thinking they remain independent. Besides the NPA's Robertson, will any other Park Board commissioner speak out on this lunacy?


In other words "Let's not hire the most competent people but rather a lackey whose strings we will pull..."

City Hall now reminds me of China - why are they so very desperate to control the People with their tight grip and non-democratic policies?

Dr. Ballem's memo: unhealthy, unholy, completely untoward, and threatening. We seem to be witnessing the destruction of democratic city governance in the City of Vancouver, where more and more of the decisions that affect the livability of our City take place behind closed doors, either in the Office of the City Manager, in the office of the Mayor's Chief of Staff, or in in-camera caucus meetings of the ruling party.

Was this the direction the citizens of Vancouver expected Vision Vancouver to take when the previous "group of bums" was kicked out?

Let the Park Board stand up for the independence of the Park Board. That's what they were elected to do. All of this political triangulation that seems to be going on is, to say the least, disheartening.

Is this how this memo makes it to this blog:

Ballem to Mundick

Mundick to Ian Robertson

Ian Robertson to CityCaucus

Mundick really lost any resemblance of professionalism.
Will she become a regular contributor to CityCaucus once she retires?

Some corrections.
The story about the memo was actually broken by Alex Tsakumis of 24Hours about three hours before Janet Brown got to the airwaves with it. It was on 24Hours website way bfore. He actually sent her the story. My source (who actually works for the parks board) claims Tsakumis has a source inside staff. The staffer dislikes Mundick but dislikes Vision more. Also Robertson leaking memos is funny since there are staffers who see the writing on the wall. Vision wants the parks board dissolved. That's the undertone of Tsakumis' piece that ran yesterday on line and today in hardcopy. But you guys can't allow for credit to a guy who fairly tagged you when you were overthetop in going after Vision. Now your bias has spawned civicscene, but you still can't get it together enough to give credit where credit is due. Do you have some sort of Tsakumis-envy?

The new hires should understand the temporary nature of their jobs. Politicization of City Hall jobs has begun. We must insist of the Mayor that all new hires sign resignation papers effective the next civic election.

I think we said that we learned about the story after hearing it on CKNW news, but your version of events is far more scintillating than ours.

I don't get my scoops from Alex Tsakumis and he did not 'send' me the story...I laughed out loud when I read that! Believe what you will but I get my scoops straight from the source. I certainly don't need to rely on another reporter for my stories...really, give your head a shake. Janet Brown CKNW

Happy to confirm what Janet has written. And since we were both laughing about this last night, it's only fair that it be known. Indeed I may have had the story some time before (since I listen to NW in the background most of the day and it was not on in the early morning), but I neither "leaked it" to Janet or anyone else. Also, my source on this issue was not a Parks staffer but a City Hall staffer, who is fed up with the heavy-handedness of the current administration.

Kudos to Janet (and citycaucus) for getting the story circulated.

Who cares where it came from. It's true. Ballem wants to eliminate the Parks Board. She's nuts.

Check out!

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