Penny Ballem's apparent about face on layoffs

Post by Mike Klassen in

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Penny Ballem's changing face on layoffs has observers stumped
Penny Ballem's changing face on layoffs has City Hall watchers stumped

Last April we stumbled upon a CUPE website summarizing a presentation by then new City Manager Penny Ballem. Speaking with the Library workers union, CUPE 391, at their March 17th AGM, Ballem shared some of her philosophy on dealing with workers. Recounted on the union president's blog, this is an account of Ballem's talk.

[Ballem] has been given a mandate to “heal some of the wounds”, and to find ways to make the city function efficiently, within budget. Dr.Ballem does not believe savings are achieved through layoffs.

Her approach to work is to be honest and transparent. She understands that the funds the city operates with are the taxpayers’ monies, and they should be able to see where their taxes go.  She also wants to build mutual respect through continual dialogue. One thing that she will be doing is engaging the management team on an evaluation of core services. This is a “high level” discussion about the operations of the city. This is not getting into the minutia of departments.

Something must have happened since March to change the City Manager's views. Not only is she promoting layoffs as a measure to reduce costs, but her nanomanaging style has her dealing with department minutia like no other City senior manager before her.

On the subject of the hiring freeze, Ballem was non-committal:

The city manager did take several questions on the hiring freeze and acknowledged that it was a coarse instrument that is only designed as a bridge. She sees it being as temporary as possible. Members spoke of the having to contend with the continuing and increased workload, poor morale and lack of evaluation of planning which resulted from recent reorganisation of Central Library’s service delivery. The hiring freeze compounds these problems.

That "course instrument" which was intended to be temporary has been extended right through 2010. Unless of course you're a senior manager, where the hiring freeze apparently does not apply.

The past two days have to be some of the most confusing delivery of a message on public restraint yet. At first blush there are going to be no layoffs, then it's going to be through attrition and retirement, now "dozens" of layoffs are imminent. The unions are on-board, then silent. At first Vision is aiming for a zero percent tax increase, then the Mayor backs away from this pledge by his budget chair.

For Vancouver City staff, whose plummeting morale is taking another major hit this week, they just want to know what the heck is going on, and for the media spin to end.

1 Comment

Don't make the mistake of thinking she was talking about layoffs in her presentation. She was talking about FTEs....

This is the standard management approach if you want to look like you're doing something. You reduce the number of people your organization is allowed to have by the number of open positions. Voila! Headcount is reduced, no-one is laid off, you're a hero, increase taxes!

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