Emails mysteriously vanish from City Manager's outbox

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Poof! Emails go up in smoke! Penny Ballem's Sent Items folder is mysteriously empty

Not long ago, we wanted to test out how open and transparent Vancouver’s new hand-picked City Manager was when it came to providing us with access to her correspondence. There are rumours swirling around City Hall these days that senior managers have been asked to go “offline” and use personal email accounts in order to conduct city business. If true, this type of activity would result in huge swaths of information being off-limits through Freedom of Information legislation. We are currently working on a bigger story related to the use of private email at City Hall, and my colleague Mike Klassen will be reporting out on that shortly.

City Hall insiders tell us that in order to avoid getting her emails caught up in any nasty FOI requests, Penny Ballem regularly deletes all of her emails right after she sends them. As a result, any FOI requesting information from her outbox will come back empty-handed. If you recall, it was former City Manager Ken Dobell that got caught in a controversy when he admitted he regularly deleted emails to avoid having his information accessed through Freedom of Information.

So does Ballem regularly delete her emails as quickly as they’re sent? We thought we’d put this theory to the test.

On August 26th, Mike Klassen sent an FOI request to the City Clerk asking for any outgoing emails from Penny Ballem to both of her executive assistants for a one week period. The letter we have now received from the City Clerk’s office states they checked the City Manager’s email account and it came up empty. According to them, Ballem didn’t send any emails and there was no information they could provide us. Nada.

Also on August 26th, I sent a separate FOI asking if either one of Ballem’s assistants had received any incoming email from Penny Ballem for the same one week period of time. To our surprise, the response letter sent to us by the Clerk indicates that over 200 pages worth of Ballem’s emails were still in their respective inboxes. How could this be?

In the letter to Klassen, the City Clerk says they had no record of Ballem sending out any emails. In my letter they indicate they want to charge me $50 bucks to photocopy all the emails Ballem sent to her two staff. Could the theory that Ballem routinely deletes all of her emails in order to avoid FOI legislation have some credence? We will continue to dig into this story over the coming weeks.

As for the previous complaint we filed with the Privacy Commissioner regarding Ballem circumventing FOI by using her private email account last December, we can confirm this remains an active investigation. We spoke to the Commissioner’s office last week and they confirm they are continuing to review the circumstances regarding our complaint. We’ll keep you posted as soon as we hear any further details.


Sounds like Animal Farm all over again.
Propoganda, secrecy, lies, friends and insiders, cronyism, all piggies at the trough.

What about NPA elected Park Commissioner Ian Robertson using his personal emaill. He refuses to use a account. What is this elected person hiding.

We agree that Robertson should not be using his personal email for Park Board business. However, let's put things into perspective, shall we? Robertson is one of seven park commissioners, and he gets paid around $10K annually.

Penny Ballem is the City Manager, and she gets paid $308,000 annually. Her decisions are critical to the city. Whereas Robertson's, not so much, thanks to him being the sole true opposition member of his board.

While I disagree with deleting emails to avoid FOI requests. I understand the appeal given the often petty and meaningless criticisms lobed by this website. Who would want thier email subject to such scrutiny

"Penny Ballem - deletes motivational email forwards without reading them!"

"Gregor Robertson uses your tax dollars to arrange illegal gambling/Hockey Pool!!!"

Like it or not email is an informal communication method...should the city record phone calls/private meetings as well so that the media can critique diction.

Please stick to real journalism and away from the harassment of city staff to score political points.

Can you say double standard. I'm often left speechless when I witness how Vision's supporters justify the actions of their elected officials and political appointees. If the shoe were on the other foot and this were Judy Rogers, there would be calls for her resignation by now.

C, what indeed is "journalism" by your standard? Covering a press release from the City Manager's office? Listening to their spin and doling it out to our readers as pablum?

Sorry, babe. We're digging a little deeper than that. If you don't like to read the FOIs and our bent on these stories, you've got plenty of pro-Vision mush online to read without having to visit here.

Thank you for your comments Mike. If I understand your comments, you are suggesting that since Ian earns only $10,000 or so, there is a less moral obligation on his part to use a '" account. Also, I respectively do not agree with your comments stating taht Ian's comments are NOT critical to the City. I bet that if you were to put up a survey, most people would agree that, irrespective of an elected's wages, they should be using their City of Vancouver email when doing Park Board business.

Paul, stay tuned for our report on how much personal email use is happening at City Hall among elected officials. You can decide then whether to keep jabbing the NPA only on this topic.

Is it just me....or does every time the NPA or BC Libs get pinned with something, Vision/NDP cries outrage, but when they get caught doing something dumb (deleting emails, drinking and driving, calling people fat) ....they seem to justify it with nothing more than "well they did it too"? or "well, i don't like their politics". Kids don't get away with excuses like that. Why does Vision/NDP?

Doesn't that translate into a lack of principles?

You said it baby and nailed in on the head. Vision are hypocrites when it comes to what they do. They have a huge doublestandard.

The entire Vision council lacks CLASS, DIGNITY and RESPECT!

That's a solid conclusion to reach, Rachel...

Great post. I'm interested in the response, if you ever get one.

An interesting comment from Commenter. Right now, because something is written down and retrievable, it's official and therefore should be FOI-able. Why aren't phone conversations, if the content is similar? Practically it's a non-issue, but it does make for an interesting theoretical dilemma. Why do we consider one form of communication more official than another?

Don't emails get stored on a server and backed up? Should be easy to retrieve. PB must also have to adhere to some form of corporate policy for handling official correspondence as a condition of employment, non?

Check out!

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