Penny Ballem, Vancouver's hand-picked City Manager, is back in the media – again. This time she sits down with Linda Solomon (sister of Gregor Robertson Funder-in-Chief Joel Solomon) for a wide ranging interview about her life as Vancouver's top paid public servant. She also did an interview with the internal City of Vancouver "City Spirit" newsletter which was sent out to staff last week. The interview was conducted by Steve Salsman, storekeeper for the Fleet Maintenance Division Fire and Rescue Services and the Chief Shop Steward City Sector CUPE 15.
If employees at City Hall thought that their new Vision government (backed heavily by the Canadian Union of Public Employees) would consider reintroducing the 4-day work week eliminated by a previous NPA administration, they should think again.
Here is an excerpt:
Steve: Compressed, four-day work week is an excellent, environmentally sound retention tool. How come we are not using it anymore?
Penny: I don't have the entire history of the four-day work week that was with Vancouver a long time but I know there was a history.
The public doesn't appreciate it to be honest. It's all fine and good for us to enjoy working four days but populating that last day as you know is a bit of a problem and I think their perception is, 'Look, we pay our taxes and it is bad enough not being able to access City Hall on Saturday and Sunday.'
We believe five days a week is pretty normal. There may be ways in the future we can think about flex time but at this time I am more focused on how we optimize the services we deliver to the public five days a week, especially given that we have 11 EDOs (earned days off). That's a lot of time - a lot of normal business time that gets taken out of the schedule of City Hall Services.
It's clear that Ballem isn't aware the new 311 service in Vancouver will actually keep City Hall open 24/7. Simply talking about guaranteeing service Monday-Friday is so yesterday. As for whether Vancouverites should expect tax increases in the next budget, Ballem makes it clear that 0% tax increases are what Council have told her is the goal.
Council has given us a very clear signal that they don't want to be raising taxes.
Interesting that Ballem says she has received a "clear signal" from Council, despite the fact it has not passed a motion asking for a 0% target this fiscal year. Perhaps there is a motion that the public is not aware of? Or when Ballem says Council gave her a "clear signal," does she mean that opposition councillors Suzanne Anton, David Cadman and Ellen Woodsworth told her to keep tax increases at 0%?
In a more lighthearted moment, Ballem tells Salsman:
Honestly, I am a straight shooter. I can set my hair on fire some days but I get over it and I never hold a grudge and I really try and back everything up with facts and figures.
Phew...it's good to know that the staff at CityCaucus.com are still going to be invited to the annual Ballem Christmas party! This is especially true if you believe what Ballem told Solomon at the Vancouver Observer.
VO: What advice would you give to women on how to be better leaders?
BALLEM: Build relationships with people who may not agree with you.
Ballem also takes the opportunity to provider her take on what is quickly becoming one of Vision's most controversial decisions over the last year.
VO: David Eby of the Civil Liberties Association has taken issue with the City’s Olympic by-laws and is concerned about the erosion of our Charter rights.
BALLEM: We absolutely need David Eby. It’s the polarities that allow us to be more thoughtful. He raises issues that need to be thought through. Being the host city of the Olympics, we walk a line. We absolutely believe in free speech and we know everyone doesn’t agree with the Olympics.
We also have legal obligations as a host city for the Olympics, particularly to sponsors. People don’t understand, but the Olympic sponsors are paying for the vast majority of the operating budget, which is over a billion dollars. The vast majority of that money is private money as well. We have responsibilities on that side to protect their commercial interests and to support the value they’ve paid for.
Our commitment to the Olympics is very strong as a city. We’re going to walk that line and not everybody is going to be completely happy. My hope is that David understands that we’re being very thoughtful and not using this as an opportunity to stomp on people’s rights to free speech. If we have people out there in our community that think the balance isn’t right, we want to hear that. We won’t always agree with them, but we’re very open to hearing about that.