December 2009 Archives

Something broke – will City Hall watchers take note?

Given the preponderance of "year-end" lists coming out these past few days, we really didn't think had to publish its own. But then we began to read those other lists and wondered, are we living in the same city??

Whether it's Rod Mickleburgh's musings in the Globe and Mail, Allen Garr's love letters to Vision in the Vancouver Courier, or more warm and fuzzy reflections in that same paper, plus Charlie Smith's suggestion that Vision should be feeling great about the year gone by, local commentators seem to have ignored the breadth of Vision's inept governance in the first year of its mandate. Therefore, we're bringing you a list of thirty-seven items you probably won't find listed by those other sources.

So here is a quick recap for our newer readers, and those who have read us throughout the year.

1. The HEAT mess

Gregor Robertson sets up a series of emergency "no barrier" shelters during Vancouver's winter storms. Then he lets them continue throughout the warmest, driest summer in years. In the process he forgets to let affected neighbours know, and only sneaks in after dark to witness the mess. Councillor Kerry Jang raises hackles with his arrogant remarks. After the Province steps in, problem shelters are closed and new guidelines are set.

2. Constance Barnes

The daughter of the late NDP MLA Emery Barnes was Vision's "star candidate" and garnered the most votes on the 2008 Park Board slate. Barnes erratic performance as a commissioner is dealt a blow when she gets drunk on a public beach, then drives over a bridge and through a residential neighbourhood, eventually crashing into a house and causing $40,000 damage. Her fellow Vision commissioners run for the hills, avoiding any public comment on the matter. Barnes seeks and gets a small loan from the City to help cover the cost of an $18,000 alcohol treatment retreat.

3. Olympic Village myth-making

Sold to the media as saving the Southeast False Creek project from inept NPA stewardship on this file, emails later reveal that the "storyline" was concocted with the aid of a $60,000 PR contract with James Hoggan and Associates. In spite of referring to the Athlete's Village as a "billion dollar boondoggle," Mayor Robertson is all smiles at the ribbon-cutting this fall when all those negative comments seemed to fade away like they never happened.

4. Hoggan double-dipping

On the one hand a respected communications operative, author and energy industry de-bunker, James Hoggan has been a devout supporter of Vision Vancouver since their inception, providing over $10,000 in donations to the party. It was no surprise that his company was hired to field the Olympic Village story early this year, but when it was revealed that the City Manager had subverted rules around procurement to provide a second untendered contract to Hoggan PR alarm bells went off. Late this year the City Manager asked for and received an overhaul from city council, raising limits on discretionary contracting out from $30,000 to nearly $2,000,000.

5. Raymond Louie crowned as PNE chair

In one of the stranger moments of 2009, Councillor Raymond Louie was made the head of Vancouver's biggest "crown" corporation, the Pacific National Exhibition. In a very Napoleanesque moment, Louie actually chaired the meeting where he was voted in as the head of the PNE's board of directors. Louie, who counted on significant support from the East Vancouver community where the PNE resides, is now at cross-purposes with community leaders puzzled at the new direction for the site.

6. Penny Ballem's eHealth troubles

While technically not a member of the Vision Vancouver party or elected caucus, Penny Ballem was the clear "hand-picked" choice for the head of Vancouver's civil service made by Mayor Gregor Robertson. When the eHealth Ontario scandal came to light, it came as a great surprise to our crack research team that Penny Ballem had left her mark on this story of enormous bureaucratic nepotism and waste. Our discussions with the Globe and Mail led to a national front page story on how Ballem had earned $33,000 + meal allowance for about 2 weeks work. Our subsequent FOI revealed that eHealth got one email, one PowerPoint and a few hours of Ballem's time for that price.

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