"Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up" – Vancouver's City Manager even micro-manages the message
Ever since Gregor Robertson's hand-picked City Manager showed up for an interview on CBC Radio's Early Edition just days after she replaced Judy Rogers, it's been clear to City Hall watchers that Penny Ballem would not shy away from the limelight. It was an odd change of course for 12th & Cambie, as the former City Manager never did interviews – she had subordinates and communications staff to field questions. Longtime City Hall watcher Charlie Smith of the Georgia Straight elaborates on this fact here.
On many subjects, Ballem has become the de facto city spokesperson. In the past, this role was usually performed by elected politicians or by people with expertise in various civic departments....
Ballem also stickhandled the budget discussions. In the past, a city finance specialist named Ken Bayne usually did this. In addition, Ballem was front and centre in discussing the city's Olympic bylaw with the media, rather than leaving this to an expert in the city's legal department. Her predecessor, Judy Rogers, never did this.
There's a sign, however, that Ballem's desire to control the message has gone a bit too far... The city issued a news release (see below) in which Ballem will provide an "off-the-record technical briefing" for reporters tomorrow about how the city is responding to homelessness this winter.
Why Vancouver's media have abided any "off the record" media briefings from City Hall is a whole other matter – it seems to run counter with journalistic ethics. But the fact is that Vancouver City Hall has become The Penny Ballem Show.
Today, it would appear that Ballem's efforts at micromanaging (or "nanomanaging") the issue is causing more harm than good, and the only person who can fix it is the man who hired her. However, that man can barely get a proper sentence formed, so it's unlikely he'll be able to stand up to a person whose response to critics is "tough, eh".
Just one day after receiving a multi-million dollar pledge from the Federal government in support of a new police facility on Graveley street, Penny Ballem has been on the news all morning expressing her disappointment at why the Feds have not kicked in to send Vancouver's USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) team to Haiti. We've already heard from our sources in Ottawa that they're livid with Penny Ballem.
What's even more bizarre and ironic about Penny Ballem and Gregor Robertson's sudden love affair with USAR, is that the team was officially disbanded in December after an announcement by the Mayor.
City staff launched an internal review of the [USAR] team last spring, amidst allegations of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds...
Vancouver city manager Penny Ballem was overseeing the review, which included an investigation into allegations of financial impropriety made against the Urban Search and Rescue (U-SAR) team leaders.
About a week ago the USAR team said they were ready to deploy in Haiti. It seems that the quickest operational review at Vancouver City Hall in history happened over the Christmas holidays. CKNW's Janet Brown then reported that USAR weren't going to Haiti, triggering the response from Ballem.
Now Gregor Robertson has to mop up the mess caused by his City Manager – who, ironically, is flying off to Ottawa today for meetings with Deputy Ministers and looking for favours for Vancouver. From what we're hearing, it's possible the Feds are not going to be in a generous mood with this spotlight-loving City Manager who manages to annoy the very folks she depends upon for support.
Perhaps it's time for the Mayor's office to step in and show a little leadership and reign in Ballem. There is no reason she needs to give every PowerPoint and conduct every media scrum at City Hall.
UPDATE: You can kiss goodbye the idea of Robertson riding to the rescue. CKNW news has reported that at last night's council meeting the Mayor is echoing Ballem's "disappointment" with the Federal government for not coughing up the cash to send USAR to Haiti.
This has to be one of the most bizarre stories we've reported when it comes to Vision Vancouver.
- The City's Urban Search & Rescue organization (a group so under the radar with the City that you can barely find their web page if not for a Google search) is accused of financial impropriety and "disbanded" by the City for a review. Only CBC reports the latter item when it happens just before Christmas.
- Then the disaster in Haiti happens and political figures everywhere look for ways to publicly express their compassion. The problems with USAR are suddenly swept under the rug and the group is now ready to deploy to the Caribbean despite the fact that it is supposed to be on standby for the 2010 Games.
- Ballem and Robertson begin making public statements to embarrass the Feds, just one day after the latter provides them millions in support for a new police station. We are not given any clear evidence that the City made any concerted effort to contact the Federal government about USAR, nor whether the City was prepared to pony up cash as a partner (most senior levels of government will consider proposals if matching funds are offered).
- No one in Vancouver's media with the exception of CKNW have bothered to report this story, and only CityCaucus.com has made the connection as to how reckless Ballem & Robertson's statements have been, especially on the eve of an Ottawa junket looking for support. Vancouver desperately needs funding support, yet their tactics are doomed to hurt that effort.
I guess we're so caught up in Olympic fever in this town that basic due diligence by City Hall reporters is out the window. Hey guys, why aren't any of you asking questions on this story?
- post by Mike