Spotlight-loving Penny Ballem causing grief

Post by Mike Klassen in


"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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. No one in Vancouver's media with the exception of CKNW have bothered to report this story, and only 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


I think the current Mayor, Council and their hand picked City Manger have forgotten that their primary job should be to operate a City.

Yes, their goals for a greener world, solving homelessness and help for Haiti are noble initiatives, but in trying to promote their initiatives and themselves, they don't really seem to care about the City of Vancouver and their tax payers.

I know there's going to be someone out there who will trash me and say that the environment, homelessness and world aid are everybody's responsibility, and I would agree. But that's what the Provincial and Federal government are doing.

If the City of Vancouver was wealthy enough that they didn't have to raise taxes in the middle of an economic downturn, or the CoV didn't have to face the economic challenges of the Olympic Village, or the CoV wasn't in the middle of laying off staff and cutting public services, then OK. Go ahead and save the world.

The reality is the City and it's citizens are paying the price of this Mayors desire for self promotion. The impacts of his decisions now will be felt by Vancouver citizens long after Gregor and Penny are gone.

Reforming society is unquestionably a noble goal. And yet. In "The Picture of Dorian Gray" Lord Henry Wotton expresses his relief at avoiding a social engagement : ”… the whole conversation would have been about the feeding of the poor and the necessity for model lodging-houses. Each class would have preached the importance of those virtues, for whose exercise there was no necessity in their own lives. The rich would have spoken on the value of thrift, and the idle grown eloquent over the dignity of labour.”

great to see penny in the limelight,at least she's out there in the public eye as opposed to that coward judy rogers,who made a career out of ducking media attention and getting her staff to do her dirty work for her! enjoy the olympics as city manager penny and laugh at the sour grapes being spewed by one of sam sullivan's flunkies!

Penny hasn't met a camera she doesn't like. She gets more media than 80% of the no-name city councillors. In the old days, bureaucrats let the politicians do the media thing while we quietly did our job in the background. Today, it seems Ballem is obsessed with getting as much media attention for herself as possible. Wait til she finds out there are 10,000 journalists in town for the Olympics. I bet she'll even try to grab the Olympic flag out of Gregor's hands as he tries to turn it over to the mayor of Sochie Russia. We all know Penny runs sippy hall, not the politicians. Therefore she does deserve all the limelight.

Spotlight? C'mmon!
The procedure is simple, meow your name out loud, get as much attention you can, make sure you create the impression that you purr hard, create a diversion here and there, pretend that you take a treats cut, lick some hands, sign some autographs, kiss a few babies. My own cat does that and she does it waaay better than Penny.

Al, I have to wonder if you’ve ever met Judy Rogers. Reading your post (though somewhat difficult due to your lack of punctuation and capitalization) and laughable remarks, I suspect you haven’t. Take comfort in the fact that if you had the opportunity to meet her, she would take the time to speak to a dullard. Like your post, calling Judy Rogers a coward is ridiculous. A City Manager’s job is to strike a balance between a councils mandate and the best interests of the City and its tax payers and believe it or not it’s staff too. Judy Rogers knew that and for the most part did it very well and was the farthest thing from cowardly. Dr. Bloodletting has not come remotely close to any sort of balance, quite the opposite actually.

Come on CH - are you kidding? Ms. Judy Rogers was never "front and centre" - as an employee I can attest that she never courted or attempted to "comunicate" positively with the City Employees... Keep in mind that this is my personal experience - The only communication that I recall is a Happy Holidays note with your paystubb in December, and the one that ticked me off the most was another note with the paystubb informing employees of the (then new) whistle blower policy and how you could anonymously (rat out) your fellow employees!! I will never forget the stats she accumulated when she lost 96+% of union grievances that she as City Mgr forwarded to arbitration....The arbitrators found her judgements wrong....almost every time...My question is how much did this cost the taxpayers in lawyer and arbritration costs when each one is more than $30,000.. I am only with one union!! (Not Cupe either)
I am sorry to sound negative but these are the facts and for you to imply she was "good at her job" because she was an efficient delegator exemplifies your comprehension of her role - This coupled with the lack of judgment regarding her interpretation of the litigious language of negotiated contracts - provides good summary for me to appreciate the new face of City Manager - Sure Penny is in the spotlight - but that shows she is also upfront and ACCOUNTABLE in her role as CM - and she better be answering the questions and doing this as I am not a fan of paying her 300+ salary to have her delegate most aspects of the position! Please learn the facts and details before you worry about how someone does their punctuation and capitals on this blog!!

USAR - I would like to know what is going on here...Does the City require or need the consent of Ottawa to deploy this team.. There have been many rumours and media stories of late inquiring about the readiness / status of the team; and the equipment accountability issues.
I have heard that the team is in the process of being "recreated" so am not sure if they are ready for deployment,
In any event it is a group of highly skilled and trained experts (with dogs) as well....and I am not sure if they have ever been deployed??? Perhaps Louisiana...Katrina??
The Canadians should have provided a team and they should be in Haiti helping to rescue people...This should have happend immediately after the disaster - finger pointing today is not going to help the situation;
Like 911 and other disasters the team should have been sent out within hours of the events and Ottawa and City should have something "pre-authorized" that permits the team to go asap as that is what its function really is....
During the Vancouver quake if it should happen I would hope that our team and others are not delayed in their response worrying about bureaucratic issues of who is paying and who is authorizing deployments,,, as we have all learned to often now that it only costs lives...

Je-Re-Penny? Penny, is that you, hon? Spot Lighting apparently is not that complimentary. Have you seen the picture those CityCaucus naughty kids posted? Tz,tz,tz...What we need here is some basic lighting. Natural light would be the best. If we go for artificial, however,then we're looking at a minimum of three lights and as a must two softboxes (for your "mysterious but lonely up there on the top" look). Ok, let's throw in an umbrella or two! There you go, we are done, now let's make you a star!

Wakee, wakee!USAR? Huh?
City of Vancouver staff is supposed to MANAGE the city. OUR CITY.
You know, "demeaning" jobs like collecting property taxes, awarding business licenses, garbage collection, parking enforcement, parks and recreation facilities maintenance, sewage aka shit fancy transportation, planning the city... It has no business in saving the World. None WHATSOEVER! For that we have the PROVINCIAL and the FEDERAL governments.
If on the other hand you are implying that we should deploy our own dedicated Knights of the Laughing Table:Carbon Cadman, Jolly Gregor, Lady Andrea etc... to cut away at some North Pole iceberg using their rock hammers,then carry their organic, hemp reinforced duffels, full of ice, on their backs to the arid areas of the Sahara Desert, so that one Pygmy village can grow lettuce and free run chicken, than , I'm all for it!OK, pumpkin?

Selfish Gliss...The team is referred to as Canada Task Force 1 and is funded in large part by guessed it the Federal govt. Today in the media we all apparently learned that it was the Feds who decided to not send them...

Lets realize that our 1 team in western Canada wont cut it should this area get its "overdue mega-quake"...and as such we would depend on and require the assistance of teams from areas / Cities across North America...Using your philosphy no one would send us aid during our time?

Hopefully you dont fall into the naive category of those Yaletown Yuppies...walking around with their IPods as they cross the street without looking....its this higher than high attitude that will surely be humbled when our time comes....OfCourse its not "Vancouvers Problem" that there was a quake in a small poor country with thousands missing....but we have resources that can help others and work with other teams in this international community of aid....
OfCourse our Knights of the Laughing Table can stay hear to feed the backyard chickens and tend to the crops....but in times (this type) of disaster we should all help out..
Not sure I can change your mind but I am surprised how many Vancouverites feel it is "not our problem" that is so "downtownish" of an attitude....I dont get it?!

Anarchy - "Absence or non-recognition of authority and order in any given sphere"

Jeremy, if you want fresh bread you get it from your local bakery, not from your corner grocery store. You don't go to your local coffee shop for cookies either, you order your dark roast there. You want your tonsils taken out you don't ask your neighbour to give you a shot of Brandy and what a hell, to go for it, with a pair of scissors. For that you go to your family doctor.
Want some more?
I understand your frustration here, but frankly at municipal level there is no need to hyperventilate on the issue because helping in the way you suggest it is not in their MANDATE!
What ANYONE can do however is DONATE CASH (selfish Gliss donated $200 already for the whole family to the Red Cross)

Go here:

Therefore,let the ones capable to deploy aid, troupes and construction materials, to command, evaluate the logistic tasks and act on it.
It's still helping isn't it?

And I'm not pulling a Brangelina Act here, as some people inside our beloved City Hall would love to.

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

google: Canada Task Force 1
and check their site---they are not a municipal team, as you state, federally $$and Provincial $$ make the bulk of them...they are the only CDN UN Sanctioned Team that could go from our country...They should have went...

Not sure where your goin with the anarchy thing..

Earth to MSM...Earth to MSM...can you hear me Major Tom...???

Check out!

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