As someone who used to work in the Mayor’s office in Vancouver, I've been watching the controversy swirl regarding Robertson’s office renovations with great interest. Let me first say I am not only surprised to hear of the move, I also happen to think it’s a complete waste of taxpayer dollars. Given the recent statements of COPE/NPA councillors David Cadman, Ellen Woodsworth and Suzanne Anton, it would appear I am in good company.
If someone would have told me a month ago the Mayor of Vancouver would spend well over $260,000 to move to and outfit another office in order to get more privacy, I would have laughed out loud. That’s because Gregor Robertson’s current digs are the best City Hall has to offer. The apartment-sized office is already equipped with a shower, bathtub, sink, sleeping area, storage closet, and space for a full-sized boardroom table, desk and seating area. That doesn't even include the additional space available for seven support staff.
When I left my post as Chief of Staff back in the summer of 2008, I can report that the Mayor's office was a pretty swanky place to work. The plush royal blue carpet combined with the teak paneling was more than adequate to host dignitaries such as the Governor General, Dalai Lama, Prince Edward and even California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Since Mayor Robertson was elected in November 2008, he invested over $800,000 to install new carpets and update the bathroom on the 3rd floor. This is in addition to spending several thousand dollars to re-oil those heritage teak walls that adorn his office. Oh, did I mention the Mayor’s office also has a million dollar view of the North Shore?
After a series of bad decisions translated into some pretty bad press for him this summer, the timing of Robertson’s renovations couldn’t be worse. Rushing these through in the middle of summer hoping that nobody would notice was a clear miscalculation. Thanks to the dogged investigative reporting of the Vancouver Sun’s Jeff Lee this story is now topping the news and has become the topic of discussion at the water cooler.
Meanwhile, the Mayor continues to remain in hiding while his caucus are behaving like trained seals. Rather than protesting Robertson’s plans for fancier offices, they are actually in the media trying to justify the expense. Take for example what Vision councillor Kerry Jang told the Sun on Tuesday:
Currently we don’t have any place to eat outside of our desks and the food cart is in the back hallway and it sits there overnight and stinks up all of the third floor until it is picked up.
In terms of the mayor’s office, it is a wide open space that is always busy and the guy has nowhere to work, I mean, outside of the bathroom.
Whaaa? Vancouver taxpayers are going to build a new dining room for the councillors because Jang and his Vision colleagues think their free meals are stinking up their offices? I can hardly believe what I’m reading. Is he for real?
As for Jang’s contention the office isn’t private enough to work in, that's complete hogwash. The Mayor’s office currently sits behind three sets of doors. Once those doors are closed, you can’t find a more private office anywhere in City Hall. As for the spin that in-camera meetings (which are held in the Mayor’s office) can be distracting for his Worship, that might be because he is supposed to chair those meetings.
The Mayor’s hand-picked city manager Penny Ballem has been busy in the media trying to downplay this whole issue. It’s an old building in need of repair, she says. We’re only knocking down a few walls to accommodate his Worship, she claims. One lame talking point after another...this has not been Penny’s finest hour.
In terms of the actual renovation taking place to Ballem’s office to accommodate Robertson’s quest for more political staff, one tidbit of information did strike me as interesting. When I first heard the Mayor was moving into Penny’s office, I had to ask myself, what about his private elevator? After all, a move to the West Wing would cut off his access to this hidden route to and from his office.
For those unfamiliar with City Hall, a hidden separate elevator for use by the Mayor and select staff exists through a back door in his office. I’m told that over the years many mayors have used the elevator as a convenient way to dodge reporters or angry protests.
What a relief it is to read in tonight's report by Jeff Lee that the Mayor will still retain that coveted private escape route from his office:
When I asked Ballem if she was going to build a shrine for the mayor in her old office with that $47,000, she snorted. Robertson has to inherit her "cheapo" old glass desk and his renos are "dead simple". Most of the costs are for punching two doors into the aforementioned lunchroom so the mayor can travel the offices without having to go out into the public foyer.
The Mayor’s decision to move his office in the dead of summer likely made a lot of sense in the political war room a few months ago. Unfortunately for his Worship, even the best laid plans have a way of upsetting the voting public.
If Robertson had an ounce of political common sense he’d put a halt to this unnecessary and costly move immediately. Otherwise, the seven empty floors at City Hall and his new swanky digs may well become permanent symbols of what voters perceive as an arrogant and out-of-touch government.
UPDATE: CKNW reports that Mayor Robertson is back on vacation after his exhausting session playing tuba with 90-something Dal Richards on Saturday, and acting mayor Raymond Louie is pointing the finger of blame for Robertson's decision to expand his office at Sam Sullivan.
- post by Daniel