Renos run amok! New council dining room to occupy Mayor's office

Post by Mike Klassen in


New Vancouver council dining room
Cin cin! Too cramped for Robertson, a new dining room comes to the Mayor's office

You first heard in early 2009 here at that city manager Penny Ballem was headed upstairs to the sixth floor, and Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision council planned to expand their political operations throughout the whole third floor. In today's Vancouver Sun newspaper, reporter Jeff Lee has confirmed the City's plans to move Ballem to her new home upstairs, while Gregor Robertson moves into Ballem's old office. The spacious (newly oiled) teak-paneled office with its own private bathroom occupied by 20 different Vancouver mayors since 1936 is considered "not private enough" for Gregor Robertson.

Ballem acknowledged that her office will move from the third floor to the sixth this fall, allowing Mayor Gregor Robertson to expand his offices into her existing space. The city will also create a dining room and meeting area in part of the mayor’s old offices for the elected councillors who, Ballem says, now have no suitable place to eat. She said Robertson’s space is too cramped and he has no private office.

City councillors have individual offices on the east end of third floor just behind council chambers. Of all the issues that we've heard in the halls of power over the years, can anyone remember city councillors complaining that they didn't have a comfy place to eat? Apparently providing their meals for free isn't enough – councillors require a new dining room with a killer view too!

While Dr. Ballem has tried to keep this story under wraps and tries hard to downplay the expense – suggesting that renos will be "a drop in the bucket" at $260,000 when the City just paid $850,000 for new carpets and a loo upgrade on the third floor alone! Of course, there was also the bizarre case of Robertson tossing out $35,000 worth of new furniture from his office because it smelled funny to him. Nothing will be "gold-plated" promises Ballem.

Lee's story is about how seven of eleven floors of Vancouver city hall are now empty, and through deals struck over the years – including under Judy Rogers' watch – staff have begun to occupy leased and owned City buildings spread out across town. It has the effect of creating silos between departments and destroys staff productivity. Engineering's new digs at the corner of Cambie and Broadway come with the biggest price tag – $41 million over the next 10 years. The city spent another $7 million to outfit and move the department.

That $7 million expense happened last year in advance of the Olympics. The city manager is positioning the renos as no big deal – "When they come in, they will find it is pretty practical and there is nothing fluffy going in here. It is pretty basic." But in fact their approval of the third floor renos hardly instills confidence.

What we should be watching closely is Robertson and Magee's designs on re-creating city hall in their own image. Vancouver's highly successful non-partisan public service is being turned upside down and into a pure political machine. Vision Vancouver mouthpiece Kevin Quinlan alluded to his party's plan to ramp up political operations and expanding political staff on his blog as far back as 2007.

Quinlan – who worked as a Vision hack prior to becoming Mayor Robertson's executive assistant – stated that it was time for Vancouver to throw out the old way of doing business, and becoming more like Seattle and Toronto. In those cities the political staff have significant heft, and cost.

So what was originally a 5-second cut and paste post as I was flying out the door to demonstrate the lack of policy resources in the Mayor's office turned into a population ratio attack, I'll respond by posting this from the equivalently-sized-but-strong-Mayor-system- Seattle Mayor's office. A lot of them fall under Vancouver's Corporate Management Team, but 3 policy advisers, a speechwriter, and my favorite - "executive Protection" - shows a different priority on city resources.

I'd argue that this stems from Vancouver's still-imbedded-but-painfully-outdated notion of civic government as non-partisan and being solely concerned with efficiency and delivering services. Why does the Mayor need staff when the bureaucracy makes all the policy ecisions, right?

After his typo-laden argument Quinlan goes on to list nearly 30 political staff that surround the Mayor of Toronto as a great model. But one might ask, if it's such a laudable idea why is Vancouver consistently rated as one of the most successful cities on the planet in terms of its governance?

Ah, but in the quest for systemic social change one needn't confuse the issue with troublesome questions. Meanwhile, we can take comfort that the Mayor will soon have more room to spread his wings (in the recently renovated city manager's office), and councillors will be able to watch the sun set over Gregor's Garden while they nosh on roasted chicken breast and steamed baby potatoes.

Given Coun. Tim Stevenson's motion asking staff to report back on building a brand new city hall last fall, this may just be a prelude to a more expensive plan to abandon the iconic building at 12th and Cambie altogether.

- post by Mike

UPDATE: To deflect blame from her own office and the Vision council, city manager Ballem releases in-camera notes to Jeff Lee from the decision to authorize spending made in October 2008 in the middle of the last election campaign. What's not clear from these notes is who voted for the move. Of course, several Vision councillors would have been part of this meeting. While the lease was approved before Ballem arrived, the significant costs to move and furnish Engineering's digs could have been canceled by her.

This morning on CKNW radio Penny Ballem is vigorously defending Robertson's decision to move into a more "private" office. When asked why 20 previous mayors made out fine with the spacious teak-paneled office, Ballem's response was, "Well, good for them."

Oddly, Lee's great story did not make the Sun's front page.


Maybe they need the dining room so they'll have a place to serve the free range eggs and the rescued chickens.
Watch dirty Jobs on Discovery tonight and see how Miami deals with feral chickens Go Gregor

"Ballem says, now have no suitable place to eat."

What ? Brown bag lunches too proletarian for our new Progressive masters?

Some people are more equal than others . . .

This is a joke right? Is this an April 1st prank? I can't believe what I'm reading. Gregor Robertson is spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to move his office so councillors can get a new fancy lunch room. This guy truly is nuts, now its official.

Just when I thought back yard chickens, veggie gardens and bike lanes were bad enough, now comes this. Can anyone explain to me how 20 previous mayors were able to work in that office but somehow mayor ken doll needs more space. For what, additional mirrors so he can admire himself? Call an election now and lets get rid of these jokesters. The NPA will win a majority next time and you can take that to the bank.

Get prepared to hear city manager Ms. Bedlam blame the previous NPA. "I have to move my office to the sixth floor because the NPA made me do it. I had no choice."

These guys haven't taken the blame for anything they've done in two years and I don't expect this will be any different. Gregor Robertson should put a halt to this stupid decision and stay put in his office and save money. Otherwise he will surely face a Zalm-like recall petition.

First off...Who owns the building at Broadway and Cambie that is making $41 million over 10 years...That works out to be over $300,000.00 a month for a lease payment!! I applaud whoever negotiated that deal!! Wow, you can retire now!! So can someone please explain why no one is accountable for this spending, does this mean I should just go and open up credit accounts and charge them all to City Hall?? I guess no one is monitoring it or cares too....Wow, I wonder if I can charge a new BMW to City Hall, at this point I doubt anyone will notice.. I guess its time to incorperate and write off everything I spend this way at least I can get out of paying taxes, and thus having to pay for the Cities spending sprees...Follow suit citizens of Vancouver...don't be sucker!!!

Where do I sign up for the NPA? I voted vision last time but NEVER again. What was the city manager thinking when she decided to move out of her office? Why doesn't the mayor stand up to her stupid ideas and put a halt to this nuttiness. These guys have truly been a big dissapointment in office. They did better in opposition.

Pure idiocy! This should have made front page news in the Sun. I just heard Penny Ballem on the radio defending her decision to move upstairs. She wasn't too convincing and sounded a bit cheesed off by the line of questions from the CKNW reporter. Better get used to it.

"When asked why 20 previous mayors made out fine with the spacious teak-paneled office, Ballem's response was, "Well, good for them.""

I guess a PhD doesn't necessarily buy you much capacity to think, just provides proof that you're a bootlicking hoop-jumper willing to kowtow to irrational expectations on the promise that one day you will get to project your irrational worldview onto others, as a City Manager, Doctor, Lawyer or some other Corporate-Whore-Credential'd Muckymuck.

Who are these fuckin' hacks and where did they come from? Are any of them even freeborn of Vancouver?

I'm not sure why the Mayor is saying his office is not private? The Mayor's office IS private. It's not shared by anybody else. He even has his own private toilet, shower and bed/sleeping area. There is nobody else that shares this space with him. It's all his!!!!!!

How is his space not pivate!?!?!?!?

If you take the square footage of this office (let's forget about the toilet, shower and sleeping room) it's still bigger than most appartments downtown. Add in the toilet, showers and sleeping room, it becomes a huge apartment. How much more space could one Mayor want???

Before everyone goes and attacks Ballem for something that's not her fault, you should take a breath. I'm no fan of hers, but word within city hall for weeks has been the fact she's fighting with Robertson against this move. This ain't her idea folks. She's just the person in charge of implementing it. Mike Magee aptly made his case in a recent interview with Frances Bula when he said the bureaucrats are now taking direction from the politicians, not the other way around. As someone who regularly feels the wrath of Penny myself, I'd love to blame her. But not for this one folks. This is Gregor's baby. Just pulling up to 12th and Cambie now!

We still have homeless, perhaps they could sleep in the empty understanding is that the homeless
don't have an appropriate place to eat either. $41 million could buy a couple apartment buildings.
My understanding was that these problems were to be fixed first....
I imagine all materials used at City Hall are very expensive "GREEN" materials, while the poor line up for free hot dogs,sleep in doorways,parks and church pews, all the while Gregor blows his Tuba, cuts off buses, and snubs his nose at those he claims to care about.

I think Gregor has his job confused with Royalty....could be worse, he could have closets full of shoes..then again perhaps he does...Shame on the Mayor!!

Why not take those seven empty floors and convert them into homeless housing. Justthink of how many homeless people could have a warm place to sleep every night if the mayor were to convert part of city hall into a HEAT shelter. I'm not kidding folks. Think of the advantages.

Robertson could do all of his homeless photo ops directly from city hall. No need to drive to the downtown eastside. That even helps to reduce carbon emissions. A side bonus.

As for the homeless, they would be close to all the bureaucrats who service them. One stop shop.

I say take those seven floors, open up the doors and let the homeless have a place to sleep tonight. I wonder if David Eby will be demandig city hall take action on this one. NOT. The homeless advocates will not be protesting or occupying a single floor of city hall as long as heir vision pals are in office.

@Insider. Thanks for the update. We've also just heard that Penny got handed this bag of crap from Robertson and Magee. As other commenters suggest, the Mayor has plenty of "private" space available to him, and this is really just about expanding the costly political operations at the expense of the non-partisan public service.

I don't buy that Ballem takes no blame in this. There's right and wrong...even for civil servants. If she doesn't want to defend the renovations, she should have referred the media to the mayor's office for comment. Or she could have resigned.

But to arrogantly declare that Mayor McSmoothie(tm) couldn't possible work under the same conditions as his dozens of predecessors is collaboration to the nTH degree.

Ballem is a big part of the problem at City Hall.

I think the biggest story here is that the top 7 floors of 11 story city hall are EMPTY. And on top of that the city has leased outside office space for $41 million over the next 10 years.

What the hell?

Vancouverites just want a well-managed civic government to look after taxpayer-dollars. Is that too much to ask for?

Every Emperor needs a Palace.
= entitlement cubed.

Penny is a MD not a PHD
She is a real doctor
I have to wonder why she has to be a civic political hack rather than a healer??

Dave. While agree the 7 empty floors is a big issue, the fact the mayor is spending tax dollars to move into a new and bigger office is in my opinion almost worse. The optics of a politician moving into swanky new digs in the middle of a recession and high property tax increases does not look good at all. The emperor clearly doesn't have any clothes. What was Gregor thinking? Wasn't it Gregor that also spent $100,000 bucks on his invite only inaugural ceremony? The guy clearly doesn't care about us poor taxpayers.

It was also mentioned that some city staffers were moved to the Woodward's building.

Can someone tell me which 'group' occupies Woodward's and again....why?

The City couldn't come up with $60K to keep childrens' programs in place for the summer, but can shell out an additional $260K for Gregor's new throne.

Vision is definitely not a party of the 'people'.

Answered my own question: (I should have spent a little more time reading through!)

That move, and another one this summer involving the social development, housing and cultural affairs departments moving into three city-owned floors of the renovated Woodward’s heritage building were done in the absence of any master plan, something city manager Penny Ballem says can’t happen again. She has now put a stop to departments making their own lease arrangements and wants to consolidate services back into a few city-owned buildings.

What has caught my eye in the update from Ballem to Lee, Ballen releases "in camera report"
If that is the case, why aren't other important "in camera" reports released?
For example when the report went missing from chambers, a police investigation followed and then quietly died away. Why was that "in camera" report not released.
It appears self serving of Vision, to say the least.

Thanks for the illuminating post. Just two points of clarification;
My understanding is that Robertson's current office will remain a "ceremonial office" and that it will also continue to double for in camera meetings. The proposed dining area is somewhere back in what are now the administrative offices near the closet kitchen.
As for why this didn't make the front page of The Sun, don't read too much into it. Mondays are always small papers and the E.Coli issue in White Rock is a significant health issue. The newspaper's management doesn't have some nefarious plan to go easy (or hard) on the current administration. I have not been given any directions to "go easy" on or "get" Robertson. This all came down to an issue of competing news and small space.
Jeff Lee
Twitter: @sunciviclee

I can't believe you guys care about this. This site seems like some obvious hater site from the NPA. No one else would really care about a story as boring and mundane as this. Who cares if council and the mayor want to eat together? This is a non-issue.

Newsreader, you can't be a taxpayer or you're on the Vision gravy train to think this story is a non issue.

@News reader:

A 'non-issue'?

When the city is spending over a $1M + in tax payer dollars to renovate a space that doesn't need renovating, meanwhile cutting jobs and tax funded programs under the guise of 'budget' shortfalls - there is an 'issue'.

I don't care if it is NPA, COPE or Vision, there is a responsibility to the taxpayers to not be 'wasteful' with tax dollars.

And this is 'a waste'.

@ News reader,
I am a card carrying Vision member...but not for much longer, my vote goes to anyone other than Vision next time. May I suggest you go back to reading the comics if you don't see the problem with these expenses, on our dime.
Trust me, it has nothing to do with eating together...people are homeless and don't have any place or anything to eat. The homeless/ shelter guests have no privacy. The Mayor and Ballem need a better excuse.
The Mayor needs to remember he is spending OUR money, that is the problem.

This all does seem like a waste of money and time, but it's funny those who argue how different things would be with the NPA or how we need to get the mayor out so something different will happen....What on earth leads you to believe a different political party would not be just as wasteful?

@ boohoo
Perhaps if it wasn't so self serving and such a huge waste, especially when City Hall is claiming to be over extended and then cutting services for kids.
I assume you pay taxes...if so, you should be concerned, look at the bigger picture.

I am concerned and do think (if true) it's a waste of money. But I laugh at everyone on these boards who think life would be so different/better under some other political party.

The system is broken locally, provincially and federally. Whether it's NPA or Vision or NDP or Liberal or whatever you want, they're fundamentally the same thing and they're all corrupt.

@Jeff. I want to thank you again for some fine reporting. People will focus on the empty space of course, but to me the bigger scandal is the unnecessary move to expand the Mayor's offices.

Since Robertson is hiding under his desk today and won't respond to questions on this, the new media star Magee should explain what's the rush. Why is he moving his office to the end of the hallway out of the public eye in time for the next session of council in September? What are his plans for expanding the political staff in his office? Why do you need to expand your power within city hall?

These are all reasonable questions that Mayor Gregor should have answers for.

The empty floors, as stated elsewhere, under which guard was the decision to move to Cambie and Broadway made? NPA or Vision? From my understanding, a certain Yoga Clothing Company couldn't back out of the lease and lo and behold, a knight in shining armor, City Hall, came to the rescue. End up saving the company occupying retail on ground floor millions, the optics look bad, someone should clarify.

I wonder if the Mayor's new office will have a 'panic room'.....

Oh Stirr Stick, please say it isn't so..
My stomach just hit the floor

Just walked by the city manager's office a few minutes ago. A grumpy group of staff are packing boxes and getting ready to vacate by Friday. This is a done deal, no matter how much of a stink taxpayers kick up.

Apparently Robertson's chief of staff read the riot act to Ballem's staff last week. I'm told it went something like this "Out by next Friday. This is non-negotiable. I don't want a single paper clip left in this office by next weekend."

Have you got the Crown ready for his highness when he moves in?

I am sure the Gucci shoe shine buffer has already been ordered.

This is yet another example of how power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

On a serious note.. if Bailey and Hizzoner could get over their penis envy of other City Mayors perhaps they might realize that all is not so rosy in Lotus Land.

Leadership in hiding, open drug deals, open prostitution, worsening homelessness, seed shops, muggings, increasing B&E's and car break ins, neighbourhoods in uproar, poor planning on any number of issues, lack of consultation, destroying Community Centre Associations ...

that's a pretty big plate.. it takes real work to reek havoc like that
.. ah more staff... there's more to ruin in the fair City...chop chop!!

There are floors in our fine City hall to occupy with flunkies

so little time..... so many flunkies thinking of ways to wreck it all...

This isn't a green city .. more like BROWN Mayor McJuice and his inept cohorts flush it down the toilet...

@ Stirr Stick.

You are bang on the money with your "understanding".

That entire complex was designated for "Yoga" clothing company, but when the economy turned, that company could not afford the lease.

The City stepped in and basically saved the company by taking over the lease. I'm not sure if it's a sub lease or the City took over the lease but obviously the City is in there now. Why the City did this I'm not sure, but it sure is costing the tax payers a lot of money.

Who cares? Maybe the people who are PAYING for it care? If you're going to be the devil's advocate at least have an argument.

Oh and this is civil service arrogance at its best: "When asked why 20 previous mayors made out fine with the spacious teak-paneled office, Ballem's response was, "Well, good for them.""


@Miguel. Precisely - we should care. We've got more to report on this story that we'll post later today. As you put it so succinctly, it's unbelievable.

It doesn't matter what party has been in power the last few years.
Deals are being done without the taxpayers (the poor suffering fools who pay for all of this) having ANY say.
Bureaucrats are choking this city to death. It's easy when secrecy keeps people from knowing how bad it is.
I always wondered why City Hall seemed to have turned into a ghost building.
Now I know.

Stop blaming Ballem and us bureaucrats for this move. This is utter crap. It was the politicians and the Mayor's office staff who conjured up this freakin idea. The city manager is merely acting upon orders from her political masters . Full stop. Arguing anything else is simply disingenuous.


this planned expansion... how long do we think it will take... 3-4 months? Are we not in the last year of Gregor's mandate? Seems to me that he believes he will be around for another term to take advantage of his new digs.

Council needs a lunch room? There is one in the basement of the hall called the Citizenry Cafeteria. Not good enough? Eat at your desk like everyone else that has an office job.

I can't believe the money that is being thrown around that place.

Thank you for your comments City Worker. Unfiltered information is helpful to make these discussions useful.

And further to them one of the important issues in this latest example of governance by ideology is Balem's apparent unhappiness with these 'moves'. One of the primary reasons driving this affair is the Visionistas are intent on hiring more & more full time political staff so they can fine tune the next 500 years. The 1st 500 weren't so great, especially if you were an Awarak Native in the Bahamas &, now extinct, thanks to the Spanish enlightened governance model which Vision is basing theirs' on. This cadre's other function no doubt will be to micro-manage the 'non-partisan civil service' to ensure there all comrades are fully committed to the cause. If this sounds familiar, think 'Cultural Revolution'.

The other aspect of this is, as City Manager, it's Ms.Balem's job to manage the 'non-partisan civil service', not the politico's. This is a major change in the City's governance model & I doubt voters knew they were voting for this in 2008. Perhaps one of the reasons she has her nose out of joint is this move which, among other things, seriously changes the pecking order.

If she is the experienced senior manager her history suggests, this change will no doubt be unsettling for her. And, another thing's for sure, being associated with this looney tune bunch & implementing the extreme politicizing of the 'civil' service is not going to help her resume.


I think the Mayor needs to assume the position (lotus).

Check out!

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