CTV's Lisa Rossington originally reported Tsisserev's firing on Feb. 6th – see video
Late last winter as Vancouver's 2010 Games were winding down, a controversy rumbled to the surface regarding the firing of Ark Tsisserev, the City's Chief Electrician and head of electrical inspections. For the most the public failed to take interest in the story due to the exhilaration of the Olympics. But after the athletes left town, the rather ugly politics behind the dismissal became clear.
Ark's job was deemed redundant by the City Manager, and he was one of very few City staff who were actually let go during the 2010 budget squeeze on the grounds of reducing costs. But in a new twist to this story, the City of Vancouver is now currently advertising the same job formerly done by Tsisserev at exactly the same pay grade. The only alteration is that the job reports now to the Director of Licenses and Inspections, Will Johnson, instead of city council.
Assistant Director, Inspection Services – City of Vancouver Posting
Having the statutory authority as the City’s Deputy Chief Building Official and Deputy City Electrician, the Assistant Director will make final decisions with respect to inspection issues on behalf of the Director, while leading a group of inspection professionals through a complex and dynamic environment, with a goal in implementing best regulatory and customer service practices.
The firing of Arkady Tsisserev was an embarrassing and avoidable mess caused by Vision Vancouver's incompetent style of governance. You may recall how Gregor Robertson was caught on tape in a bald-faced nose stretcher about what he knew about the firing when asked by media. As early as the weekend of February 6th (just two weeks after he'd fired Ark) Robertson was asked in a one-on-one interview by CTV's Lisa Rossington if the Mayor knew why Tsisserev had been let go. Robertson pleaded ignorance, and deflected to human resources staff.
This was no ordinary employee dismissal though. Arkady Tsisserev, the City's Chief Electrician who is regarded as the leading electrical safety expert in North America, was a city council appointment. Tsisserev in his former job did not report to the City Manager; rather like her he reported directly to Mayor and council. Therefore, when Ark was let go, it was done so as a unanimous vote of council.
That in-camera meeting took place on January 21st in the Mayor's office. Council were told by the Mayor and Ballem that the City Electrician's job was redundant, and after a motion was put forward by Coun. Meggs, they proceeded to replace Tsisserev with Will Johnston. The decision is noted in council minutes from February 2nd.
Questioned by CKNW's Janet Brown afterward City Manager Penny Ballem explained that, "[Tsisserev] fell victim to restructuring. We are an organization that uses best human resources practices and these are always difficult things. Being laid off is a difficult time for employee and employer."
But the media became more interested in the story because Ballem and Mayor Gregor kept getting caught in statements inconsistent with the facts. CKNW news reporter Nafeesa Karim caught Gregor Robertson in this interview from March 10th (clip):
Then two days later Robertson was on live radio with CKNW's Michael Smyth when this question was put to him by a caller named Frank Kurz (clip).
Eventually the whole Tsisserev affair became embroiled in legal threats, letters drafted by City staff to look like they were from Tsisserev's own hand, and finally a $180,000 severance package for Ark.
The person who stuck by Tsisserev through all of these attempts to damage his reputation by Vision Vancouver was Frank Kurz, a Vancouver fire safety technician (& founder of the Fire Protection Technicians Network) and the same fellow who called into the talk show. Kurz penned this open letter to Mayor Robertson explaining not only Tsisserev's considerable accomplishments, but the huge risk the City was placed under by the loss of this management expertise.
It has become more and more apparent to this writer, and to people close to this issue (they include City staffers, industry stakeholders and members of the engineering community), that Ark Tsisserev’s dismissal was deliberately and illegally orchestrated to clear the way for your Olympic aspirations (perhaps - and hopefully - not by you, but certainly by members of your staff). The question I asked provided only a snippet of background to this whole sordid affair, but your answer was even more perplexing (in light of the time that has passed) and raises a bunch more questions.
Speaking on Monday evening with Frank, I asked him about the revelation that Tsisserev's job is being re-posted after the Chief Electrician was summarily let go 10 months ago. "It's positively horrifying to me," says Kurz."His dismissal was astonishing to me and to everyone in our business. And it appears that it was all for politics.
"There was never a clear explanation as to why city council and Penny Ballem fired Ark," adds Kurz. "It was all done under the pretense of budget cutbacks. But what they did was murder the guy's professional reputation. It's pretty clear to those I speak with that the City could not operate without someone to run electrical inspections. Will Johnson is a structural engineer and out of his depths in this field.
"Seeing Ark's old job posted pretty much confirms for me that the City weren't being straight with the public on why they fired Tsisserev."
"Good governments get rid of bad people, and bad governments get rid of good people."
Ark was one of the good guys, and the City of Vancouver's brain drain continues while Vision Vancouver continues to work for systemic social change. Let's hope the recent miserable poll results are right, and there's only another year of this nonsense.
For more background on the Ark Tsisserev story see the following links:
- Was Gregor Robertson caught in lie about Tsisserev's firing?
- Gregorgate? Robertson continues to claim no knowledge of Tsisserev sacking
- Five reasons you should care about the Ark Tsisserev story (24 Hours)
- Gregor Robertson praying that the Tsisserev story goes away
- Chief Electrician severance package cost taxpayers over $180,000
- Chief Electrician shocker! Feb. 12th letter crafted by City
- post by Mike