Kerry Jang puts his foot in it at Tuesday's council meeting - see video
The floor of the city council chamber is a place to battle over opinions and ideas. At times the political hyperbole flies and our elected officials too often try to one-up each other in pointless arguments.
None of us, however, want council chambers to be a place for put-downs, especially when it involves a non-partisan public servant. That unfortunately is what we heard from Vision Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang at Tuesday evening's council meeting. In his attempt to toss darts at lone NPA councillor Suzanne Anton, Jang decided to mock the City's now former manager of the freedom of information office Paul Hancock.
It was not a good day for Vision Vancouver. It started with a newspaper report on a poll conducted by Justason Market Intelligence that shows Vision Vancouver's popularity seriously on the wane. Their mishandling of the Olympic Village file and their unwillingness to take responsibility for their own mistakes have frustrated Vancouverites no end.
Once undecided voters are now decidely opposed to the idea of re-electing Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver.
Then there was the TERRIBLE staff survey results presented to council at the start of Tuesday's meeting. CityCaucus.com began tweeting out that the staff survey results would be coming and the word was they would be "ugly." Penny Ballem booked a room at Robson Square UBC Campus at $1100 to discuss the results with her senior management team just prior to the council presentation.
Likely because of our tweets, a hastily prepared 2-line press release about Ballem's presentation was issued a mere 45-minutes before the council meeting would start. Haven't we seen these "late distribution" tactics by the City Manager once too often?
After a looooong and rambling intro on the positives, the slides in PowerPoint Penny's presentation showed that the trust in City Hall's leadership had plummeted. Only 27% of surveyed staff felt they had confidence in senior management.
The numbers were so low that members of the Vision council were at a loss for words. Each Vision/COPE councillor mumbled about how great it was that the City had done a survey, but none dared to mention the substance of the results. Questioned by the Vancouver Sun's Jeff Lee after the presentation – see his story – Penny Ballem shrugged off any concerns about her leadership. Further, she blamed staff for not understanding her mission.
“There is no comment that this is the wrong direction. This is just that they don’t understand enough yet [where the city is going],” she said.
The survey, conducted by the Hay Group, showed a majority of employees also are generally happy and productive in their work, even if they are unclear about some of the directions in which the city is going.
Ballem said it was a head-scratcher that people would be happy in their work but still lack confidence in the leadership of their management.
“It is a little bit of a disconnect. It is hard to quite get your head around it. But I think the clear message is that we need to do more work explaining what the broad strategy is of the city,” she said.
Slides like this one from her PowerPoint don't get much more grim. The blue line zig-zagging along the bottom is the measure of satisfaction within her staff. The line above it is the average for all public sector workers. They barely come close.
Of course, Ballem only will release her PowerPoint to the public, and not the actual survey results, which of course means yet another FOI will be submitted.
So, with all this background in mind, we return to Coun. Kerry Jang and his unfavourable remarks about Paul Hancock.
Jang thought he would make light of the departure of the respected lawyer who occupied his position at the City Clerk's office for the past decade. As a psychologist, you'd think Jang would be just a little more sensitive. The Vision councillor even chuckled that Hancock left because of the stress of his job.
In just under two minutes we have the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the way Vancouver City Hall is being governed right now. Because they lack the confidence of their own vision for the city, members of Mayor Gregor Robertson's team feel the need to lash out at everyone who disagrees with them.
We've not only had the top City Hall reporters in Vancouver – Frances Bula, Jeff Lee, Mike Howell, Charlie Smith & Bob Mackin – all call them on their practice of secrecy, Vision even feels the need to attack members of the public who criticize them. Remember their cold rebuke of the West End Neighbours organizers, or their dismissive response to the Bloedel Conservatory supporters. If you get on the wrong side of Vision, they'll just put you in your place.
Then one of the best regarded members of Vancouver's civil service decides he's had enough. He leaves after a decade at this workplace, and even has the courage to make a remark to a reporter. So what is Vision Vancouver's response?
He must have been too stressed.
Just like when Gregor Robertson said last year when senior managers started leaving in droves. He said that they couldn't keep up with Vision's agenda for change. Penny Ballem said that Dave Rudberg was too grumpy and needed a break from running Olympic Operations.
I could write for an hour with more colourful examples of Vision's disrespect for the public service, and for anyone who doesn't see things their way. But I don't think I have to bother. The results of the Justason poll and the City staff survey says it all, doesn't it?
Citizens are increasingly fed up. And the people who are on the front lines building and maintaining our city are equally exasperated.
An election is now less than 12 months away, providing the prospect for positive change post-Vision. Let's hope that the City doesn't continue to lose good people at the rate it has over the past two years.
As for Kerry Jang's clumsy put-down of Paul Hancock, an apology is in order but no one should hold their breath for it. Vision's mission to change the City in their own image is far too important to fuss over a few hurt feelings.
- post by Mike