Vancouver City Hall-ituburo controlling "the message"

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Vancouver City Hall has now centralized all of their messaging

As we thankfully enter the final twelve months of what some refer to as Vision Vancouver's reign of error, it's pretty clear that City Manager Penny Ballem & her Vision masters are moving into hunker down mode. What else could explain why Ballem has slapped a gag order on her staff and restricted them from speaking to lowly bloggers or mainstream media?

Goodbye, City Hall. Hello, City Hall-itburo.

So exactly why is Ballem moving to nano-manage information coming out of City Hall? Well, it's obvious she wants to prevent any bad news coming out of 12th & Cambie in order help her Vision political masters get re-elected to another term. Luckily for her, Paul Hancock, one of the most non-partisan and brightest public servants at the Hall, has quit his position as the City's former FOI officer.

I say Ballem is lucky because Hancock was no pushover when it came to properly administering FOI legislation. With him out of the picture, Ballem will have a much easier time thwarting pesky requests for access to information [for your information, on average CityCaucus places about one FOI request per month].

As a former Deputy Minister, Ballem would be fully aware of how long it can take to appeal decisions by the City to restrict access to information. In fact, if you disagree with the City's decision to restrict access to information, it can take well over a year to get a final decision by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. Coincidentally, this will now take you just past the next civic election.

Since Hancock's departure, we've already begun to see Ballem's fingerprints all over a couple of our older FOI requests. The first FOI we placed related to a conversation that Ballem allegedly had with a senior staffer. Our sources tell us she was upset with how long it was taking to write a particular report. In order to get some action, she apparently decided to get the employee responsible for drafting the report on the phone in order to light a fire under them.

Unfortunately for Ballem, after she chewed out the employee for several minutes, she was advised that on the other end of the phone was actually a group of staff sitting around a conference phone – not just the employee in question. The employee on the receiving end of Ballem's tirade was actually sitting in a room full of her colleagues. This altercation led to the employee's manager Rob Jenkins writing a terse response to Ballem saying that enough is enough. Subsequent to Jenkins' note, Ballem responded with an apologetic letter saying she went too far.

When we heard about this incident, we decided to FOI all of the correspondence between Ballem and Rob Jenkins during this time period to determine exactly what happened. Given how many employees have been quitting at City Hall, we thought it was important to help expose this type of activity if in fact it was happening. This isn't a matter of whether Ballem embarrassed herself, it's clearly evidence of the way City Hall is being managed today, which we believe the public has the right to know about.

Our response letter from the City has just arrived in our inbox and surprise, surprise...about nine pages of correspondence between Jenkins and Ballem for the period in question has been severed from our request. We plan to appeal Ballem's decision to limit our access to this information and expect a final ruling just after the next civic election.

On another front, we asked the City to provide us with more details regarding who is receiving funding from the City Manager's Strategic Initiatives Fund. This is the "slush fund" [this is how Vision used to describe it when former City Manager was at the helm] controlled by Penny Ballem which allows her to undertake various "strategic" projects.

A while ago, we first reported that over $1.2M has been spent in this fund. Despite asking for more details, Ballem only provided us with a high level breakdown of where the money was spent. We then asked a second time for the Clerk's office to provide us with the actual information we requested. This should include a simple excel spreadsheet with a listing of which contractors and companies were on the receiving end of this funding.

These are public monies, so we fully expected this information should be available to us upon request. However, we've just received a letter from the City telling us that if we want to know who got contracts from the Strategic Initiatives "slush" Fund, we will need to fork over $330 bucks.

In fact, Ballem's letter of response says they would like to bill us for 14 hours of labour to get this information. Needless to say, we don't have the money to pay for this, nor do we agree with Ballem's decision. Therefore, our only other option is to appeal this to the BC Privacy Commissioner. Once again, we expect a ruling on this about a month after the next civic election.

Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision colleagues campaigned on a commitment of making Vancouver the most open and transparent government in Canada. Not only have they failed entirely in this commitment, they have created the most opaque and closed administration in memory.

As Frances Bula, Jeff Lee and Charlie Smith have written about recently, Vision Vancouver have the shameful legacy of creating Vancouver City Hall-itburo.

- post by Daniel


It will be interesting to hear how our resident Vision boosters defend the suppression of basic public information by their City Hall heroes.

Sadly I believe it is called "Democracy Cubed"

Note especially 2:50 to 3:05. Amazing how everything old is new again. "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance".

If Penny was runnin gthe Pentagon I might understand - but this is the city for good sake - what secrets could posisbly be under wraps??
I'll pledge $30 - all you need are ten more pledges...faster than waiting. Or better yet get $3 from 110 people and see if she can still ignore all of us!

Interesting that the Casino is one of the issues where communication is being shut down (Frances Bulla calls this out). The Casino appears to be a potential scandal of BC Rail proportions. I hope you will be able to dig into that. And I hope Vision hears you and stops its Stephen Harper style policies on communication. Transparency is key to democratic government.

How to defend the indefensible? Simple: Lie.

Repeat after me:

"It's all Sam Sullivan's fault and Judy Rogers hypnotized the former Friends of Larry Campbell".

"We're doing the best we can in a difficult situation not of our making".

"No-one foresaw the collapse of credit markets".

"It's all Gordon Cam...oh, right. Shit! I mean, it's all Stephen Harper's fault".

"Powerful foreign corporate interests (i.e.oil companies) are trying to sabotage our green policies".

And remember to finish with:

"Vote for me in 2011. I've learned from my mistakes".

@Realitycheck - one can recognize that the basic policy direction under Vision is sound and a major improvement over the disaster called the Sam Sullivan adminstration without agreeing with all that Vision does. I would like to see more transparency from all levels of government and think many reports (expense reports of all elected staff and senior administrators) should be automatically posted on-line. In general, the city (and the province, and the federal level) do not publish enough or the right information and don't track the right metrics. With modern information systems a lot of this information should just be automatically available on the web.

"Powerful foreign corporate interests (i.e.oil companies) are trying to sabotage our green policies".

Actually that one's not a lie, it's sadly true (see Government of Canada).

It's an attempt to divert attention from the powerful foreign corporate interests that control Vision.

....'one can recognize that the basic policy direction under Vision is sound and a major improvement over the disaster called the Sam Sullivan ....'


Can someone please explain this to me.

@Steven: "the basic policy direction under Vision is improvement". I beg your pardon? Remember what I said about that navel?

And that's under a Harper minority. Vision could do the same tomorrow. I beleive Coun. Reimer is big on open data projects. Might give them something to counter the Ministry of Truth problem.

"I would like to see more transparency from all levels of government and think many reports (expense reports of all elected staff and senior administrators) should be automatically posted on-line."

Steven, all reports from every department must be vetted first by Penny Ballem the city manager before they are released to the public.

These reports, sometimes in the hundreds of pages, are systematically and routinely held up on her desk until the very moment they are deliberated or needing to be referred to in Council when it is too late for the public to review.

A perfect example of that is the day the mayor called a group of citizens @#$%ing NPA hacks in council which lead to the creation of the infamous T-shirt citycaucus sells on this site.

What the people who spoke to council that day were incensed about, was the fact that this 288 page report was released to the public weeks after it was ready and promised, a mere half hour before the topic of the report was discussed in council. Suzanne Anton and Ellen Woodsworth got the report the same time the public did.

Yet the Vision councillors seem to speak confidently about report contents then proceed with voting as a block.

So no, the basic policy direction under Vision is not sound. It is the fundamental problem which gives us the above and the notion that the ends justify the means.

You can see what happened that day yourself, it's appalling:

Par for the course...

Vancouver planning to impose restrictions on citizens’ appeals of planning-department rulings


Transparent and accountable?

One practical solution for all the above.
VISION COUNCIL & MAYOR, BALLEM,JOHNSTON AND the rest of their GANG newly hired at the CITY HALL...FIRED.

Check out!

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