Silence of the City Hall disgruntled: will Robbins' voice be heard?

Post by Mike Klassen in

3 comments

24hrs vancouver
Today's 24 Hours editorial is on last week's CityCaucus.com breaking news

How much will Vancouver taxpayers shell out to silence an outgoing city employee?

That’s what city hall observers are wondering after the recent news broken by CityCaucus.com. Carlene Robbins was Vancouver’s Deputy Chief License Inspector until last week when it was revealed she was leaving her post.

Robbins, who began her 38-year career with the city as a clerk at age seventeen, was a well-respected senior manager responsible for enforcing property use by-laws. She was directly involved in the matter of the Pandora Street property in east Vancouver, where a blaze killed three transient men sleeping on a back deck just before Christmas.

Documents show that Robbins signed off just weeks before the fire on an order for the property owner to make extensive repairs or cease occupancy. What is not clear is whether Robbins was the city’s fall gal for the fatal fire, or if she was pushed out for another reason.

What we revealed right away was that Robbins’ departure from the city was acrimonious, and that she was proceeding with legal action against her former employer. Sources told us that Robbins was given an ultimatum by the city – resign or be fired.

The city desperately wants the memory of the Pandora Street fatal fire to disappear. Remember that Gregor Robertson declared that a homeless man who died in a fire, Darrell Mickasko, motivated him to quit his MLA job and run for mayor.

But Robertson went on Christmas vacation the evening after the Pandora Street incident, and has refused all media requests to discuss it since. Two days after Robbins’ departure made headlines, Gregor claimed to reporters that he knew nothing about the matter.

We may never know the mysterious reasons why the highly regarded Robbins left. That’s because the City of Vancouver now makes frequent use of gag clauses as a way to pay off managers who get pushed out. The best-known cases where this happened were with former city manager Judy Rogers, and Arkady Tsisserev.

Rogers got over $500,000 in severance with a condition not to speak publicly about city business. Tsisserev, the city’s heralded chief electrical inspector, was fired a year ago almost to the day that Robbins left. He also was required to sign a confidentiality agreement that has shut him up.

But this time it’s far more serious, and paying a longtime staffer to hush her mouth doesn’t cut it. Three men have died needlessly in circumstances that city by-laws are meant to prevent. While the Vision/COPE council rejected a call to conduct an independent review, an inquiry by the city coroner is underway.

Only when we know why the Pandora Street tragedy happened can we take measures to prevent another similar occurrence. Therefore Carlene Robbins must be able to speak freely to the coroner about the circumstances that led up to the December 22nd fire.

Finally, Mayor Gregor must break his silence, and openly reject the use of another costly gag clause to silence an employee.

- post by Mike. You can read Mike's opinion column each Thursday in 24 Hours newspaper.

3 Comments

Hear Hear Mike. Great editorial. I believe in fair severance packages for public employees, but continually buying their silence is disgusting.

If senior employees leave they should be treated with enough respect that there is no need to pay them to stay in line.

Lets remember Robbins has been a city staffer for 38 years. I'll list the names Mayor's she's worked for: Art Phillips, John Volrich, Mike Harcourt, Gordon Campbell, Philip Owen, Larry Campbell, Sam Sullivan and finally Gregor Robertson.

That's 8 mayors. With 8 very different game plans. But only the last one managed to break the camel's back.

Why is Vision cleaning out senior staff and installing those friendly to their cause? Why couldn't well trained staff carry out their business? What has Vision got to hide that senior staff can't handle?

If she jumped, and wasn't pushed (constructive dismissal aside) would she be entiteld to a payout?

Wouldn't a payout infer that they were trying to push her out?

Great Article Mike,

on a personal level, the first commenter on the piece you linked to with your January article.....

was drum roll please...

Really? Another post about this?

We get it, the mayor is mia. What could he possibly say now that would make a difference/make anyne feel better?
boohoo | January 10, 2011 5:31 PM | Reply


boo your compassion is overwhelming....

and if you check... my comment was... I'm sorry...
referring to what Gregor coulda woulda shoula said...Shame, Shame , Shame...

One can only question how things might have been different if people with experience, such as ARK and Carlene would have been allowed to do their job,without interference, with the integrity, and knowledge they both possess...

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