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.