An exclusive report in today's 24 Hours Vancouver newspaper is just one of two alarming examples of the politicization of the City's traditional non-partisan public service. A second flagrant attempt to involved staff in political activity is recounted by lone opposition member, NPA councillor Suzanne Anton, in a Sunday evening blog post.
24 Hours' breaking story is titled "Anton to challenge mayor on potential conflict of interest," and it details a potential conflict of interest involving Mayor Gregor Robertson's chief donor and financial backer Joel Solomon apparently receiving special access to the highest levels of the City's civil service. In a series of heavily redacted emails obtained by 24 Hours and provided to CityCaucus.com we can read a number of exchanges between Deputy City Manager Sadhu Johnston and Solomon.
In what's left of the emails we can see that Johnston is doing some heavy lifting for one of Solomon's investments – Saltsping Coffee Company. In one exchange we read the following:
“Thanks to joel [sic], I have met with mickey [sic] several times to ID good sites in town,” Johnston wrote to Solomon and others in the heavily redacted e-mail released under freedom of information laws. “Not there yet, but it’s looking good.”
What we learn is that Johnston is helping Salt Spring Coffee president and CEO Mickey McLeod find a new location within the City of Vancouver. Salt Spring Coffee Co. is a Renewal Partners investment.
Later in the emails we see that Johnston forwards Solomon a recently created executive job search document for a Corporate Communications Director position only an hour after receiving it from Penny Ballem and before it was publicly available. Solomon responds:
"pls be sure i get something i can circulate when its time. thx"
Speaking with 24 Hours Solomon says he's known the Deputy City Manager since his days working for the City of Chicago. Johnston was married at Hollyhock on Cortes Island, where Solomon owns a home and his wife is the Executive Director of the spiritual retreat.
Councillor Suzanne Anton is sounding as though she's at her wit's end in a blog post featured on the NPA Vancouver website titled, "Staff politicization project nears completion at Vancouver City Hall." In it she describes how City Manager Penny Ballem at the direction of the Mayor's office failed to properly notify opposition members of council from last Friday morning's Olympic Village technical briefing.
She explains first how City manager Ballem sent out a message to mayor and council early Friday morning at 1:17am:
Dear Mayor and Council - I am attaching a memo to provide you an update on the transfer of assets and the lawsuits in regard to the Olympic Village. Due to the intense media interest in this and the complexity of the issues we will likely have to provide the media with a technical briefing. This memo will just provide you an update from our last briefing . Thanks and please let me know if you have any further questions. pb
This is just nine hours before the media news conference that she had prepared a large PowerPoint presentation, and coordinated with Coun. Geoff Meggs. Note Ballem says she will "likely have to provide media" with an update. It was also conveniently timed to make sure that Mayor Gregor Robertson could be away – Gregor was at a Metro Vancouver board meeting on Friday.
See document: Sadhu Johnston & Joel Solomon email exchanges
2. A media advisory was sent out at 8:10am Friday by the Director of Corporate Communications:
A TECHNICAL BRIEFING will be held for the media today to provide a City Progress Report on Negotiations with Millennium 10 am, Committee Room 1, 3rd Floor, City Hall, 453 West 12th Avenue
At 8am there is still a chance that members of council can change their schedules to attend a 10am briefing. But, as it happens, council was still not notified. Notice to councillors went out at 11:47am – nearly 2 hours after the scheduled briefing!
So, not only did Penny leave NPA and COPE councillors out of the loop, staff didn't even let them know until AFTER the briefing that it had taken place. The NPA councillor's frustration comes through in the following passage:
All very clever. Arrange a media conference on a controversial issue. Wait until the event is over to notify members of council who may have differing views. Allow staff to be part of a media event which contains blatant political messaging.
Most staff are disgusted by this kind of behaviour. They have been so proud over the years to be part of an independent public service, a public service which is separate from politics. Mayor Robertson is destroying that independence and that pride.
For those who shrug these antics off, just imagine this happening at any other level of government. What if one of Gordon Campbell's top donor had been given special treatment by a government Deputy Minister, or similarly in the federal government?
Anton indicates that this effort to politicize non-partisan staff by the Mayor's office could contravene the code of conduct set out by the City, and she plans to raise these matters in the council chambers. For Vancouver taxpayers, the prospect of "cleaning house" each time a new party forms government at City Hall will come with a hefty price.
We'll continue to follow this story as it unfolds here at CityCaucus.com and on Twitter.
- post by Mike. Follow @MikeKlassen and @24HoursVan on Twitter.