Is it only a matter of time before the current city manager goes bye-bye?
It’s the question a number of Vancouver city staff are quietly muttering under their breath: is the end of Penny Ballem's term as city manager at hand? Some recent events signal that some big changes at City Hall may be afoot.
It has been common practice at City Hall under Vision Vancouver for the Mayor’s chief of staff and city manager to work very closely on every policy report coming before council. Not a single major policy initiative is signed off by the city manager without first getting the green light from Robertson’s political staff.
That’s simply what the new world of a highly politicized public service looks like these days.
As one city staffer told me yesterday, “there isn’t a report that gets posted on the website that hasn’t been micromanaged by Ballem. For God’s sake, she even signs off on the invoices ordering stationary for my department.”
That brings us to the recent controversies regarding Mayor Gregor’s “protest bylaw” which went over with Vision's membership like a lead balloon. The bylaw – which took staff six months to prepare – was dropped into the council agenda at the last minute. It drew howls of protest from traditional Vision Vancouver supporters who couldn’t believe what they were reading.
As written the protest bylaw would severely restrict the right to protest in Vancouver. It proposed a new $200 tax in addition to a $1000 deposit for anyone wanting to erect a small “structure” as part of their public demonstration.
In addition, Ballem dropped a bombshell during the council debate when she revealed the City had entered into a confidentiality agreement with the Chinese consulate and consulted with them regarding the scope of the by-law. Needless to say, the NPA and COPE opposition councillors went ballistic (although councillor David Cadman blamed staff and gave his Vision coalition colleagues a get out of jail free card) when they heard the news.
Not only did Vision Vancouver provide the NPA’s Suzanne Anton an excellent issue to dine out on for a few days, they were also inundated with complaints from their members and the public. As a result, late Sunday night we got wind the Mayor and his Vision team were folding like a deck of cards.
Vision are now in the embarrassing position of trying to distance themselves from their very own legislation, saying it has gone too far and it needs to be re-worked. No kidding! By doing so, they’ve made the politically expedient decision to throw their hand-picked city manager to the wolves.
This is really not all that surprising given the fact Robertson sanctioned his COPE coalition colleague David Cadman’s appearance on CKNW last week, whereby he proceeded to dump all over staff (a.k.a. Ballem) for their mishandling of this bylaw. It was a very cowardly act from a civic politician who knows city staff are not in a position to defend themselves.
The fact Mayor Gregor allowed Ballem to hang out to dry is to me a clear indication the power base at city hall has now begun to shift eastward – ever so slightly toward Chicago. Combine this with the fact Deputy City Manager Sadhu Johnson was front and centre at a recent Vision food cart announcement (Ballem normally attends these) it would appear time is a ticking for Vancouver’s top bureaucrat.
It’s only a matter of time before the Mayor’s political machinery makes the final call that Ballem has become more of a hindrance than an asset regarding their 500-year plan for systemic social change. As far as I know, Ballem has no links to the Hollyhock crowd.
Canada’s most secretive city government has been in a state of disarray the last month or so. They’ve mishandled several key files including the Pandora Street inquest, Chinatown towers proposal and the mega casino. Now they’re in a real pickle having introduced the Falun Gong protest legislation at 5 minutes to midnight. If they don’t ram this through by the court imposed deadline of April 19th, Vancouver will be in a legislative vacuum when it comes to regulating protest structures.
Mayor Gregor can thank the Sedin twins and the federal opposition parties for helping to keep the electorate busy with the Stanley Cup playoffs and a federal election. Otherwise, it’s quite likely the Mayor’s recent policy gaffes would actually be generating some significant headlines and public reaction.
- Post by Daniel. Follow @CityCaucus on Twitter.