Vancouver council bypasses City Clerk as Chief Election Officer
CityCaucus.com has learned that for the first time in living memory, Vancouver's City Clerk will not perform the duties of the Chief Election Officer. According to the Vancouver Charter (the legislation which governs the City of Vancouver), the City Clerk was supposed to assume that position:
Appointment of election officials
14. (1) For the purposes of conducting an election, the City Clerk is to be the chief election officer unless the Council appoints another person to be the chief election officer.
Marg Coulson became City Clerk after long-serving Syd Baxter retired from that post a number of years ago. Without a doubt, Coulson has the most experience of anyone on city staff when it comes to managing civic elections. Which begs the question...why is the City Clerk not going to oversee the upcoming civic election?
On April 21st Vancouver Council went behind closed doors and appointed Janice Mackenzie as the Acting Chief Election Officer. City Manager Penny Ballem positioned this as a "temporary measure" which would be in effect during the brief leave of absence Coulson took from her post earlier this year.
Coulson returned to work full-time as City Clerk a while ago, but Council has since decided not to reinstate her as the Chief Election Officer. This was done so at the advice of the City Manager. It's a move that has begun to raise quite a few eyebrows over at 12th and Cambie.
As part of a bigger election readiness story I'm working on, I placed a call into the City's communications department. It was then I was able to confirm that Coulson won't be in charge of the election.
Communications staffer Wendy Stewart cited the Vancouver Charter to advise me that Council has the power to appoint anyone they see fit to the post of Chief Election Officer.
I then asked Stewart if she thought it was out of the norm for Council to appoint someone else other than the City Clerk to this top post. She dismissed my concerns and said the citizens will be well served with the election team Ballem has assembled over the last few weeks. She did point out that Coulson will be acting in a "supportive role" to assist Mackenzie in her duties.
All of this is just a tad bizarre.
When it comes to how the Province chooses the Chief Electoral Officer, it is normally done through committee and the decision is unanimous. They follow this procedure to ensure that all the elected officials and parties have confidence that the person running the election will do so in a non-partisan manner.
Although I'm not privy to any backroom in-camera discussions, I'm left wondering if the decision to permanently appoint Mackenzie was a unanimous vote of council? Did anyone from COPE or the NPA raise concerns or oppose Coulson's replacement?
If the decision was in fact not unanimous, this should be considered a very serious issue. Council isn't just appointing a new city engineer, they're deciding who is responsible to maintain a free and democratic election in Vancouver.
In recent days Vision Vancouver have been heavily criticized for the manner in which they have appointed their friends and insiders into the public service. Making headlines this week was news that Kurt Heinrich, a former Vision Vancouver staffer, was appointed to a $72K per year gig at the Vancouver School Board.
Here is a copy of the editorial from today's Province newspaper which captures what a lot of us are thinking:
It’s extremely disappointing to see Vision Vancouver politicians promoting the same disdain for democracy and an independent civil service that we tend to associate with totalitarianism.
The latest upset involves the hiring of Kurt Heinrich, a former Vision Vancouver party operative, by the Vancouver school board. Heinrich, who describes himself on his website as a “professional storyteller,” is getting $72,604 plus benefits as a public-relations person, a board job that should be non-partisan. He was hired through a process that included board chairwoman Patti Bacchus, a Vision politician.
That prompted longtime Non-Partisan Association trustee Ken Denike yesterday to call on the education minister to investigate whether Bacchus put herself in a conflict of interest. Further, Denike wonders how Heinrich can work with trustees of all political views when until recently he’s been slamming Vision’s opponents on social-networking sites.
Denike should not be alone in asking this question.
Vision, whose intrusive, multi-decade eco-plans for Vancouver suggest a disturbing level of megalomania, have made a habit of politicizing the civil service. We’re reminded of the no-competition hiring of city manager Penny Ballem and the recruitment of deputy manager Sadhu Johnston, who was previously the partisan deputy chief of staff to the mayor of Chicago. Politicizing the civil service — which means alternative views are not heard or considered — must stop.
In light of the recent criticism, I certainly hope that Mayor Gregor and his caucus haven't bungled yet another high profile appointment.
However, regarding this one it's easy for the Mayor to put this potential controversy to bed. All he has to do is confirm that the decision to appoint a new Chief Election Officer was in fact unanimous. Is he willing to doing that?
I'm going to continue researching this story over the coming weeks and will report back as soon as I hear more.
UPDATE @ July 21st 7:00 am: The City has now posted on its website that Mackenzie was chosen behind closed doors as the new Chief Election Officer. It's all official folks. But was the vote unanimous? And why was this just slipped into the minutes of this meeting? So many questions.