Is it appropriate for Penny Ballem to be judge and jury regarding Robertson's Riot?
It was another crazy week in civic politics last week as the Vision/COPE coalition went on the attack against a man some refer to as "Saint John". The person I'm referring to is John Furlong, the former CEO of the successful 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
It was Coun. Ellen Woodsworth who was first off the mark accusing Furlong of being in a conflict of interest when it comes to his role regarding the Robertson's Riot review. He was appointed by Premier Christy Clark to co-chair an independent review into the riot.
Woodsworth says that Furlong is in a conflict because of his appointment to the board of directors for the Rocky Mountaineer railway company.
Peter Armstrong is the Executive Chairman, Founder and a principal of the Armstrong Group, owner and operator of Rocky Mountaineer. He is also a supporter of the NPA and is currently helping to raise funds for them to fight the next civic election. Hence, Vision/COPE see Furlong's connection to Armstrong as a conflict of interest.
I find it a bit rich for Vision/COPE to be accusing Furlong of a conflict of interest when their own hand-picked city manager has been tasked with reviewing her own actions related to the riot.
It's a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. Vision/COPE don't see a problem with city manager Penny Ballem overseeing the City's internal review process, even though her own actions should face scrutiny from an independent source.
Over at the Vancouver Sun, civic reporter Jeff Lee also weighed in on this topic this week with a blistering post on his blog. I'm sure it has the Mayor's office staff pulling their hair out. He states:
While we're on the issue of accountability, I wonder why the city didn't appoint an independent person to conduct its own internal review. In addition to the provincial one, City Manager Penny Ballem is chairing an internal review of how the city's various departments organized and dealt with the fan zones created for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Police Chief Jim Chu is also doing one for his own department.
But is that such a kosher idea? After all, it was the city itself that promoted the idea of building bigger fan zones to accompany the one created by the CBC.
I mean no disrespect to Ballem or the mayor, but how will this review be unbiased? If management or the mayor's office made mistakes, will the city manager hired by the mayor be willing to be critical?
Traditionally this sticky wicket problem is solved by hiring a retired judge or independent counsel, such as is the case with the Furlong/Keefe review. Their mandate won't delve into the internal workings of the city's departments but take a much higher-level look.
So for all the carping about Furlong's potential conflict, aren't there also optics issues for the city's management and politicians?
I've been saying for weeks now that Ballem is in a conflict. That's because unlike the 1994 Stanley Cup riots, the Mayor's office and the City of Vancouver were hosting the 2011 event. As a result, the actions of both the City Manager, the Mayor and his staff should be under independent investigation as well. As it stands, they are not.
Despite repeated requests from NPA opposition leader Suzanne Anton to conduct an independent investigation, Robertson/Ballem have brushed off those demands. Rather, a few politicians are out on the attack trying to discredit Furlong instead.
When he's not busy spending almost $1M in tax dollars to study the future of fully functional viaducts, Coun. Geoff Meggs is firing zingers at Furlong. He tells the Vancouver Sun:
It is not about John, it is about the independence of the review. I think if a business associate of the mayor was appointed, or one of the mayor's firms was appointed to the review, people would quite rightly raise their eyebrows. I think John may not realize that optically it is about the perception as well as the reality, and I think there is a problem there.
Rather than attacking Furlong, perhaps it might be more productive if Vision/COPE spent a bit more time making sure they cleaned up their own back yard first.
If they want to have their complaints about Furlong taken seriously, they should immediately remove Ballem as head the head of their internal investigation. They should then appoint an independent investigator agreed upon by all members of council.
A second important step would be to assure the public that the actions of the Mayor's office will is also be under investigation.
It's rather doubtful the Meggs or Woodsworth would be willing to take on their Mayor and challenge his authority in that way. As a result, their whining about conflicts of interest should fall on deaf ears.