Frances Bula header image 2

Vancouver ponders pay, hiring freezes to keep budget in line + Thoughts on manners

February 4th, 2009 · 15 Comments

It looked like it was going to ho-hum day at city council, with councillors Suzanne Anton and Raymond Louie continuing their energetic pillow fighting over the the budget, the Olympic village, the kinds of candies given out for free in the mayor’s office, and so on. But, instead, at the end of the budget presentation, Raymond introduced an emergency motion to give new manager Penny Ballem more powers to do cost-cutting to keep up with revenue losses, as I posted to the Globe earlier this afternoon. More on this in tomorrow’s paper.

Interesting the sudden jump to this drastic new approach to the budget. Apparently it all came about pretty quick. The ink on the news release was still wet — okay, that’s not really true, since they were using a laser printer but you get the point — when it was handed out to council as Raymond stood up to make the motion.

I ended up hanging around until the end of the meeting (all the way through bylaws, new business, new motions, etc), which allowed me to get bummed out all over again about how unpleasant council can be at times. As one new councillor remarked to me recently, there’s a whole lot of a lot of dysfunctional “pattern behaviour” going on.

Mr. Mayor seems to be trying to exert a bit more control over the fractious proceedings, especially over Suzanne Anton. In the first couple of meetings, Gregor Robertson sat there kind of stunned-looking as she attacked him and his council, as though he couldn’t really believe it was happening. He hardly said anything — I couldn’t tell if it was because it went against the grain to hit back or he was too taken aback to think of anything to say.

In this meeting (as Suzanne went on the attack over Firehall 15, of all things), he cut her off after she’d had her say a couple of times. She kept talking over him, saying it was outrageous that he was stifling debate or something like that.  He said there’s a rule that allows him to end debate once everyone’s had their say. She said there’s no such rule. He said there is, etc etc. Eventually, he prevailed.

You can watch the crazy scene yourself on the city hall website if you want to see it live.

I have to say, it would be great if this mayor and all future mayors would enforce that rule, for people from all parties. You can’t imagine how much time gets wasted as each and every councillor feels the great need to stand up and explain their his/her position and then stand up again five more times to rebut every other point that the opposing councillor makes.

And on that note, here’s three things I’d love to see change at city hall.

1. I think it’s beyond inappropriate for councillors to make negative comments about staff people and their performance at public council meetings. Both David Cadman and Kerry Jang berated the city’s facilities manager for, they claimed, having allowed staff to deliberately let Firehall 15 fall into disrepair. They didn’t sound as though they had any definitive proof, from what I heard, just comments that had been passed on to them by residents lobbying to save the hall as a heritage site. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not; it was hard to tell from what was said. But I don’t think responsible employees harangue their staff in public, especially when staff, for obvious reasons, are in no position to challenge them. The mayor or city manager should step in and ask for a report back on staff efforts re the firehall or whatever so that a. there’s some facts at hand and b. it’s not turned into a public whipping with claims that “you ignored what the city asked you to do.”

2. It would be great if only two designated hitters at a time beat up on Suzanne Anton. I remember how distasteful it was when Jenny Kwan was the lone COPE representative on an NPA council and, every time she tried to make a point, the 10 other councillors would each solemnly stand up and give wonderful speeches about how wrong she was. It’s just as distasteful this time around. There should be a system so that only one Vision and one COPE councillor gets to stand up, per issue, and declaim about what a misguided, misinformed, dangerous bubblehead their opponent is. We really don’t need to hear it multiple times, phrased in slightly different ways. (To be fair, several councillors seem to be staying out of the fray on this, notably Andrea Reimer, Heather Deal, Ellen Woodsworth, and George Chow).

3. To repeat what I said above, we would all cheer if council could move to a system where councillors made their points once, but weren’t allowed to come back three and four times to say essentially the same thing. We get it, you know. As a wise editor of mine used to say, “You don’t have to hit people over the head with the point you’re trying to make in the story. Telling them once is usually good.”

On a (somewhat) positive note, it’s nice to see Geoff Meggs seconding Suzanne’s motions, even though he goes on to criticize them. But his seconds help her to get them on the floor for discussion.

Categories: City Hall Talk

  • I too watched some of the proceedings today Frances, and while I did not have the patience or fortitude to make it all the way through, I also noticed a couple of things.

    I am convinced that Suzanne Anton’s incessant ability to attack with reckless abandon dictates the kinds of responses that she gets back. Yes, some might say that all is fair in politics, some might claim that this is her job as opposition, and yet other will claim that two wrongs don’t make a right…all fair points. However, Suzanne’s behaviour since being sworn in has been particularly aggressive, partisan, and even outrageous…thus my sympathy for her “plight” is limited.

    As for Kerry Jang calling out staff publicly, I did not see it that way. Staff reports have become the standard way of getting things buried and away from public scrutiny. Councillors have every right to question the performance of staff in full public view, particularly on an issue like Firehall 15 which has been topical for more than a couple of months.

    I also don’t think that Gregor was to shocked to respond to Anton’s barrage. Rather, he provides her with the opportunity to spew her rants in the name of fairness in terms of equal allotments of time. I think we should applaud this kind of approach, because with the way she has decided to approach her duites at City Hall, the Mayor’s patience is unlikely to continue for the entire term.

    Lastly, Geoff Meggs is about the issue and debate first, and the politics second. And for those of you who will dismiss this comment as being delivered by a Vision shill, I challenge that person to match the depth of knowledge that Geoff has about the City and it’s processes…there are very few who can. Meggs’ comments are only as partisan as they are revealing on some of the things that were hidden from the public by the past civic administration.

    There you go…I anxiously await a Tsukamis long-winded reply, fully of hyperbole and self importance.

  • Sungsu

    I think you’d agree that we’d all take points 2 and 3 in trade for Clr Anton’s motions being seconded.

  • JPW

    What a gong show! I agree whole heartedly with Frances B. The City Manager most certainly should have stepped in to handle things when the Staff were under attack in Council today. Here’s the point I believe you may be missing (I promise to make the point only once!) News flash – the present regime is not interested in supporting senior staff. There is the distinct sound of a drum beat pervading City Hall which Staff are meant to be marching to. If you step out of line with their mantra as explained in Vision’s Strategy book, prepare to get your butt kicked. This is the “New Left” and they want to appear “tough” and “no nonsense”. However, I think they are coming across more like “arrogant” and “miss guided”. Good luck hosting the Olympics with this friendly bunch.

  • gasp

    I agree that it’s about time someone took a good hard look at all the City’s expenditures with an eye to reducing any further outrageous tax increases.

    They should start by looking at all the money spent on the infrastructure to support all the high density development over the past few years. How “affordable” is housing that requires massive amounts of public spending on infrastructure? Especially when it’s obvious that the tax revenues from all this new “housing” don’t cover the public costs to build it? It’s easy to pass a rezoning when you don’t consider the costs (it’s someone else’s money) and you don’t require staff to provide a cost/benefit analysis to ensure that all development proposals are cost effective.

    As for the City Hall staff being questioned I say it’s about bloody time. City staff have learned the art of misrepresenting the facts (eg., see Olympic Village) to get something passed by City Council and having NO ONE call them on their BS. The public is tired of paying the salaries of people who cost them nothing but money yet treat them with so little respect as to mislead them. THE PUBLIC IS NOT HERE FOR YOU TO USE!

    Less “public” service and more taxes. Judging from the expressions of my neighbours over the past few hours, it’s obvious that the public is very unhappy about the expected tax increase and I’m sure that this City Council will hear all about it in the next few days.

  • LP

    “Lastly, Geoff Meggs is about the issue and debate first, and the politics second. And for those of you who will dismiss this comment as being delivered by a Vision shill, I challenge that person to match the depth of knowledge that Geoff has about the City and it’s processes..”

    Vision shill is correct.

    Meggs is only seconding her motions for 2 reasons:

    a) it gives her the opportunity to continue her ranting and over the top behavior, thus granting more credibility to the VV agenda (as proof even I’m tired of hearing what she has to say)

    b) it gives the VV/COPE councilors more opportunity to berate and condemn her view points in public.

    For anyone to suggest Meggs is seconding her motions due to his respect for process and that he doesn’t have other motives is ridiculous. Meggs is all about politics from the moment he wakes up in the morning to the time he goes to bed. He’s nothing more than a pit bull on the loose and the sooner he’s neutered the better for everyone.

    In less then two short months, this council and mayor has shown that it has no intention to listen to the recommendations of senior staff on numerous fronts. This city may not be perfect but it is a damn fine city.

    For them to treat the staff at city hall as they are shows exactly the kind of people they are. Keep it up and the winds of change will flow again in three years.

    And kudos to Andrea Reimer as she’s quickly proving herself to be the level-headed star of city hall. Thanks Andrea!

  • mm

    Meggs ‘knowledge’ is completely selective. It’s atrocious that he continues to act like everything to do with the Olympic village happened only on the NPA watch. This guy was front and center for Larry Campbell (the grand defender of the project) when most of this was etched in stone (ie. the final responsibility laying with the city), yet the media won’t call him out for his own responsibility or to correct his history of events. “Doth think he protests too much”.

  • Don’t blame me, I voted for me. Not this government in admin or council.

    They ought to cut their pay in half (politicians) cut all pay increases to a link to inflation. Stop the Olympics on the basis it costs way more than claimed.
    Maybe forensic accountants and fraud charges against the IOC and VANOC.
    All non-essential services need eliminating like “cultural” funding.

    All I’d be fighting for if I won essentially.

    hah! Congrats to all who didn’t vote for them or the status quo as hard the choices were in limitation in the at large system.

    Gölök Zoltán Leenderdt Franco-Assisi Buday
    Vanity is the quicksand of reason. — George Sand
    “As you have the power, sir, to do some service to letters, I implore you not to clip the wings of our writers so closely, nor turn into barndoor fowls those who, allowed a start, might become eagles; reasonable liberty permits the mind to soar–slavery makes it creep.” — Voltaire [A Letter To A First Commissioner]

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    “I challenge (anyone) to match the depth of knowledge that Geoff (Meggs) has about the City and it’s processes…there are very few who can”.

    So states the lovable Termite…

    Well, this is a TRUE statement. Geoff is genuinely brilliant. It’s why I endorsed him, among others, and I appreciate, in that fine pugilistic vein, his ability to punch and certainly counterpunch out of a corner.

    However, it is for the first reason (his knowledge and depth) that I think people are so disappointed in his partisan sniping. Accommodating Suzanne is meaningless because she is just foaming at the mouth to try and keep her voice heard. Alone, and with a broken political compass, she is as feckless as directionless.

    If Geoff wants to distinguish himself, lovely. Then get off your duff Geoff-o and do something other than be the Minister of Propaganda.

    Deal, Reimer, Stevenson and Chow are the best councilors thus far, just as much for what they are doing, as much for what they are not doing (since Geoff is doing it for them–although hardly necessary).

    It does Vision Vancouver and the city a disservice.

    Raise councilors’ pay to 112.5K per year and the Mayor to 225K and watch how not one of current council, other than Robertson, Reimer and Deal, will ever be elected again.

    The low-brow level of this dog and pony show is so embarrassing, it’s no longer tolerable. A billion dollar budget should be handled by people who understand business and can execute the city’s responsibilities with some compassion.

    The OV fiasco, as emblematic of our greater problems, has shown almost the entire council, with the exceptions I have noted, as entirely ill-equipped to be the bums warming the chairs around the council table.

  • Taxpayer

    I realize I’m a voice in the wilderness here, but I DON’T find Vancouver’s taxes high, and DON’T have a problem with a necessary tax increase if that is what it takes to keep this city running. My opinion is that Vancouver’s taxes have been artificially low (and comparisons with other similar cities in Canada and the U.S. will illustrate this), and we are now being confronted with the reality of the true costs of maintaining our city and providing the services we expect (demand?)

    To “gasp” who suggests that tax revenue from high density development is supposed to cover the costs of infrastructure construction, you need to do a little research. Tax revenues are supposed to cover the costs of the services expected (demanded?) by the residents of the new units. The developer pays for local infrastructure improvements (sidewalks, roads, streetlights) in association with their development, and pays millions of dollars in Development Costs Charges that the City uses to build and re-build the infrastructure. The development industry does not get a free ride in having the City provide services for them and this, in part, increases the costs of housing for all of us.

  • JPW

    I am not entirely convinced we should be taking advice from someone (ie AGT) that would like nothing more than for Preston Manning to buy a condo in Vancouver and run for Mayor in the next race. Message to the Left… be weary of those that are on the far right wanting to give you advice and co-opt your agenda as they are unhappy with what the centre is doing! I recall an earlier article from Frances Bula that discussed the idea that maybe the problem lies with the electorate rather than the elected officials themselves. What is it that Vancouverites actually want City government to do? We seem to be in a serious identity crisis swinging from left to right and back to left again and are allowing the media folks like AGT to play on every insecurity we have about ourselves. I propose we don’t need pay increases, but rather we need a longer term of office and more actual councillors so that perhaps the complexeties of the electorate are better represented and the bodies themselves aren’t spread quite so thinly. I think we need to ask ourselves…Are we becoming a big City? Do we need to reconsider our role as the electorate and have a voice which is more amplified? Okay AGT, give me your worst…I will brace for impact.

  • LP

    JPW,

    Actually those on the left would be well-served to listen to those on the right.

    Why?

    Because by listening, you have the ability to refine your approach in how policies and actions are implemented.

    Note: I didn’t say change your ideology, I said “refine your approach”.

    Much of my complaints on this mayor and council are based on the petty politics they’re playing, when in fact they aren’t needed.

    They won, get on with the f*cking job already, and be the bigger people here. If you folks don’t want to listen to that, then you deserve to be kicked out on your collective asses in three 3 years.

    In FB’s most recent post, the only reason Libs and centerists are showing their faces at VV fundraisers, is because the far right infiltrating the NPA currently is unappealing to many of us.

    Keep us in your camp and you’ll be around a lot longer, piss us off and you’ll have some competition. The last mayor to win 2 in a row was Philip Owen, so don’t presume you folks have this locked up with 940 days to go.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    JPW…it’s really simple, you lost me (and your argument) when you suggest I would want anything to do with anyone as vile as Presto! Manning.

    Otherwise, the proposal I set out is different from Frances’ more theoretical explanation of why we get such councillors, yes, but mine makes far more sense as the practicality of getting an experienced, seasoned manager capable of handling a billion dollar budget, fro 50K per year only happens in university classrooms or fairy stories…

    There, that wasn’t bad now was it?

  • spartikus

    as the practicality of getting an experienced, seasoned manager capable of handling a billion dollar budget, fro 50K per year only happens in university classrooms or fairy stories…

    And if Wall Street is any guide, you can’t get them for tens of millions of dollars/yr either…

  • JPW

    LP – I think the key to a successful Mayor and Council is most definately “more listenning” and less “caucusing”. I would say I am a small “l” liberal and would like nothing more than for Vancouver to decriminalize pot and have more clothing optional beaches, but I that’s a whole other blog! I think you are right that the present Council will need to listen carefully to the needs of the centre. They haven’t demonstrated this very well thus far. They have been successful in their branding, positioning and political manouvering but lack a key ingredient which is “authenticity”.

    AGT – thank you for not scaring the other bloggers with your rebuttle. I would like to say…points well taken. 🙂

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    spartikus:

    With all due respect, you cannot compare someone who would run for city council in Vancouver with the long-let-loose bastards on Wall street, who have fed off people’s pensions forever and a day.

    Until we raise councillors pay to a much higher level you will get the fear of a Tim Louis, who loves a murderous thug, and Ellen who is taking up valuable breathing room in the stale chamber.

    I’d love to see, for example, a reasonable respectful debate between a Heather Holden and an Andrea Reimer. Or have a compassionate retired businessman come in and donate his entire salary to AIDS Vancouver and talk about how we might be able to set up more frequent patrols through the Davie Village.

    JPW – You’re welcome. It was tough… 🙂 🙂