Frances Bula header image 2

City manager Penny Ballem is gone; internal staff memo here

September 15th, 2015 · 46 Comments

This went out to staff in the same few minutes as the news release.

Staff team,

Today City Council has voted to initiate an important senior leadership transition for the City of Vancouver, and I want you to have the full details right away.

Dr. Penny Ballem will be concluding her service as Vancouver City Manager after nearly seven years of exceptional service, and a comprehensive global search process will soon be underway to select a new leader to fulfill that role.

Dr. Ballem has driven transformative change across the organization in her time at City Hall, and she has demonstrated outstanding commitment to the City of Vancouver and all of its residents. She was instrumental in the remarkable turnaround of the finances of the Olympic Village and a successful winter Olympics, delivered innovative policy leadership on a wide array of City priorities, and successfully managed a billion-dollar organization that routinely ranks as one of the best places to work in Canada.

As we look toward making continued progress on Vancouver’s most significant priorities though, Council has decided that our city’s toughest challenges will benefit from a new approach and a fresh perspective.

An international search process will soon commence to select a new City Manager. In the interim, Sadhu Johnston will serve as Acting City Manager. In his six years as Deputy City Manager, Sadhu has been instrumental to Vancouver’s Greenest City progress and our innovative economy, building on his wealth of prior senior administrative experience in Chicago, where he also served as Chief Environmental Officer.

We have an incredibly experienced and dynamic staff team at the City of Vancouver. I cannot thank you enough for the remarkable ways that this team serves our city every day, and I am very confident about how we can expand Vancouver’s success as one of the greenest, most innovative, and most inclusive cities in the world.

On behalf of my colleagues on City Council and everyone at City Hall, I want to thank Dr. Ballem for her extraordinary service to Vancouver and the lasting contributions she has made to the future of this city.

Thank you and see you soon,

Gregor Robertson
Mayor, City of Vancouver


Categories: Uncategorized

  • Wow.

  • IanS

    $554,000 in severance? I’m jealous!

  • peakie

    Ah, so Mike Magee (Chief of Staff, Robertson’s brains, etc.) will get an almost human appearing City Manager and a new City Planner at the same time. Both will be completely compliant with land speculators’ requirements and demands. Is that it?

  • Bill_McCreery

    Hmmm, Jackson gone, now Ballem. Who’s next? Is this retooling, or just one individual can only last so long when trying to run a tight ship. These things tend to unravel, ask Harper.

  • Look Deeper

    This severance for someone effectively fired for cause is sicking. It is any wonder that we are losing trust in the public sector.

    I am sure that a smarter mind than mine can tell us how much she will receive from her City pension in addition to this one-time windfall.

    An insult to every working person that lives in Vancouver.

  • jenables

    I’m no fan of hers but I find myself terrified of what lobbyist will replace her. I would like to know the real reasons why this happened. Or was this a little early birthday present from the mayor to himself?

  • The Goat

    7 years is an eternity is the City Manager / Chief Administrative Officer role.

    I agree her severance only underscores the reason why many of us so loathe the sense of entitlement in the public sector particularly at the municipal level.

  • Are we pretending similar severance packages don’t exist for executives in the private sector too?

    If you think such practices should be dialed back, I totally agree Comrade. But don’t pretend this is pronounced in the “municipal” sector. Because the private sector executives will nod and clap (and laugh behind you back).

  • Keith

    Good thing she didn’t have a private sector sense of entitlement

  • Brilliant

    Are we pretending that isn’t almost 9 years salary for the average working Vancouverite?

  • boohoo

    That’s not really the point. The point is people freak out about the number, but it’s very similar to other places.

    It’s this weird notion that public servants shouldn’t get paid, they should just do it out of some noble obligation or something. Weird.

  • A Taxpayer

    The difference is that if I don’t like the practices of a company I have invested in, all I have to do is sell my shares. If I don’t like the practices of the city I live in, I have to sell my house and move. Big difference.

  • jenables

    I may be misunderstanding the point of view opposite to yours, which is not that people should volunteer to do a full time, demanding and stressful job for free, but that her pay is excessive for the public purse. There’s a whole range between overpaid and free, you see.

  • boohoo

    For the job she was doing, what would a comparable private employee be worth? Should a position, paid for by the public be discounted just because it’s a publicly paid position?

    I never said she should have done it for free, but is she overpaid? I don’t know, show me some numbers.

  • A Taxpayer

    Working in the private sector is like investing in equities while working in the public sector is like investing in GIC’s. They are both investments but no one should expect to get the same return.

  • Internet made me obsolete

    Somebody had to pay the price for the ridiculously expensive transit plebiscite fiasco. The voters will have an opportunity to judge the utter failure of the members of the Mayors’ Council, but in the meantime it runs downhill.

  • leechap

    I call BS on this narrative that she was canned because she was responsible for the lack of transparency at City Hall, Lack of transparency has been an ongoing strategy of Vision Vancouver since they took office. If anything she was probably too transparent for Council. Calling on her for assistance broke a stonewall by City staff on more than one occasion.

  • Roger_Kemble

    Hush money . . .

  • Keith

    Could have been worse. I looked at salaries of city managers of major Canadian cities, which were all north of 300k, and stumbled on this one:

  • Tiktaalik

    If the pay is not competitive then the person will go to a private sector job. The result of low public salaries is that the most talented people refrain from working in the public sector and our public service quality suffers as a result.

    If we want high quality services, we need to pay for it.

  • peakie

    As Frances Bula says in her Globe and Mail story, the severance was in the contract to be paid whether cause or not.

    “Dr. Ballem, who is 65, will be paid $556,000 in severance, since her contract entitled her to 20 months’ pay whether she was let go with or without cause.”

    Vancouver’s city manager leaving with half-million-dollar severance
    by Frances Bula
    VANCOUVER — Special to The Globe and Mail
    Published Tuesday, Sep. 15, 2015 5:13PM EDT
    Last updated Tuesday, Sep. 15, 2015 10:19PM EDT

  • jenables

    You know, I’m not certain that is always the case. Especially not after reading that article Keith linked.

  • jenables

    She was hired at a higher rate than the person who had 25 years of experience doing that job. Do you think it was because she was deputy minister of health during some of the most egregious liberal attacks on our healthcare system? I’m seriously wondering. That set a precedent.

  • jenables

    So no one’s stopping her from pursuing one of those positions. It’s completely unreasonable to expect people with an average income of $40-60k/year to support paying millionaires salaries with their tax dollars that often don’t cover services. Something tells me there’s still lots of competent people applying who manage to scrape by on several hundred thousand per year.

  • boohoo

    It’s unreasonable to pay more for more skilled positions, or positions with more responsibility?

    But you’re right, we shouldn’t seek the best in our leadership, we should just seek competent. I don’t see anyway that would cost us more in the end. Nope, nothing wrong with that philosophy!

  • boohoo

    I have no idea, nor do I have any idea what you’re implying with the liberal tangent?

  • Glissando Remmy

    Thought of The Day

    “When it comes down to describing Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver’s tactics, the expression “Adding insult to injury.” have completely lost its meaning. We need something stronger here. Like… Vodka.”

    I wanted Money Penny gone from the moment she stepped foot inside City Hall. And I wasn’t the only one.
    Unfortunately, the electorate gave this Vision Merry Band three mandates during which time they did not only obliterate and cleanse professionalism and senior staff but they also destroyed the morale and hope in the ones left behind.

    I wanted Money Penny gone but not like this.
    She was a political appointee. A Vision Vancouver affair. She replaced Judy Rogers who was let go with a similar severance package. One difference though, she served 10 years as City Manager but she spent 25 years as public servant at City Hall.
    Big difference.

    I have one question for the acting mayor.
    As per your parting words, if Penny Ballem did such an excellent job in which she exceeded your expectations, why fire her? She’s 65, she would have retired sooner than later anyway. At cost… to the taxpayers of this City.
    So, it’s either you’re a moron or a liar. What is it?

    Maybe one day we’ll find out what happened.
    But for that we need to hear from an inside source.

    A City Hall Insider.

    Because you know what they say “You need a thief to catch a thief.”
    Well? I know you’re reading this Insider Man or Woman.

    What are you waiting for?

    I always wanted Money Penny gone. And now, I kinda’ miss her…

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • peakie

    En francais (and Mme Penny Ballem speaks a good French too)

    “La journaliste spécialiste des affaires municipales au Globe and Mail et chroniqueuse à Phare ouest, Frances Bula nous donne plus de détails sur le départ de la directrice générale de la ville de Vancouver, Penny Ballem.”

    7 h 20
    Le départ de la directrice générale de Vancouver Penny Ballem
    Durée : 07:01

  • jenables

    I’m referencing her previous work experience, something one would think might influence her salary.

  • Mike

    The easy way to spot a mindless partisan is that when they get what they want, they find a way to complain twice as loudly.

  • jenables

    Yes, because extravagantly paid people are always more competent. Could cost us more than paying all the severance/paid out/NDA/forced retirements under her watch? And then the subsequent rehirings? Dream on.

  • Chris Keam

    Civic governments (and their practices) change regularly. You must move back and forth a lot.

  • A Taxpayer

    Do you have to work hard to be so obtuse or does it just come naturally to you? I was pointing out why one might express concern about the compensation of the city manager and not have the same concern about the compensation of a CEO of a public company.

  • Brilliant

    Studies have shown public sector benefits are far more lucrative now than private sector. Why is a 65 year old getting such a large severance? Its not like she needs something to tide her over until her next career! These civil servants should just be on two year contracts that expire without severance if not renewed.

  • Brilliant

    Exactly. Public sector employees are assured of generous pension and benefit plans, some put more value on that.

  • boohoo

    Typically, you get what you pay for. That’s a pretty basic concept.

  • Keith
  • Chris Keam

    Lighten Up Francis. It’s a dumb example.

  • boohoo

    I guess it’s good she wasn’t getting anything near what private ceo’s get then. Maybe our next city manager can just be paid in daily food truck tacos and thank you notes. Think of the good value we’d get.

  • Roger_Kemble

    External observer memo . . .

    . . . here!

  • peakie

    Link to
    And where do towers fit in with Penny Ballem fracas?
    Or am I not seeing the tree from the forest, (vice-versa)?

  • Keith

    I don’t have much of an issue with the pay of the city manager. The city of vancouver is a billion plus dollar per year organization, with everything from social services to for profit golf courses in its mandate. The city employs over 10,000 people. Any “comparable” private sector company would pay considerably more for the same level of responsibility.

    The reason people are squawking is because the city manager job like so many public service jobs (translink executives, bc ferries executives, deputy ministers) has enjoyed pay rises that are out of step with what citizens are receiving. There is no shortage of qualified people for these jobs, the baby boom generation is massive, qualified and experienced. These vast differences in employment are increasing the divide in society.

  • Roger_Kemble

    and I am very confident about how we can expand Vancouver’s success as one of the greenest, most innovative, and most inclusive cities in the world.“. Well, I am not as confident as his worship Peakie.

    Here . . . . . . and in the towers is wild hysteria, nothing relating to any sound development: if, and its a big if, any of this stuff, the towers that is, gets built it will make the city the laughing butt of the sentient, mature world! QED

  • Roger_Kemble

    peakie, or for that matter any grown-up who wishes to read a treatize on city building check this out . . .

    . . . it’s on sale now for about four bucks. It describes a more mature approach to city building than all this adolescent twisting and tummy tucking. Give it a shot: be an adult for a change . . .

  • Roger_Kemble