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Debate over contract for Vancouver’s new financial officer

April 19th, 2009 · 28 Comments

The City Caucus blog posted the details of the contract for Vancouver’s new CFO, Patrice Impey, yesterday. CTV followed up by getting a response from Mayor Gregor Robertson here, which City Caucus then fulminated over in a second post here. I’m interested in your thoughts on this. Is this a reasonable price to pay for senior city managers?

Some might argue that it’s what the city has to do to compete in the private sector. In fact, it’s what was being argued during contract negotiations during the famous strike — the city’s negotiating team was pushing for the right to hire outsiders and give them seniority, benefits and pay equivalent to their years elsewhere in an effort to improve its ability to recruit. If I’m not mistaken, the union agreed to that for people coming from other government jobs, but not private-sector jobs.

On the other hand, everyone else at the city is dealing with hiring and travel freezes and I don’t know what else, while the taxpayers, as we are continually reminded, are looking at a significant tax increase.

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  • Not running for mayor

    I don’t think the salary range the city has for that position is out of line, it appears to be reasonable. The issue I feel most people have is the new CFO is being paid at the top of that range right off the bat. The city especially in these times should be more prudent with our money. They should have started off at the low end and increased the salary over time if deserved. That how it works for the rest of us.

  • rf

    The base pay is fine, its the benefits and pension that are an atrocity.
    20 years of pension (if that is the deal) is utterly insane. She works for 5 years and then gets 50% of her average forever? Indexed to inflation?
    A friend of mine was in town this weekend. He holds the exact same job, for a fortune 500 company in Houston, that Impey held at Business Objects (It’s not like Impey was CFO. There like a dozen VP’s in the finance division). He’s Vancouver born and raised, undergrad at UBC, looking for a comparable job here so he can move home. He was dumbfounded by this. Says he would have taken $175k (a paycut) and start from scratch with 4 weeks holiday. Frances, if you want a quote from him he’s game.
    The paid 10 weeks is a joke too. No one gets this in private sector. You wouldnt last if you took it and you certainly don’t get to bank it or take it in cash.
    Bellam should be crucified for this deal and Impey should have barrels with “pork” written on them dumped on her lawn.
    She should be ashamed.
    The pension benefits have Net Present Value of about 1.4 mil. Madness.

  • Vision governs, the NPA blogs

    You need to pay top dollar to recruit top talent from the private sector to deal with a mess of a budget.

    Investing in a high-level CFO is a good use of tax dollars in any situation. If people are concerned about taxes, they should look at other areas to cut costs. We could hire a whole army of Patrice Impey’s for the cost of 311.

    If someone wants to lend me their copy of “Fortune 500 companies and the minimum wage CFOs that run them,” I’d be happy to read it

  • Vision governs, the NPA blogs

    one other thing – the CTV piece has Klassen saying this year is a “record property tax increase”….not so. The record is held by Daniel Fontaine’s masterful 2007 budget, featuring a 7.98% increase to help get those groundbreaking EcoDensity and Civil City projects going.

    ahhh, it seems so long ago, doesn’t it?

  • glissando remmy

    Just in! 2009-04-19
    Reuters’s news report:”Bernie Maddoff the criminal mastermind behind the biggest Ponzzi scheme in recent US memory (embezzlement of more than 50 billion dollars) confessed to one undercover FBI agent: “Damn, I should have used the Penny scheme!”

    Meanwhile, in Vancouver…
    One that steals a bread from a bakery because he’s hungry = shoplifting.
    One that breaks into a home to steal a saleable kitsch because he’s hungry = burglary.
    One that attacks an old lady on the street for her $12 cash because he’s hungry = robbery.
    All the above are misdemeanours and felonies that carry fines and/ or imprisonment terms.

    One that generously gives away (translation from “cuts the loot accordingly”) hundred of thousands of other people’s money = fair compensation. What a racket!

    This one carries a pat on the back, a crooked wink and promise of a great severance package. It also carries a high level of arrogance, lack of remorse and a great sense of entitlement.

    Meet the new specimen: “Municipalitis Pigus Ignorata”.
    Hey Guys is that trough big enough for you?

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy!

    This one is only for selected VVisionaries:

    “Bob(Mr. Incredible): Someone was in trouble…
    Rick Dicker(Government Senior Bureaucrat): Someone’s always in trouble.
    Bob: I had to do *something*…
    Rick Dicker: Yeah. Every time you say that, Bob, it means a month-and-a-half of trouble for me, and thousands of dollars of taxpayer money. We have to pay to keep the company quiet, pay damages, erase memories and relocate your family. Every single time it gets harder. Money, money, money, money, money… We can’t keep doing this, Bob! We appreciate what you did in the old days, but those days are over. From now on, you’re on your own.”
    From THE INCREDIBLES (2004)

  • rf

    Penny Impey was not a CFO of a division, not the whole company.
    Someone had tunnel vision on this hiring and we all get to pay for it now.
    Why would we hire someone who demands 10 weeks holidays?

  • td

    One would think that the new CFO with all her years of excellent experience has built up a sufficient retirement fund already, that is there is no rational explanation for giving her additional financial benefits of 20 years employment. Such benefits should be earned, and she hasn’t.

    Why is it so hard to elect a Council that looks out for the interests of the public? They have hardly warmed up their seats and already common sense and rationality are out the door. This is heartbreaking.

    I don’t think I can any longer stand to hear the nonsense of “you have to pay top $$ to attract top talent”. We don’t need the world champion CFO, just a reasonable competent and ethical person.

    In my mind, this employment contract is unethical

  • foo

    When people talk about attracting “Fortune 500”-level execs to Vancouver, they should pause for a minute.

    Vancouver’s budget for 2009 is ~$900m. Make that US$700m. The company at 1000 in the Fortune 1000 list has revenues of US$1.7b.

    Just for good measure, the 40th largest Canadian company (RIM) has revenues of US$1.2b

    Vancouver isn’t playing in the Fortune list. Vancouver is playing in A league. We don’t need to be paying $1.5m to CFOs to get them to work for the city.

  • Wayne

    According to the mayor Ms. Impey has taken a pay cut to work for us. How altruistic can you get?

    Taking this a step further, we have a hot shot finance person with a lifetime of experience in the private sector who, according to the mayor, has just signed on to a high pressure job (that’s why you need 10 weeks off) for less money than she was earning.

    I’m sure Ms. Impey is no dummy which leads me to conclude that the mayor is trying to baffle us with BS.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    No one at this level should start off at ten paid weeks and the notion that Impey should start off at the top end is obscene.

    Frankly, I’m more astounded at the Mayor’s shameless response than anyone else’s bloviating.

    He promised to clean up and POLISH Silly Hall from when it was in Sam’s clutches. He promised that he would “change the way we do business in Vancouver, so that it’s fair and equitable”—that’s a direct quote!

    Gregor is showing himself to be not any better than any of the more disingenuous of his predecessors, and for me, this is sad. Vancouver’s deserves to have a good leader, and by and large, he’s delivered that. But Vision’s comfort in the role of dismissive Patrician is starting to wear on even some of their supporters.

    Our Mayor seemed almost arrogant in his response to the concerns raised. Very disappointing.

    Meanwhile, over at Team Sominex, er, the NPA…Zzzzzz.

    On the general story, I have to give credit to the citycaucus boys, who may have finally become the blind pig that has located an acorn…Mikey’s, as per usual, rather banal, trite performance didn’t, this time, overshadow the real story (because it’s a good story and one of public interest).

    This is NOT a hire that should have been secured like this. I have heard that Impey is a good sort and that’s terrific, but the terms are just too rich.

    Clearly, the businessman Mayor and the fiscal genius city manager must have had little to do with this :-)))))

    Maybe they vetted all this through Meggs, whose arrogance and megalomania are viral, and apparently, incurable.

  • jaymac

    AGT: the Mayor IS changing the way things are done at City Hall – changing them for the worse. Maybe he intends to retire, after his 3 years, to Cortes Island where he won’t have to worry about the exhorbitant and perpetual property tax increases he will have provided to the City’s property owners as his great legacy.

    Glissando is dead right – it wreaks of extreme arrogance and a great sense of entitlement.

    It wreaks of Meggslomania once again.

    I have this feeling that the CUPE guys are salivating at the precedents being set.

  • NS

    Does anyone believe that the running of the City’s finances are any less challenging than running those of any large corporation? The CFO of a company is a key senior management position. Sure we would like to get a “deal” and find someone with all the qualities and experience at half the price. But if anyone out there thinks that this is possible they probably have a hard time balancing their own cheque book. If government is going to attract good people they are going to have to pay top dollar. Patrice Impey will pay us back her salary and benefits many many times over by doing the job she has been hired to do.

  • spartikus

    A friend of mine was in town this weekend. He holds the exact same job, for a fortune 500 company in Houston,

    Just a note: the United States is the only major industrialized country not to guarantee workers paid vacation, and that one in four go without any vacation at all.

    I say this with the idea whether this is a standard Canadians would want to emulate.

    Is Patrice Impey’s compensation is appropriate? No. No one should be paid that much. But this is a problem beyond the City of Vancouver….so que sera sera.

    …I will say, with the sarcasm ray fully on, if we are to truly emulate the private sector then we’ll need to get rid of any sort of accountability or expectation of performance. As we look over the ruins of today’s corporate landscape, the people who led us to this point not only still have jobs, but gave themselves bonuses to boot. Top talent needs to be retained, after all.

  • LP

    Just wondering if there is recall legisation in place for our civic politicians?

    Unfortunately I doubt it. It would be very enjoyable at this point, to toss them on their collective asses, chickens et al.

    Perhaps there should be some recall possibilities on the civic level.

    In three years it will cost the city hundreds of thousands in severence to rid themselves of Ballum and Impey to clean up the disgraceful mess left by VV.

    Although….the way Meggsy does math, it may actually save us some money versus letting them stick around 5 years and collect even more of their pensions.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    From the little I’ve read about Patrice Impey, she might be worth the top end of the pay scale to the City of Vancouver. Nevertheless, the benefits and 20 year clause are, without a doubt, hard to swallow, especially for those of us at the “bottom end” of the scale. Is this commensurate to the private sector, though? Well, yes (private sector exec benefits/bonuses are far more lavish, in fact).

    Except for one thing: vacation time.

    10 weeks is a ridiculous amount of time for someone in such a key position to be “on vacation,” and this has absolutely no precedent in the corporate world. You can call the top-level private sector financial execs sleazy, heartless, irresponsible sharks, but you can never accuse them of not working hard enough or taking too much time off. Quite the opposite. Those people work 7 days a week, and even when they are on vacation (or out for dinner or at their kid’s birthday party for that matter) you can bet they are working on some angle and staying connected. Now, more than ever, we need a CFO with this kind of work ethic, not someone who is on vacation 1/5th of the year.

    Hopefully, Impey will prove to be as an adept a financial negotiator on behalf of the City of Vancouver as she is on behalf of herself. Then, like her, we’ll be swimming in cash for decades to come.

  • I was bothered by the fact that the position started at the top of the scale, and the overall pension package.

    But Ten Weeks Vacation! That for me was the most disturbing component of the package. For a couple of reasons. It’s too long for the CFO to be away from the job if the full allocation is taken; and if it isn’t , it will contribute to an expensive payment at the end of the contract.

    Given the economic times, the pending property tax increases all Vancouver businesses and residents are facing, and the selection process followed to fill the position, this is all very, very wrong.

    And frankly, I’m surprised that those responsible could make these decisions in good conscience. I think most of us expected better of them.

  • spartikus

    It would be very enjoyable at this point, to toss them on their collective asses, chickens et al.

    This was hopefully said in jest…but honestly, if this is what you think the standard should be to recall a government then Vancouver will never be governed. It will simply be an endless cycle of recall circuses.

  • rf

    It’s conceivable that if Impey works for 15 years, takes 4 weeks off each year, banks the other 6 weeks + the bonus days for showing up (ie. sick days), she could bank over 100 weeks of vacation. That means that she retires and gets paid almost 2 years salary, which by then will surely be $500,000.
    This cant stand.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    Anyone claiming that this is a fair compensation package, has clearly never worked at that level, or is just a lickspittle fro Vision.

    You NEVER receive such a lucrative deal when new hand–EVER, unless you are some kind of storied, hired gun. Impey is not. And that position should not necessarily need someone like that anyway.

    Geller is right on.

    As for Vision, and specifically the Mayor, I am sick and tired of listening the, now, glaringly sanctimonious horse shit about how the NPA were so incompetent, because thus far all I can see is: A bad turn to the hard left by the Mayor; a vicious political move to stab his former colleagues in Victoria by spit-swapping with a charlatan Premier (and then pretending he was “over-exuberant”); Meggs’ uncontainable idiocy ranging from his pinheaded public comments to his inappropriate involvement in other layers of govt (support for the ridiculous coalition) and his further inappropriate public endorsements of board slates for banks, specifically VanCity (regardless of whether his wife is on said slate or not). The real problem is he is so arrogant that he is actually incapable of understanding that such moves are plainly wrong.

    What amazes me about this Vision lot is that they actually act as if there will not be an election in three years and that they are doing nothing wrong.

    Chickens and community gardens and other idiocy could have waited after they had proved themselves. Instead, these are now defining policies.

    I was willing to give them a pass up until just after the Ballem hiring, even though, again, the Mayor was most disingenuous by saying the city was “lucky she was sitting around”. Who believes such crap?

    These guys are in for a rude awakening if the center actually organizes properly this time, without Col. Klink in stockings, thank you….

    Then again, it’s a little (just a little) early to say…

    Meanwhile, over at Team Sominex, Suzanne continues to manoeuvre, to set up the nightmare scenario where she could actually be mayoral candidate for anyone.

    I tell you, the salaries that should be raised are those at the council level. Put them at 150K per year and watch efficiencies get realized and young, bright committed people coming to council without political agendas first.

    What happened to reaching across the political divided? What happened to doing business differently from Sam?!?!? What happened to any kind of fairness in executing policy?

    It was all a pack of lies.

  • P

    I don’t know enough details of Impseys background to say whether starting as a 20 year employee is appropriate – it is not unusual in the private sector to receive recognition for years of service in a comparable job for determining step on the payscale or years of vacation as a new hire. What blows my mind is the lack of understanding of how a pension works. You cannot start someone with 20 years of pension – it would violate the Pension Benefits Act the Income Tax Act and the rules of the Municipal Pension Plan. Someone can only recieve credit for years of service for other benefits. Pension credits are earned based on years worked.

  • rf

    P – if what you say about the Pension is true (you’re right, private sector folk don’t really get it….because we don’t have it), then that is some relief. I hope you are right and as exluded-non-union management that they have not set up sort of IPP (Individual Pension Plan) that circumvents the obstacles you describe.

    Regarding vacation, just the mere idea of someone being granted 10 weeks holiday is absurd, especially for an Officer. Maximum 6 and it would be ‘use it or lose it’.
    With the number of qualified public sector applicants, 5 weeks holiday should have been the maximium. You are right, normally one is not kicked back to 2 weeks if one is in a senior position. 10 weeks though, is utterly ridiculous.
    If she has time for 10 weeks off, surely they don’t need someone at the top of the pay scale range.
    Otherwise, they should have granted her 5 weeks and payed her an extra $30k rather than trying to bury it in the details.

  • LP


    Although there was some extremism in my comment about throwing them out on their collective asses, er chickens…..I don’t necessarily agree with your summation that it would be a never-ending circus of recalls.

    Prior to the past three councils (this one included), which have been extremely disfunctional, dillusional or both, the city functioned rather well for a period.

    Despite my disdain for Gregor and VV since the beginning, the majority of people we’re willing to give them a free-ride – make that bus pass, on their transgressions until most recently. Even AGT says he overlooked many decisions he disagreed with, trying to give Gregor the benefit of the doubt.

    What I saw early on and complained about regularly, was the beginning of a pattern that now others are becoming tired of. A bad or tough decision can be reluctantly accepted, but combining that with bad messaging from the start, was a huge sign (scratch that – billboard to me).

    All of their terrible decisions aside, it is their arrogance and lack of understanding that they govern an entire city, and not just special-interest groups, that is most troubling.

    I wasn’t a fan of recall legislation before, however perhaps what is needed to restore faith in our elected representitives – is a way to hold them accountable more often, than just every few years at the election booth.

    There are mayors in cities across this land that have served their citys’ for decades. They do so with approval ratings a Vancouver mayor hasn’t seen in years.

    Why is that we can’t seem to find one of those folks for our city?

    And why should we have to wait three years to fire them, if they misrepresented themselves to get elected in the first place?

  • spartikus

    If this is truly the standard for recall you hold, and you don’t think it will result in an endless tit for tat cycle of partisan recall efforts…well, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

    To my recollection no one here has made a substantive allegation of criminality. Vancouver is not imminently about to descend into anarchy, though we’ll see what happens after the Canucks game tonight.

    You strongly disagree with some of the decisions made, and some decry “tone”. Fair enough. But reasonable people can look at the same thing and hold very different opinions about it.

    This government is 4 months old. They won a landslide. Deal with it.

  • rf

    I just checked outside to see if there is a lunar eclipse going on.
    Yet I agree with spartikus.

    I sincerely view Vision as a merry band of flakes. Why all of the Gregor and co.s of the world don’t find a Gulf Island and set up their own little commune and let the rest of us live our lives I’ll never understand.
    However, they were elected by a strong majority (NPA’s own fault), and so far have only pulled the type of stunts that their platform pretty much suggested the would.

    It’s not a basis for recall until Gregor’s mistress is caught driving a non-hybrid Hummer.

  • LP

    Hiring a city manager with no relevant experience, no proper process and paying her the same as the last.

    Hiring a CFO and giving her a ridiculous package agreed upon by most of the commenters here.

    I could go on, and on, but everyone gets the picture.

    Merry band of flakes, absolutely. In 4 monthes they’ve shown what people can expect from them for the next 32. Anyone who cares about our city should be concerned, very concerned.

    The basis for recalling a politician shouldn’t have to be criminal activity either. Why set the bar so high?

    Landslide or no landslide, copmparitively I’m pretty sure Spartikus wasn’t too happy with the arrogance from the Liberals when they demolished the NDP in 2001, leaving loud and louder (not a compliment) on their own.

    Funny, other than a few early on, we haven’t seen the tit for tat of partisan recalls since then now have we?

    Going back a year or two, I’d even bet that IF recalls were possible that you would have been first in line to sign the petition to recall Sam.

  • A. G. Tsakumis


    You’re right. No question. Gregor has shown that he is just as disingenuous as Sam.

    However, to Gregor’s credit, there have been flashes of good policy, but few and far between the flakey-bakey nothingness of faux greenness and inappropriate hirings.

    Sam cost us HUGE dollars. And this is a lesson I fear Gregor may not have learned.

  • LP


    You’ve been far more patient and supportive of our virgin-mayor than I have been and possibly can be.

    Although some think I am nothing more than a whining partisan crybaby, I would like nothing more than to have been proven wrong on Gregor and his merry band of councillors.

    Unfortunately time and again they keep validating what I have thought since he entered politics and then 30 months later jumped in the VV hottub with the Meggslomaniac.

    And I still think you’re being soft when you suggest Gregor MAY not have learned. From his increased spending on his inauguration, to Penny Ballum’s hire, and now to the CFO’s package, I just don’t see how this gets any better from here. In fact the price tag just keeps increasing.

    Sure that extra $50K may have been worth getting the scotch stains off, as you wrote in one post, but it sure was a sign of things to come!

    One rule in life that seems to be as certain as gravity, is that if it walks like a chicken, talks like a chicken, and shits like a chicken, then certainly it stinks like a chicken.

  • spartikus

    Allen Garr at the Courier is disputing some of the details of this story.