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Penny Ballem’s memo to staff re cost-cutting

February 13th, 2009 · 21 Comments

And here’s the memo from city manager, as promised earlier this week

From:   COV Broadcast Server
Sent:   Friday, February 13, 2009 3:27 PM
To:     All Staff (COV) – DL
Subject:        COV Broadcast – Memorandum from City Manager – Human Resource Measures


I am writing to you as the impacts of the ongoing global economic crisis begin to be felt more fully in the province generally, and the city specifically. As many of you will be aware, both the federal and provincial governments will be running deficits in their annual budgets for the first time in many years. As a municipality, the City of Vancouver does not have that option. Each year we are required, by law, to produce a balanced budget, showing exactly how we are going to fund all of the activities, initiatives and services on which the City intends to spend money.

A significant portion of the funding for our annual operating budget comes from revenues associated with development activity in our city. Most of the rest comes from residential and business property taxes. Due to the sharp decline in development over the past several months, associated revenues have dropped precipitously. This is well beyond what we had predicted as we were building budget forecasts. If we continue with “business as usual”, it would mean that Vancouver taxpayers could face a property tax increase of approximately 11% or more.

In order not to place such a burden on our taxpayers, City Council has instructed me to look across all agencies, entities and departments of the City (including Vancouver Police, Parks, Library, PNE, etc) and take any steps necessary to produce a revised operating budget that will “protect taxpayers and mitigate any compromise of key City services”. In short, to rethink the way we do business.

As a first step, I have implemented, effective immediately, a general freeze on hiring for all staff positions. I understand this is a disruptive and disconcerting measure, however it is a critically important step to first, understand our current staffing pressures, and then, to determine how we can best restructure and reorganize our resources to better meet our key business priorities.

I also understand how important it is that managers and supervisors have clear, consistent information upon which to base their staffing direction and decisions. This afternoon, our Human Resources department will be providing to senior managers detailed guidelines related to vacancies, overtime, travel and training, external contracts and many of the other important resource management questions you have.  You can also e-mail your questions to

For the most part, any exemptions to this freeze will be limited to positions that are critical to health and safety, required by statute, fully cost recovered through external funding, or key to the priorities of Council. However, even these requests for exemptions will require a firm business case that demonstrates how we are acting in the most cost-effective and efficient manner to meet both Council priorities and public service needs.

I know that some of you, unfortunately, will be in positions that will not be renewed or extended due to these measures. Collective agreements will be respected, and the city will be working hard to help make transitions in a supportive manner.

Change is difficult.  It is also particularly hard when it happens in such a volatile economic climate. But change is necessary if we are to adapt our business to new realities. As we move forward, I know that many of you will bring innovative ideas and creative solutions on how we can work smarter, and how we can improve the way in which we provide our excellent services to the citizens of Vancouver. In fact, many of you have shared some of those thoughts with me already, and I look forward to hearing more.

I know that working together we can exceed the high expectations that we have set for ourselves as public servants, and I appreciate your commitment and support.

Penny Ballem, MD FRCP
City Manager

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Alex

    Special note to those Vancouver City exempt (non-unionized) staff reading this memo:

    It mentions nothing about a wage freeze that was proposed by Raymond Louie last Tuesday. This is all speculative of course, but it may be because Penny needs the help of you exempt managers to implement her new staffing plan. Were she to implement it now, it would be much more difficult to get you to implement reductions in staff, re-org’s etc.

    Fortunately for Penny, she doesn’t have to announce that wage freeze now – she has another 10 months until the start of the next year when your annual inflationary adjustment is scheduled to kick in. This gives her 10 months for you to make the extraordinary efforts required to implement her plans.

    The subject of wage freeze is conspicuously absent here. Exempt employees might want to think about this a little bit before breathing that sigh of relief.

  • Jon

    Time to discount development fees to stimulate projects to move ahead, and restore some of the critical project based revenue?

  • Dub

    In her short time, my perception of the new City Manager is that she seems like a micromanaging political appointee that, while having no municipal experience on running an organization such as the City, dictates shortsighted solutions without doing the due diligence of consulting the staff that she is supposed to be managing.

    These solutions may make the new Mayor and Council look good in the near term, are very likely will hurt the taxpayer and those citizens that count on City services in the long run if not thought through properly.

    I hope that in these next few months, she’ll learn to listen to and rely on staff (both union and non-union) to be creative to develop solid solutions to the financial situation. More importantly, I hope she exhibits the leadership qualities that will engage and unify City staff, rather than alienate them.

    Note to Penny: If your core values are not in line with the City’s, please change the City’s to match or vice versa.

  • Ideas

    What this memo does say is that temporary exempt staff (of which there are many) should start looking for other work, Alex..unionized permanent employees should be the ONLY ones breathing a sigh of relief.

  • If Council is serious about protecting taxpayer money they should first adopt zero-based budgeting.

  • spartikus

    I would like to juxtapose this memo with this comment by a Scott Talbot on the restricting of CEO bonuses to merely 1/3 of their annual salary for firms that take part in the U.S. government’s stimulus package:

    “This is a big deal. This is a problem,” said Scott Talbott, chief lobbyist for the nation’s largest financial services firms. “It undermines the current incentive structure.”

    Talbott said banking executives expected certain restrictions would be applied to them but are concerned that some of the most highly paid employees, such as top traders, who bring in hefty sums for the company, would flee to hedge funds or foreign banks that have not accepted U.S. government funds.

    These would be the same top traders whose practices sparked the crisis that made this memo necessary.

  • Already happening

    A lot of front-line union staff who were on temporary contracts are already being let go as their contracts expire.

  • JC

    2009 Operating Budget Consultation

    Have an opinion about how the City spends the revenues from taxes? Public consultation on the 2009 Operating Budget begins February 3, ending March 24.

    Budget Feedback Forum

  • Denis

    The lady ran a much bigger ministry as Deputy Minister of Health. She left because the direction taken by the Minister and his boss. King Gordo were contrary to what she felt was the best route to improving the health system in this province.

    If what she is doing is not approved by her bosses, the Mayor and Council I’m sure she would bow out quickly, not forced out by the last one to hold that job. To admit that there will be some changes coming shouldn’t upset most folks. A term employee is just what the job decription says. “Term” . She has indicated that collective agreements will not be broken, unlike what Gordo did when he tore up a number of them.

    The courts agreed he broke them. My gosh the recession both our Premier and Prime Minister claimed would never hit here, did hit here, 85,00 people lost their jobs in one month, plus some strange deals between the city prior to a change in city government makes it pretty clear that some things get sorted and quickly. In my view a person managing the most expensive Ministry in the province can and will do just great. If she wasn’t qualified, she would never have gotten the job, of managing the City Affairs under direction of her elected superiors.

  • David R

    Does not matter whether it is unionized staff or not, before letting anyone go, Penny should consult with staff to estimate how much time and money it takes to train people when they start with the city afresh.

    Hiring freeze may cost some money, but a number of projects either would delay or may not start.

    I would suggest all new projects like Eco-Density, visioning, UBC line, $8 million worth of LRT from Granville Island to Science world, sustainability branch (and moving staff to other branches) and new bikeways and greenways should put on hold indefinitely.


  • LP


    Your posts always seem to bring Gordon Campbell into the City of Vancouver’s politics – it’s getting tired and weak already.

    If you want to stump for the NDP, try and find some provincial news focused blogs and comment over there.

    Penny Ballum is a medical professional, who went into management. The position of city manager should have been filled by someone with experience.

    There is a reason why almost all cities hire someone with an engineering background for this role. JR was not an engineer and now PB is filling her shoes rather well. The contempt for her at city hall is only at it’s infantile stage.

    In your last line, to suggest she wouldn’t have gotten the job if she wasn’t qualified shows you either don’t realize she was hired without a process where she could be compared to other candidates and their knowledge, or you’re simply ignorant of what someone who runs a city needs to be experienced in.

    Very simply put, she should go back to the medical field where she has some positive value to add and leave running a city to those with some experience.

    A micro-managing ledger-line hack like Penny Ballum will only do the city harm, and if anyone thinks JR’s tenure was disastrous, just wait and see what PB will do in a few short years.

    The first

  • Beatmaster

    I wanna see how Cupe 15 is going to spin this. The union supported Gregor and Cupe 15 president Paul Faoro was doing cartwheels when Judy was turfed, now his due paying members will be losing their jobs. Ouch!

  • spartikus

    now his due paying members will be losing their jobs.

    Which “due paying members” are these? Specifically?

  • Beatmaster

    All those members that are not in permanent positions who will not be extended once their term expires.

  • spartikus

    Um, I hate to break this to you but that’s always been the case. Cupe15 doesn’t have to “spin” anything, a temporary job being exactly what it sounds like…temporary. Sometimes they are extended, sometimes not.

  • Beatmaster

    Sounds like spartikus is on the Cupe 15 payroll.
    You can always blame Sam!!

  • Denis

    LP you may not recall that Gordon Campbell was mayor of the city for some time before moving to Victoria. and the NPA seem moree to his liking than any municipal government mayor who happened to be a little business man and for awhile a NDP MLA. I’m not to convinced most city managers have engineering backgrounds. If Ms Ballen is suited for the job is up to the folks who hired her. Why should she do as you suggest go back to doctoring? From what I read about her, she did a fine job in the health ministry

    For example in Victoria the Chief of police was City manager for some time. A good manager is sharp enough to get advice from technical staff and make things work. I am not shilling for the NDP any more than you are against the person with the job. Oh by the way, I am an engineer but know nothing about managing city hall. Spartikus, as mentioned by other,s knows what temporary employee means.Lots of places besides vancouver has temps” Folks with that classification know what it means.

  • Glissando Remmy

    Denis your comments are pathetic. The new city manger was appointed by a group of completely unqualified people.
    One is competent in making juice and the others in drinking it.
    The requirements for the job were as follows:
    – to be available (looking for a job)
    – to be connected (not wired )
    – to accept the $ 300,000 pay showing no emotions
    – to be able to go through different facial expressions when cue reading from a Power Point Presentation for hours and hours.
    – to fire and hire, to freeze and thaw according to the insiders wish list
    Now Denis, you said that you are an engineer that knows nothing about managing City Hall. Then this will come as a surprise to you, neither did Penny!
    I hope that you don’t work for the City because if you do then only nepotism comes to mind, which between me, you and the readers is an old dear municipal sport at City Hall of Vancouver.

  • mm

    Maybe the city should start by asking why they have 30 people who work in Human Resources making over $75,000 ?

  • James Shaffer

    A letter to City Directer, Mr. Toderian

    Mr. Toderian;

    My wife Cathleen and I live in a growing and developing area of east Vancouver, near Queen E. Park and Nat Bailey Stadium. We moved to Vancouver for a better quality of life; which includes, enjoying the many activities that are available all year round, the Robson street experience, and often just to walk through the beautiful parks. However, I understand that you are a man who believes in candor, and so, without further ado, I will move forward to what I believe you can help the citizens of Vancouver with.

    Sunrooms and Sun covers are the concerns here in Vancouver, but in a positive perspective only. If you drive through East Vancouver you will notice that there are Sunrooms and Sun covers all throughout. In fact, these structures have been around for a very long time, and why not? This is a city notorious for harsh and continued rainstorms, snow, hail, and almost anything.
    Citizens of Vancouver, and most especially, the Eastside, are beginning to experience what is seemingly the wrath of Vancouver’s opposition to these structures. And the opposition is straight from the Policy’s of Vancouver, which requires permits for these structures. And although I am only one man, I speak for thousands who have these structures and are in danger of losing them because of the failure of Vancouver to recognize the need to change the Policy. Enforcing Sunrooms and Sun covers in Vancouver would be like enforcing backyard gardens that are often painful to look at, but are a part of the culture.

    You once said, “Never let a rule stand in the way of a great idea. The best ideas should win.” Well, I am writing to you today requesting of you to allow the construction of Sunrooms and Sun covers in the city of Vancouver. As well, I request that the city not be so narrow headed as to believe that a property envelope should matter in the consideration of these structures; and that these structures should not represent square footage of a home. Gandhi, once marched to the sea to protest the taxing of salt; when Gandhi and his followers arrived at the sea, they evaporated the water to create salt, showing the people and the government that salt was free.

    In Vancouver’s situation, we should not have to display that the air above our home is not owned by the government. At any rate, I am not writing you to battle what may seemingly be a pointless argument; I want to protect Sun rooms like ours, from being destroyed through false complaints and the failure to change Policy.

    You also once said that you were, “a passionate advocate for creative city building, urban design and architecture.” I believe our home and many others represent certain appeal and, in fact, complement the area. I have attached a document with pictures of our home.

    I hope this letter finds you well, and that you can help the citizens of Vancouver.


    James Shaffer

  • James Shaffer

    12-Month-Property-Use-Inspection on ALL newly constructed homes.

    Dear Citizens of Vancouver, and those considering in moving here;

    If you have purchased a new home or considering purchasing one in Vancouver – BEWARE!!!

    The city of Vancouver has created a policy—which by the way is only recommended—whereby, after 12-months of owning a new home, the city will invade your home to look for anything and everything that is no per policy. So hide your extra pillows and blankets, they are coming.

    Please refer to page 13 of 29 of the 2004 council report for 2004; there will read: “In the case of new construction, it is recommended that all new one-family dwellings be inspected 12 months after occupancy to determine whether or not suites have been illegally added. This new inspection should encourage the installation of legal suites at the time of construction.”

    If you are any bit familiar with the new home being constructed in east Vancouver, or just search the local MLS listings, you will find that new home are being sold and advertised as having or potentially having 2 suites. In other words, they are being constructed so that after 12 months the city is going to make money from you to remove what builders have put in, and how you purchased your home. And, most importantly, what the city has already inspected during post occupancy and approved. This is a crisis that will wave through Vancouver over the years to come.

    In the case of my neighbour, who just received an inspection of this nature and uses their home for their family only? The inspector told them that they have cabinets on both sides of their basements, and will have to remove the plumbing, electrical, cabinets, and, get this, get a business permit for the suite they use for their family. And, keep in mind this house was purchased this way.

    Why does the City of Vancouver want the citizens to suffer? These are good citizens—pay their taxes pay their taxes, work full time jobs, and are trying to survive these harsh economic times.

    This is my call to all of you listening; get your counsellors and politicians to abolish these policies.


    James Shaffer