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The movie scene at city hall the day of the “transitioning”

December 14th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Unfortunately, all of the news coverage you’ve read or are likely to read about yesterday’s kick-off of the French Revolution at city hall (city manager Judy Rogers replaced with former deputy health minister Penny Ballem) can’t quite capture the scene down at 12th and Cambie.

A couple of us got the word last night that there was going to be an in-camera vote early Friday morning about Rogers’ fate. (One of the great things about covering city hall in depth is you discover how orchestrated these things are. I was told the previous night: “The in-camera meeting will be from 9 to 9:30. Then they’ll issue the press release. Then Gregor will talk to reporters individually, but they won’t issue a news release or have a general scrum.” Etc etc)

So I got to the third floor of city hall around 9:30, where my Vancouver Sun fellow traveller Jeff Lee and photographer Bill Keay were already waiting.

Shortly thereafter, a CTV camerman showed up, followed by NW reporter Marcella Bernardo, followed by CTV reporter Shannon Patterson. Marcella and Shannon said their newsrooms had been phoned by someone anonymously saying Judy was being canned and they should get a reporter down there.

We waited until about 10, (after they’d apparently gone in at 9:25), when a disgusted-looking Suzanne Anton emerged, saying we’d have to wait to speak to Gregor to find out what happened.

Then there was quite the scuffle as new media wrangler Kevin Quinlan told everyone Mayor Gregor wouldn’t do a scrum, only individual interviews and since he had to be at a Metro meeting by 11. Much carrying on, as various reporters threatened to make it the story that Gregor was trying to control the media.

In the end, everyone calmed down and we all rushed in so that one after another, Gregor could tell us exactly the same thing, delivering his set lines. (He can be a funny guy with the occasional good one-liner, and he also comes across at other times as warm and thoughtful, but, boy, when he has to deliver the message box, it can feel awfully androidish.)

In the meantime, throughout all this, various staffers came, avoiding our eyes for the most part as they passed through.

This has got to feel weird at city hall. City managers just don’t come and go around there. In 30 years, they’ve only had three: Judy, then Ken Dobell her, and then Fritz Bowers before that. In fact, the last firing of a city manager was shortly after the TEAM council was elected in 1972, when they canned Gerald Sutton-Brown, variously described as autocratic/all-powerful/a czar/etc, to replace him for a couple of years with Lorne Ryan (which no one remembers, thinking it went straight to Bowers) and then with Bowers. That was widely seen as a good move to take power away from a technocrat trying to jam freeways through Vancouver and give some of it back to the council of the day.

It remains to be seen whether future historians of Vancouver will see this week’s surprise move in the same spirit.

I found this squib on Bowers, by the way, which tracks the unusual route that took Bowers into the city manager’s position. (It’s from the UBC Archives.)

His first appointment at UBC was as an associate professor in Electrical Engineering. He was promoted to full professor in 1964. He also served on Senate from 1963-69 as a member at-large.

His career was broad-based and he served both UBC and the community of Vancouver with distinction. As an academic, scientist and administrator at UBC he was well respected and his inventiveness lead to the development of four patents in the field of communications. He entered civic politics in 1969 when he was elected as a Vancouver School Trustee. In 1971 he was chair of the Vancouver School Board and in 1972 he was elected to Vancouver City Council as an aldennan. He served as City Manager of Vancouver from 1977-90. He retired from UBC in 1976 and was accorded Professor Emeritus status upon retirement in 1990.

Categories: City Hall Talk