City Manager fired – Penny Ballem let go: Cloud of mystery about reasons, and possible violation of legislation with sudden termination

Penny Ballem City ManagerCity Manager Penny Ballem has been let go. The news broke on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 15, 2015.

Frances Bula has posted an internal memo from Mayor Gregor Robertson on her blog: City manager Penny Ballem is gone; internal staff memo here  (Sept 15, 2015). Bula reports that the same message went out as a news release. Will the public ever learn the real reasons?

Robertson gave no clues about the reasons Ballem is “concluding her service” and these are certainly not the “full details” (excerpt of memo):

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.

Ballem was still in City Council Chambers answering questions from Council around noon (on Sept 15). The video archive shows Ballem taking questions from Councillor DeGenova (at the 1:27 mark for the Regular Council item).

Since 2010, CityHallWatch has tracked many irregularities at City Hall. Will the public ever know if any of them related somehow to this firing? Here is one — Billion dollar boondoggle – City manager lets Millennium off the hook for $1 billion mortgage

An open question is whether the City of Vancouver has followed the Vancouver Charter in the termination of Ballem’s contract. Only City Council is permitted to vote to terminate a contract; the Mayor only has powers to suspend an employee. The Mayor’s statement suggests that City Council discussed Ballem’s fate in-camera. The only problem with the Mayor’s statement is that there is no mention of employee relations as a reason to go in-camera.

Council agendas must state the reasons for going in-camera. Below is a comparison of the portion of the meeting pertaining to the in-camera section from September 15, 2015 and from an earlier meeting on January 31, 2012:

fire Ballem agenda

The termination of Ballem’s contract might have been done illegally (we’ve included language from the Charter further below).

Penny Ballem at Regular Council Meeting, September 15, 2015

Penny Ballem at Regular Council Meeting, September 15, 2015. She is flanked by deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston, who will now serve as acting city manager.

City manager Penny Ballem is gone; internal staff memo here

Penny Ballem ousted as Vancouver city manager gets $556K severance
Search for new city manager will include a review of the position’s compensation, Mayor Gregor Robertson says, CBC News: Sep 15, 2015

Vancouver searching for new city manager after announcing Penny Ballem out
The Canadian Press, September 15, 2015

Penny Ballem’s exit a surprise despite ongoing rumours, by Alan Garr, Vancouver Courier, September 15, 2015

Penny Ballem out as Vancouver’s city manager, By Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun September 15, 2015.
Excerpt: But the decision appeared to have been made by the mayor himself, or in concert with his Vision Vancouver council members. Opposition councillors were not consulted, and were in a state of shock.

“We are sitting in shock, sitting in shock,” said Coun. Elizabeth Ball, the caucus chair for the Non-Partisan Association. “We do not have any understanding other than that the mayor wants to move forward with new eyes.”

City council had concluded the public portion of their meetings at noon Tuesday. They then went into a regular closed-door or in camera meeting for confidential matters. During that meeting councillors were told Ballem was gone, effective immediately.

“We were told just what is exactly on the press release, that she was leaving immediately and that he was now initiating an international search for a new city manager,” Ball said. “There was no other discussion from the mayor other than what she had accomplished and that she was moving on, immediately.”

The termination of Ballem’s contract might have been done illegally. Here is the language from the Charter:

Mayor suspend employee

terminate or dismiss employee

The reasons for going in-camera must be specified in advance of the meeting, as required in Section 165.2 of the Vancouver Charter:
Vancouver Charter 165.2

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