EXCLUSIVE: Former Vancouver Chief Electrical Inspector Ark Tsisserev’s Firing–Anatomy of the Hatchet Job: Dr. Penny Ballem Hides Behind Surrogates, Mayor Robertson Deep in Fantasyland
Through the weekend and beginning of this week, I’ve been listening to a variety of different voices from City Hall. To describe the morale of city staffers as being at an all-time low, is to understate the case by a country mile. More so, the concerns from some very dedicated and qualified people about the aftermath of Ark Tsisserev’s firing, are as wholly palpable as they are deeply troubling.
Last month, when Mr. Tsisserev was dismissed as City Electrician and Chief Electrical Inspector, the actual act of the dismissal may have been illegal. Additionally, the reasons cited by Dr. Penny Ballem to ace-reporter Janet Brown of CKNW (“it’s restructuring”), and the reasons given to Mr. Tsisserev by his superiors (provided to me exclusively by a staffer), are worlds apart. Worse yet, the appointment of Mr. Tsisserev’s replacement may have put the public at risk, and that’s the opinion of dozens of electrical life safety experts in Vancouver.
And in my opinion, the City Charter has been violated as a result of heavy-handedness of the robotic sycophants under Dr. Penny Ballem’s reign of error.
For the purpose of keeping the chronology clear, let’s do a little retrospective and introduce some new facts that have been shared exclusively with this writer (I’m sure you understand the reason to protect city staff in any case, considering the iron-gloved intimidation that has become the hallmark of Dr. Ballem’s tenure):
1) Ark Tsisserev is hardly the Machiavellian type that you would expect to encounter, after the way he was spectacularly bounced from City Hall. He arrived from the Ukraine in 1978, with a Masters and PhD in Electrical Engineering. Other than the shirt on his back, he brought an honesty and integrity that many city staffers today maintain will never be seen again. In his efforts to become accredited in Canada, he actually re-read a Masters in Winnipeg and re-sat examinations earning his degree all over again–without a whimper, without a complaint. His polite, stoic, mild-mannered and highly competent ways are legendary at City Hall.
2) In the years prior to arriving in Vancouver, Mr. Tsisserev became widely regarded as one of the most celebrated electrical and life safety experts in Canada. He was an award-winning professional before (and after) being hired in Vancouver.
3) Arkady Tsisserev was appointed to the position of “City Electrician” in January of 1994 by the then sitting Vancouver City Council in accordance with Section 162 of the Vancouver Charter. He spent 16 years employed at the City, in a stellar career that mentored and lead dozens of happy, professional and qualified staffers–without a single complaint–ever.
The relevant section of the Charter reads:
The Council (meaning City Council only);
(a) may establish and equip such departments and officers as it may from time to time deem expedient in the exercise of its powers, and may assign
such functions and duties to the persons employed in such departments and offices as the Council may from time to time decide;
(b) may provide for the appointment, suspension, and removal of such employees as may be considered necessary, and may fix their remuneration and hours of work, and shall require that their appointment, promotion, and change of status be based on merit and fitness. (1953-55-162; 1955-114-6; 1957-85-6)” (Section 162, Vancouver City Charter)
So, how does this square with the General Manager at City Hall firing Ark Tsisserev as if he were a simple employee?
4) On the morning of January 21st., 2010, Bob Cornwell, the shop steward of the union representing the city electrical inspectors, and one other electrical inspector, Jason Rowley, were terminated as part of the budgetary layoffs announced by the City of Vancouver. Messers. Cornwell and Rowley received 60-day notices (but NOT Mr. Tsisserev). Both inspectors were respected and competent by all accounts. Some time during that same morning, Ark Tsisserev was summoned to appear at 2PM in the office of City of Vancouver General Manager David McLellan (who reports directly to City Manager, Dr. Penny Ballem). Upon arrival, Mr. Tsisserev was informed that he was being dismissed as a result of “budgetary” reasons (confirmed to me by two city staffers). Mr. McLellan then requested the return of Mr. Tsisserev’s Blackberry and ID-Access card(s). He was then ordered by Mr. McLellan back to his former office to remove all of his personal belongings which at the time was impossible, considering his 16 years of service (I’m told he was subsequently allowed to come in after hours to retrieve personal items). After this brief visit to his former office, Mr. Tsisserev was escorted to his car and was seen leaving City Hall property immediately thereafter.
It’s interesting to note that the City went to great lengths to announce that not a single employee affected by their budget cuts would be laid off prior to the end of the Games and that sixty days notice would be provided to give them ample time to exercise whatever options they enjoyed under the terms of any union contracts. Mr. Tsisserev (as a manager) didn’t enjoy the protection of a union contract, but under the Charter his position as City Electrician (formally appointed by City Council) was considered sacrosanct. I wonder which “games” Dr. Ballem was referring to…
My perusal of the City Charter leads me to Section 312.
(1) There shall be a City Electrician appointed by the Council who shall
have such duties and powers in addition to those provided by this Act as the
Council may from time to time prescribe.
(2) If the City of Vancouver enters into an agreement under Section 5 of the
Safety Standards Act, the City Electrician is a Local Safety Manager for the
purposes of the Safety Standards Act.” (Section 312, Vancouver City Charter)
Specifically, Mr. Tsisserev’s former position as “City Electrician” is mandated by Section 312 of the Vancouver Charter, which makes no reference whatsoever to budgetary issues as a means of defining either his “fitness or merit” for the position. This means that only an amendment to the Charter can affect any change in his status as an officer under the Charter.
Notwithstanding the incredibly damaging manner with which this man was summarily tossed, where the hell is the motion from Council? Better yet, change of the Charter comes only from Victoria, and NO such change exists…
But remember, the Mayor knows nothing about this matter as he told the always capable Lisa Rossington of CTV Vancouver. In fact, council had no clue about the dismissal(s), including of union members–leaders of which are said to be quietly seething, considering the overwhelming support they provided Vision Vancouver in the last election.
And isn’t the Mayor the head of council?
This all begs the additional question: ”Who is running City Hall?” Mayor Robertson’s lack of response to dozens upon dozens of emails and letters from the electrical and fire safety community expressing concern over Mr. Tsisserev’s sudden departure is extremely troubling. The Mayor has not responded to anyone, in any issue-specific manner, about any of the life safety matters identified here.
5) In the weeks just prior to being fired, Ark Tsisserev had brought to light many concerns with respect to life safety issues in and around the Olympic Village. The fire alarm system malfunctions in the Village were one thing, but he was also extremely vocal (specifically in the weeks immediately prior to his termination) about the absence of accreditation and clearance required by his inspectors for the purpose of accessing various 2010 Olympic Games venues and sites–in order to provide inspection services mandated by the Vancouver Electrical By-law. Even after his departure no such accreditation had been provided. This fact is particularly alarming, as the electrical components which make up the communication and broadcasting equipment employed by the visiting international community were never formally inspected by any Vancouver electrical inspector during the weeks leading up to and through the course of Vancouver’s Olympic celebration. Some have speculated that to deliberately hamper the ability of qualified inspectors’ access to these installations may have put the public at risk. The Mayor was informed, accordingly, in correspondence to his office by many concerned in the industry, but as of this date, has provided no response or comment for this either, other than to maintain that he is “not involved in staffing issues”
6) On January 22nd., 2010, Mr. Tsisserev’s former colleagues in the electrical inspections division were formally advised that Will Johnston, Director of Licences and Inspections, was the new City Electrician “in accordance with the Charter”. It’s interesting to also note that no formal announcement has been made (as you would expect with a formal City Council appointment). Remember, too, that senior staff invoked the City Charter when announcing Mr. Johnston’s appointment, but ignored the very same Charter when dismissing Ark Tsisserev. But here’s what is of much greater concern: When the electrical inspectors (Mr. Tsisserev’s former colleagues–all, hard-working, decent, professionally qualified electricians) vocalized their concerns that Mr. Johnston (as a Structural Engineer) is not qualified to perform the functions of the official “City Electrician” (as he has no formal training in either the provisions of the BC Electrical Safety Regulations or the Electrical Code), they were advised that he wasn’t going to be involved in the technical aspects of electrical safety but would rely on the expertise of his staff. That same staff were also assured that their decisions would receive the full backing of his position (as “City Electrician”) despite the clear misgivings they had expressed with his fitness for the job.
Mr. Johnston has (in his new capacity) recently accepted and signed off on numerous requests to deviate from provisions in the Electrical Code made by several electrical contractors. Requests for such variations are fairly commonplace and it is the City Electrician who has the final authority. So, I’m wondering aloud how Mr. Johnston does this bearing in mind the Association of Professional Engineers and Geophysicists of BC Code of Ethics and Conduct. (This would be akin to a fire protection technician certified only in the testing of fire extinguishers, signing off on a building’s entire fire alarm system). More to the point: It would be like putting a cardiac surgeon’s gown on a dentist and asking him to perform an angioplasty.
I was eager to ask Mr. Johnston about this, but my two-week old message to his office must be part of the mulch in the new City Hall vegetable garden. I also wanted to ask him how he felt about the fact that his appointment to “City Electrician” does not meet the conditions of “fitness and merit” set out in the Charter–that MUST be met.
I then wanted to ask how it was that no city electrical inspectors were allowed to inspect Olympic venues: Electrical contractors had applied for permits and engineering drawings were submitted and reviewed by plan examination staff. The necessary corrections were made to the drawings before the permits for each site or each venue were issued–but access was DENIED to electrical staff seeking to inspect these same Olympic venue facilities prior to the commencement of the 2010 Games–in violation of the Vancouver Electrical By-law.
So…now I have a few questions to ask all of you…
Think I’m overplaying this? Do you believe that there is no chance, that, for example, at LiveCity, a major Olympic sponsor has NO FIRE ALARM PANEL under their tent?
Do you believe that if something happened anywhere at the Games, you’d hear about it?
The picture below is from this last weekend. It’s a fire that started because of faulty wiring at one of the Olympic venues–clearly uninspected. Copies have been circulated to the appropriate authorities including the Vancouver Fire Department and Vancouver Police Department.
Ark Tsisserev, the most respected electrical life safety inspector in this country, was fired from his job at the City of Vancouver, right prior to the 2010 Games because he was raising issues which SOMEONE (or some group) didn’t want you to hear about. His firing was purposely and maliciously executed because he was doing his job–and that became a ‘problem’–and now the serious life safety issues he brought forth have been realized. You weren’t supposed to hear about this. They don’t want you to see this picture. Have a good look.
So who gave the order? Who decided to get rid of Ark Tsisserev, a man only interested in the safety of athletes, citizens and eventually the hundreds of buyers who are expected to purchase Olympic Village units to save harmless the City of Vancouver (read: YOUR pocketbook) for having stepped in as financier of necessity to Millenium Development?
Who benefitted from such an obvious case of wrongful dismissal? Not you.
Somebody had the presence of mind to kill the breaker in the shot below, thankfully.
The Mayor, Dr. Ballem, their Vision counterparts on council and associated staff henchmen, through their viral ineptitude on this file, have willfully ignored serious life safety issues, in favour of Olympic photo-ops for the Mayor and his minions. This time they got lucky.
And maybe, so did you.
Ark Tsisserev was fired–because he was a competent, consummate, honourable professional, who was obliged as much by station as by conscience to speak up. He was canned because he knew too much, and wouldn’t stay quiet. This had nothing to do with budgets–just bollocks.
This entire sordid, gong-show was fueled by a Mayor’s Office, who clearly lied about what they knew and when they knew it and a City Manager who is obviously hiding–and for good reason. Life safety issues apparently don’t matter to these people.
Ark Tsisserev was the only leader willing to lead.
And care about your safety and that of your family.
The electrical contractors and life safety experts are absolutely correct: As a result of Ark Tsisserev’s firing, the City is not as safe–not even close.
What a complete disgrace.