BREAKING NEWS: Vancouver City Manager Lied About Reasons for Firing Chief Electrical Inspector–Making Vancouver Less Safe: Dr. Penny Ballem Must Immediately Resign
The controversy over the January 21st firing of the city’s Chief Electrical Inspector has now hit a crisis point.
I can confirm today that, last month, when Dr. Ballem was asked by local reporters why Ark Tsisserev, a nationally recognized life safety expert was fired after a stellar career at the City of Vancouver, her response, “budgetary reasons and restructuring” was a bald-face lie.
Let me repeat that: Penny Ballem lied.
Provided to your scribe last week were confidential documents from City Hall (that I have since authenticated) that confirm not only was there no budgetary constraint, but the electrical branch (through permit applications and service fees) was actually generating a PROFIT for at least a decade, including through two labour disputes in 2000 and 2004. In fact, more revealing is that the net revenue from fiscal year 2009 alone was a whopping $1.9 million (from a $3.4 million gross). That’s a staggering amount of money to be taking in from any department or branch of the City of Vancouver. So, Mr. Tsisserev’s department was doing better than any other in the city, I’m told–first place. Additionally, from 2005 onwards, the revenue generated by the electrical department, that Mr. Tsisserev oversaw, NEVER fell below a revenue of $3,000,000 dollars. There were almost two-dozen electrical inspectors employed through this period. If you factor in Mr. Tsisserev’s salary as well, and account for any other reasonable, miscellaneous overhead, you are still looking at a massive profit (particularly in 2008 and 2009, when the electrical branch generated revenues of $4,100,000 dollars and $3,400,000 dollars respectively).
Tell us again Dr. Ballem, what did you mean by “budgetary reasons”? Which budget were you referring to?
The numbers don’t lie. Why would anyone fire a man who was overseeing the city department delivering an almost 50% return?
One city source, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity said:
“Alex, information from both outside and inside sources confirms that “budget” reasoning for electrical staff cuts, which was also the reason given for Ark’s dismissal is utterly, blatantly false. A lie concocted to convince council to approve selective targeted position elimination. References from these sources indicate that fees from electrical permits over the past several years have provided for ample department funds. So much so that close to fifty percent would be considered more than sufficient to cover the electrical department’s salary needs. A clarification must be made where one would expect most accountants to acknowledge that unusual activity, such as an Olympic Games construction boom, would alter a general trend.
But that trend is that the electrical department has steadily garnered fees on an increasing yearly basis and, this is the point to take note of, they have seen massive profits from at least 2005 0n–2009 included! Management though, prefers to use scare tactics by quoting selective numbers by referencing that last year was significantly less than the previous. Well, hello!!! Duh??? Are they spending as if the Olympic boom would have continued? How careless have these expenditures been? It is a clear message to…that the electrical department has been targeted to shoulder an unwarranted staff reduction. If this is an example of how the city does its accounting you might wonder what the real numbers are for other departments and where their past surpluses have been spent”
To make matters worse, I can also confirm that the man hired to replace Arkady Tsisserev, is having his qualifications as (Chief) City Electrician questioned by fellow electrical inspectors and respected life safety experts. One such expert is Frank Kurz, who runs the Fire Technicians Network. Mr. Kurz has been following the brewing storm over Mr. Tsisserev’s firing, and has provided his perspective, here, on his own website.
As Mr. Kurz states:
“Sources within the City have told this writer that morale in the Department is at an all-time low with the leadership, professionalism, and knowledge which Ark Tsisserev brought to the position of City Electrician and Chief Electrical Inspector noticeably absent. As previously reported, Will Johnston (a structural engineer) has been appointed to fill the void. This leaves the City with an electrical department head who has no formal knowledge of the Canadian Electrical Code and whose ability is severely handicapped when it comes to making informed judgements on applications for variances and deviations. So much so that any such decisions made by Mr. Johnston would, in opinions expressed by concerned industry stakeholders and the engineering community put the public at grave risk. His appointment would also seem to conflict directly with APEGBC’s code of ethics and professional conduct. While he may not appear to be signing off in a professional capacity (in other words misusing his professional seal), the fact remains that as a member in good standing he has sworn to protect the safety of the public. How, you might ask, can he do so when he has no formal electrical training and wouldn’t know a three-phase converter from a GFI breaker if he saw both on the counter side-by-side?” (Frank Kurz, Fire Technicians Network, March 8, 2010)
I’m still waiting for Mr. Johnston to call me back and explain his position. That message is now a month old–and you know as well as I do that he won’t be calling.
But maybe the below quote, also from Mr. Kurz’s editorial explains why Mr. Johnston is hiding:
“Ark Tsisserev’s dismissal wasn’t about budgetary restructuring but had everything to do with removing an individual who had demonstrated he was not going to be dazzled or pressured by political imperatives related to Olympic venues where there was a risk to public (or athlete) safety. He didn’t receive the benefit of sixty days’ notice because that would have left him in a position that may have continued to threaten VANOC’s (and the Mayor’s) objectives. His replacement, Will Johnston, who is obviously far more politically astute, understood this and apparently has provided the path of lesser resistance (for Mr. Johnston’s benefit, that’s an electrical term too). Projects were finalized with what amounted to nothing more than a cursory review and this obviously done while crossing his fingers behind his back. It is termed fast tracking in a building permitting policy statement he authored and for which he has now been suitably rewarded at a cost that will eventually (and unfortunately) be paid in blood if allowed to continue (emphasis added).” (Frank Kurz, Fire Technicians Network, March 8. 2010)
But where does this all leave Dr. Ballem, who is responsible for this royal mess?
Ark Tsisserev was wrongly dismissed. His position could only be terminated by council, yet David McLellan, the City of Vancouver’s General Manager, who reports directly to Dr. Ballem, fired Mr. Tsisserev on January 21st, 2010, in contravention of the city charter.
Also, as a result of my reporting that union bosses were getting upset at Vision Vancouver and Gregor Robertson for the firings of members at City Hall, I’m assuming that Dr. Ballem took matters into her own hands to make sure that, Mayor Gregor Robertson, the man who hired her without a tendering process, and his party Vision Vancouver would be saved harmless from union wrath.
I exclusively obtained the following memo sent from the desk of the good doctor herself:
From: COV Broadcast Server
Sent: Friday, March 05, 2010 8:46 AM
To: All Staff
Subject: CoV Broadcast: Memo To All City of Vancouver staff
Memo To All City of Vancouver staff
I would like to start off by recapping what has transpired since the last communication to you in January with respect to the impact on staff as a result of the recent budget reductions.
In December, we estimated 109 positions would be impacted through the service level adjustments as a result of the 2010 Budget approved December 18, 2009 by Council. We also announced that an additional 14 impacted positions had been identified within Engineering Services, Equipment Services Branch and Mountain View Cemetery due to a decrease in work load within these areas. Thus, a total of 123 positions could potentially be impacted out of our 10,000 member workforce.
CMT established a committee with membership across the City to work to reduce the impact on staff. As a result, in January, we announced that there would be only 44 employees covered under the group notice issued under Section 64 of the Employment Standards Act. Shortly following the communication, an additional 3 positions within Equipment Services were identified, bringing our total number of employees covered under the group notice to 47 out of a total of 126 potentially impacted employees. Since then, we have been hard at work, meeting with the Unions and managers of impacted staff, looking for ways to reduce the impact of potential layoffs.
Over the last weeks, we have also been participating in Section 54 discussions with each of the Unions to jointly develop a labour adjustment plan that will help with this process. We have come to an agreement with CUPE 15 that identifies several placement mechanisms intended to lessen the impact on staff who are being placed in different positions across the organization. A joint communication from Paul Faoro and me, outlining the details of the agreement, has been sent out to all affected employees represented by CUPE 15. Section 54 discussions with CUPE 1004 and IBEW are continuing, and we hope to have more to communicate to you on this soon.
The very encouraging news is that as a result of a lot of hard work on the part of our city-wide committee, managers, and our Unions, we have been able to find placements through retirements or vacancies for a total of 112 employees, meaning that at this point in time, only 14 employees our of the original 126 will receive actual layoff notice (emphasis added).
We continue to meet with the Union leaders to give them an overview of the status of the VSR projects. As detailed plans become available, we will assess and evaluate the impact that these projects may have on staff. At this point, more information specifically relating to the IT Shared Services project, as well as the Supply Chain project will be communicated later this month.
As we move into the next few months I would ask all of us to be sensitive to those individuals being impacted by these changes. There will be a number of staff moving to new positions within the organization. I know I can count on all of you to welcome them into their new workplace. For the 14 receiving layoff notice this week, the support of colleagues and managers will be key, helping them work through this change. We will be providing them with all the appropriate supports through Human Resources and Employee Assistance Programs.
I want to thank all of you for your patience, understanding and commitment to minimizing any unnecessary impact on our staff as we move through these changes.
Managers with staff who do not have email or computer access, please click here to print this information and post in your common areas
Penny Ballem, MD FRCP
Notice how the word “unions” is capitalized. Notice how much concern there is for the “Unions”, who gave Vision Vancouver tremendous support in getting elected.
Sorry, someone tell me again how Penny Ballem hasn’t politicized the city bureaucracy to an unprecedented and crisis level?
And if you were wondering how much Dr. Ballem, Mr. McLellan and others would like this whole matter to go away, let me seal the clear case for Dr. Ballem to either resign in disgrace or be fired with cause (she lied):
Ark Tsisserev has finally settled with the City of Vancouver, and while confidentiality agreements are commonplace in matters such as these, the city demanded one step further: Mr. Tsisserev was made to sign an agreement that he would never speak to anyone in the media about his firing or settlement.
This all but secures that we will never know how much this sheer political move by non-political staff cost the taxpayers of Vancouver. We know that it’s made Vancouver less safe, but what did we pay for Dr. Ballem’s heavy-handedness?
And the following from yet another City Hall staffer, who swears that she will never vote for Vision Vancouver ever again, not just for the way they ruined the career of an innocent man, but too, because Dr. Ballem has made the work milieu at City Hall “absolutely toxic…she’s playing political games that have killed off any hope for us. We’re all looking for jobs, if we can…”
Nevertheless, do you see the picture? Ark Tsisserev raised life safety issues about the Olympic Village in the fall of last year. He continued to raise concerns about some of the Olympic venues and their safety. The reason he couldn’t be given a sixty day notice, like others fired with him, is that such a notice would have left Mr. Tsisserev in place through the Olympics–and the potential for Canada’s most respected life safety expert speak out on legitimate life and death concerns, could not be capped any other way. So they wrongfully dismissed him, lied about the reasons and were lucky no athlete of citizen suffered any injury or died during the Games. That’s incredible recklessness.
Last word goes to my original source for this story, who put is best:
“The more I delve into this, Alex and think about what happened to Ark on that fateful morning, leads me to one conclusion. I finally understand why Ark was released the way he was. They couldn’t give him sixty days notice because it would have left him in a position to continue to raise legitimate flags and block applications for permits and special permissions which VANOC needed to meet their deadlines and no one at the city really cared about any life safety issues, they just had to get this guy right out the door.”
Dr. Penny Ballem, the current City Manager, if she has even a kernel of integrity, will resign immediately. She lied to the people about why her staff made Vancouver much less safe and has put people’s lives at risk.
And destroyed the career of an innocent man by firing him in clear violation of the city charter–only to have Vancouver taxpayers pay for her careless, irresponsible ham-fistedness.
Yes, Mayor Robertson, “compassion and fairness”, that’s what you promised during the election–verbatim.
Yet another lie.