Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Does this mean we can call Ballem "Nickel"?

Penny Ballem is not just Vancouver's $313,577-a-year city manager, but she's also the star of a five-part series of technical briefings on the terminally troubled Olympic Village. Her nickname might as well be "Not for Attribution Senior City Staffer." I'm guessing she'll appear for a curtain call. Part six, anyone?

On April 12, Ballem conducted the post-briefing news conference after her not-for-attribution performance for the media in a second floor meeting room. Coun. Geoff Meggs was in the room, but Mayor Gregor Robertson was not. Robertson also was conveniently off in Burnaby on April 8 for a Metro Vancouver board meeting and didn't want to take a five-minute break to give a cursory comment on a speakerphone. Instead he left the duties to Meggs (who some have called the real mayor).

The April 12 meeting was called in reaction to Gary Mason's Globe and Mail column estimating the loss to taxpayers for the Village to be $230 million. Ballem insists it is just $48 million. She also downplayed Millennium's original $200 million deal for the land. She said it was "aspirational" but never assumed by the accountants. Now the land costs $27 million. Millennium put a $29 million deposit on the land, but the remaining $171 million isn't counted as a loss.

Or is the loss $199 million, if you take the $48 million writedown and add the $87 million for the community centre, Salt Building and parks along plus the $64 million for social housing?

Even if it's just $48 million, that's 48 billion pennies and 153 Ballems -- based on the city manager's annual pay. Sure the city has a billion-dollar Property Endowment Fund (which doesn't meet nor does it publish a list of assets and values), but that $48 million could have been used for better things if the Village had been managed properly by the succession of NPA, COPE and Vision Vancouver councils.

While the city claims to put its stock in auditor KPMG, is it not time for the BC NDP to dust off that letter former leader Carole James sent to Auditor General John Doyle in January 2009? She requested an investigation into the Village's financing. There could not be a better time than now.

The only thing that was truly achieved at the April 12 briefing was a defeat of the city hall communications department's nonsensical attempt to ban reporters from Tweeting and blogging during the briefing. They claimed media outlets complained when a certain reporter (me!) Tweeted during the April 8 briefing. I did so openly and without any restrictions. None of my colleagues objected April 12. Why would they? It's another way to report to readers. The only reason for city hall to attempt an embargo was to control the message.

Enjoy the notices of city hall technical briefings -- all five of 'em! -- and the financial information from the April 12 edition. Bonus content is a Feb. 18, 2009 statement from Mayor Gregor Robertson, patting his party on the back for cutting interest costs to $90 million.

April 12 technical briefing on the Olympic Village

Technical Briefings advisories: collect the whole set!

Statement From the Office of the Mayor

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