Guest Speaker – City Manager Dr Penny Ballem March 17, 2009

Dr Ballem, City Manager of the City of Vancouver, was invited to attend the 391 general meeting as an opportunity for members to meet her and share concerns regarding new directions in public service during the economic downturn.  CUPE 391 introduced themselves through the video starring Vancouver Public Library Workers.  This video was produced and directed by David Philip and Sloan Garrett to show the complexity of work done by library workers, and commissioned by CUPE National for the Canadian Library Association’s annual.  Formal introductions were made of the 391 executive members present.

Dr Ballem shared some of her background and experience with reform, change management, working with stakeholders in the public sector, and her experience as a deputy minister of Health in British Columbia, which gave her a strong understanding of the strategic challenges associated with implementation of government’s agenda. Penny Ballem has been a consultant and a physician with nearly 30 years experience in the health sector as both a senior administrator and academic physician in internal medicine and haematology. She has a rich history of working in unionized environments, and understands the inner-workings of the labour movement.  Dr Ballem has high regard for unions.

Penny Ballem sees it as a privilege to be able to work with the Mayor and Council as the City Manager.  She has been given a mandate to “heal some of the wounds”, and to find ways to make the city function efficiently, within budget.  Dr.Ballem does not believe savings are achieved through layoffs.

Her approach to work is to be honest and transparent.  She understands that the funds the city operates with are the taxpayers’ monies, and they should be able to see where their taxes go.  She also wants to build mutual respect through continual dialogue.  One thing that she will be doing is engaging the management team on an evaluation of core services.  This is a “high level” discussion about the operations of the city.  This is not getting into the minutia of departments.

Dr. Ballem says that we may not always agree with each other but understands that we have common goals.  Council priorities of ending homelessness, finding new economies and Vancouver, as the greenest of green cities, will help to guide us.  She expressed interest and feels she has the ability to act on one of our member’s ideas regarding the library ability to better serve the homeless.

The city manager did take several questions on the hiring freeze and acknowledged that it was a coarse instrument that is only designed as a bridge.  She sees it being as temporary as possible. Members spoke of the having to contend with the continuing and increased workload, poor morale and lack of evaluation of planning which resulted from recent reorganisation of Central Library’s service delivery.  The hiring freeze compounds these problems.  We urge members to send statistics of the vacant positions and hours not filled, and the any figures and/or descriptions of increased workload.  Dr. Ballem is a big believer in the facts/evidence and a business case.

This is the first time a city manager has expressed interest in getting to know library workers and the public we serve.  She is a big believer in libraries.  It will our job to help educate her about the value direct public service from the VPL staff that select, acquire, process and make access to VPL’s services and collections.

The membership thanked Dr. Ballem for her time and presentation and welcomes future encounters.

December 8, 2008
– Hired as City Manager

January 14th, 2009 The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) welcomed the City of Vancouver’s appointment of Dr. Penny Ballem to VANOC’s board of directors today.

February 12, 2009 – See Courier
– “The decision by the IOC to exclude women’s ski jumping from the 2010 Winter Olympics is,” she explained in her usual direct manner, “an embarrassment for the city, if not the province and the entire country. Never mind the minor black eye a few Olympic nay-sayers may deliver with their protests; this deliberate omission by the IOC was a blatant act of discrimination for all the world to see.”

March 17, 2009 – Favourite Ballem quote when asked about her meeting with IOC President Jacques Rogge, “Guess what?  Our uterus won’t drop out when women ski jump”.  Our collective uteri applauded.

Memberships: Canada Health Infoway; Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences

National co-chair of the Pan Canadian Public Health Surveillance Information System Project,

Awards: Gold medallist in graduating class in medicine at UBC.
Marion Powell award, Queen’s Jubilee Medal for public service and the Provincial Health Officers Award for her work in public health

from Peter and Alex’s notes