After various high-profile departures, ex-city manager Penny Ballem became known for her “my way or the highway” management style at Vancouver city hall. Her reign as the most-powerful and polarizing bureaucrat at 12th and Cambie abruptly ended Sept. 15 when the Vision Vancouver-majority city council sent her packing with a $556,000 golden parachute.
More than two months later, various staffers gathered at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club for a Nov. 20 party in her honour and to give her custom-made City of Vancouver street signs attached to the same pole: “Penny Ballem Way 2015” and “The Highway.”
An 11:41 p.m. Nov. 20 Facebook post by city labour negotiator Kevin Jeske included the caption: “So fortunate to have been able to work with and learn from such an amazing human being. Freakishly smart; demanding yet compassionate; selfless and tireless. Thank you Penny.”
Ballem protege and interim city manager Sadhu Johnston said the street signs were paid for by staff and the party was ticketed, with a cash bar. “No cost to taxpayers for the party or the gifts,” said Johnston, who attended the event.
Johnston said staff cannot be reimbursed for the event: “100% of the expenses for the event were paid for by the participants.”
The street signs would have been rather inexpensive. The city website offers custom-made souvenir street signs for sale, ranging from $35 to $81 each.
Ballem was appointed Vancouver city manager without competition by Mayor Gregor Robertson in December 2008. City hall refuses to release minutes of the Sept. 15 in camera meeting and we don’t know what precisely caused the firing. According to Robertson’s calendar, he met with Ballem from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sept. 14. They also met on Sept. 8 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.