It is not the lack of legislative work experience for Vancouver city hall’s new deputy city clerk that concerns NPA Coun. George Affleck, but the department from which Wendy Stewart is being promoted.
City hall’s assistant director of communications since 2009 becomes director of legislative operations and deputy city clerk in mid-April. Stewart is expected to oversee the next civic election in 2014. Affleck said the job demands Stewart be neutral.
“With the right training, I'm sure she can learn everything that's needed,” Affleck told the Courier. “My problem is where she comes from and what the Mayor of Vancouver and vision Vancouver are doing to city hall, which is turning it into, what I believe, is all about spin, not about the quality of the product that we're putting out there for the public.”
During Stewart’s communications tenure, the city’s communications budget increased while media access decreased. The Courier reported in November 2011 that city hall’s communications budget more than doubled from $631,110 in 2006 to $1.546 million in 2011 — including a $412,941 rise from 2010 to 2011. Under the majority Vision Vancouver city council, bureaucrats have been banned from talking directly to reporters. All media requests are supposed to be routed through a central hotline.
Instead of returning the Courier’s repeated Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning calls about her new job, Stewart sent an email announcement Tuesday afternoon to Courier and Vancouver Sun beat reporters that said: “This is an incredible opportunity to work in a part of city operations which has a critical role in public engagement and in the day-to-day support of the business of council. The new role gives me the opportunity to use my experience working in senior levels of government over the course of my career.”
Stewart’s LinkedIn resume mentions a bachelor’s degree in English and psychology from the University of Victoria, but it lists no legislative experience. Her career since 1994 includes communications jobs with B.C. Forest Service, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, B.C. Electoral Boundaries Commission and Elections B.C. Her declared specialties are: “media relations, issues management, positioning messages, speech writing and encouraging young staff.”
Former deputy city clerk Janice MacKenzie spent almost nine years as director of public access and council services before she replaced Marg Coulson as the acting city clerk and chief election officer in February 2011. MacKenzie was made the retired Coulson’s permanent replacement last September. The new job is expected to bring Stewart a substantial pay raise. The 2011 statement of financial information showed Stewart was paid $107,344. MacKenzie was paid $124,372.
City manager Penny Ballem did not respond to phone and email messages. Stewart refused to be interviewed for this story.
“The irony is thick: one of the senior people in the communications department is not communicating with you,” Affleck said. “The fact she did then communicate it to other people when you had already been putting in the call. That’s a problem in city hall in general, they’re picking and choosing the stories they want to push out there, when there are journalists trying to do good research and get information and they’re being stonewalled. That is not open and transparent government.”
MacKenzie’s memo to staff said Stewart would “support several key strategic initiatives including: facilitating the city’s interface with Metro Vancouver and First Nations councils, helping to improve the public’s civic election experience by increasing innovation in voter outreach and working with the province to help realize online voting, and working with city council and the city clerk to enhance and modernize the processes by which the public interacts with council.”