By Sam Sullivan
Since completing my term as Mayor one year ago I have often been asked what advice I could give to future mayors. Here are some suggestions I could offer.
1. Develop a good relationship with civic union leaders immediately.
Early in my term I announced to senior staff that I was planning a courtesy meeting with civic union leaders. The advice I received back was emphatic. As the city was starting negotiations such a meeting could be disruptive. As I tried to do throughout my term I deferred to the experts on collective bargaining but asked them to inform me when the time was appropriate. This is I regret. I am not naÃ¯ve enough to believe that I could have prevented a strike. The longest and most bitter strike in the city's history occurred under Mike Harcourt and a Council with close union connections. But I could have learned just how poisonous the relations had become between the union and some of the senior management.
2. Make sure false statements get corrected on the public record.
The unfortunate reality of democracy is there is a whole industry devoted to making the Mayor look bad. An example is the accusation that I tried to personally trademark Eco Density. You can find this allegation in many places including the editorials of this newspaper. I have actually found this claim amusing. No one has been able to tell me how someone could make money by having such a trademark. The only possible benefit would be to protect the city's right to use it.
Fact: I have managed many trademarks and patents for charities in my life. But never once have I done so in my own name.
Fact: The Eco-Density trademark was paid for with a City of Vancouver cheque, processed by a city staff person and the address on the trademark was City Hall.
Fact: All City Councillors and media were given copies of old e-mails showing staff was aware that I had initiated a trademark through the Mayor's office "to protect the city".
Being Mayor is an incredibly demanding job and there is a tendency to disregard ridiculous accusations. It is worth taking the time to correct false statements.
3. Get an agreement with municipal governments before the next contract.
Greater Vancouver municipal wage settlements are over 20% for five years. Comparable wage settlements for the rest of the country are under 10%. The Region was moving to a 9.5% settlement which one municipality had accepted and others were ready to ratify. At the most sensitive moment of negotiation Richmond which was not a part of regional bargaining threw the situation into chaos by agreeing to a 21.5% compound increase. As a result municipalities throughout the region will see service cuts and tax hikes that other cities across the country will not experience.
If our wages were in line with the rest of the country the difference would have paid for several conservatories and petting zoos. Before the next round of negotiations, make sure those not in the regional bargaining process wait till after the negotiations are complete before they do their own agreements.
4. When doing visionary planning, hire out.
Granville Island, South False Creek, the Expo Lands, Coal Harbour were all planned by private sector companies or individuals. New ideas and a respect for financial constraints were given high priority. City staff are completely immersed in the current realities of the day and are not as sensitive to the financial risks of the private sector. Whereas private sector people work to fixed dates and budgets city processes can take forever and the costs remain buried.
The Athletes Village was a departure from the traditional city model. It was managed in-house. The private sector plan which would have resulted in the least financial risk to the city was rejected and because it was in-house it was vulnerable to politicians loading it up with extras.
There are wonderful aspects to the Southeast False Creek development and citizens will be proud of this legacy. But in the future I would recommend leaving private sector work to the private sector.
5. Schedule time with family and friends as you do city meetings.
The burdens and demands of being Mayor are brutal. Throughout my term there were very few evenings when I did not have a least one event to attend. Personal time is always considered optional when weighed against city priorities. Make sure you schedule times to be with family and friends. Just say its a meeting.
If none of this helps just remember the job of being former Mayor is much more pleasant. There are lots of freedoms and advantages that await.
** This article ran December 8th in the Vancouver Sun. Due to space limitations the Sun ran an abbreviated version. The full version is posted above.