With an angry mob of outraged citizens howling for her head, city manager Gail Stephens is fleeing the City of Victoria for refuge in Winnipeg.
Stephens, who, funnily enough, was once Winnipeg's first chief administrative officer, will start a job with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in August.
She'll be a perfect fit.
Back in Victoria, she's accused of misleading Victoria city council in 2011 by deliberately lowballing the cost of a contentious bridge project --- just ahead of a civic election in which the bridge replacement was a big issue for many voters.
It wasn't until March of this year that a memo produced in answer to a freedom of information request revealed that, two months before Stephens declared the project was "on budget", city officials knew the real cost of the replacement bridge would be millions of dollars higher than the $77 million budget.
A citizens watchdog group has called for an independent inquiry into what Stephens knew and when she knew it.
Ross Crockford is a director of that watchdog group johnsonstreetbridge.org.
“Normally, a city manager would have to answer to mayor and council,” Crockford said. “In this case, though, they could be in a perceived conflict of interest: the members of council running for re-election in 2011 may have benefitted from voters getting a false impression that the project was ‘within the budget of $77 million.’ So I think the mayor and council need to appoint an independent inquiry. I believe one is needed here if we’re ever going to find out what’s really going on at City Hall,” he said to Victoria's Focus magazine in April.
So, let's see ... a mayor promotes a civic megaproject, the priciest municipal project in the city's history (as The National Post described it), "iconic", intended to be a "signature" structure which should incorporate "artistry and architecture" instead of just functionality (National Post, again), (stop us if you've heard this story before...) whose cost started at $63 million, jumped to $77 million, then $82 million, then, well... none of the companies who wanted the construction contract would guarantee $93 million or less, triggered a referendum over refurbishing the old bridge vs building a new one, saw the public vote for a new one because that was the cheaper option, except that it wasn't cheaper at all, and the higher price was kept from the public by our Gail just before an election where the mayor, who was pushing the bridge all along, and his supporters were running for re-election.
And she's joining an "iconic" megaproject that's nearly $100 milion over budget, at least two years behind schedule, flat broke, looks nothing like the pretty pictures the architect painted, whose proponents have consistently misled the public and politicians for at least five years about the cost, the contents, and the character.
She's perfect for the job.
Stephens was earning $240,345 in Victoria last year, plus $12,000 in expenses. That's almost $21,000 more than she was making in 2010. At that rate of pay raises, she might have been making a quarter of a million dollars this year in straight salary.
Her contract in Victoria was recently extended for three years to 2017.That means she's forfeiting more than a million dollars by leaving to join the CMHR. It makes you wonder how much they're paying her.
Her jobs makes her responsible for: "visitor services (all revenue-generating functions such as ticketing, restaurant and retail operations), communications and marketing (special events, advertising & promotions, and sales), partnerships and government relations, and administration (human resources, purchasing, facilities and security services management)."
Stephens is a certified general accountant, which might make her wonder about the funny accounting by the CMHR.
“Accounting has been very important to my success. I was also a teacher and the skills I learned from the two have helped me over the years to explain my work to council, the administration and the public.” she's quoted as saying by the Certified General Accountants Association of British Columbia. http://www.cga-bc.org/about_us.aspx?id=24168
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights claims it strives for transparency by posting quarterly financial reports.
In 2011-20121 it posted reports for the first quarter (April, May, June), the second quarter (July, August, September) and the third quarter (October, November, and December). See something missing?
Yup, no fourth quarter report.
How about last year? There's a first quarter report for 2012-2013, a second quarter report, and a third quarter report.
No fourth quarter. For the second year in a row.
Funny? Or fishy?