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Mayor Ken Sim’s request to increase office budget postponed to June 25

Mayor's current budget is $1.47 million, which is spent largely on Sim's eight political staff, three administrators.
Mayor Ken Sim wants to add another member to his staff, noting during council’s budget debate in December 2023 that his office was “operating at a significantly increased capacity compared to past mayors.”

The anticipated debate at Vancouver city hall over whether Mayor Ken Sim will be successful in adding another $80,000 to his $1.47-million office budget has been postponed until June 25.

Council was scheduled to discuss June 11 what a city staff report described as a “reallocation” of $80,000 from the city clerk’s department to Sim’s office budget, so he can hire an administrative assistant.

Postponement came after Coun. Peter Meiszner successfully moved a motion to defer debate to June 25. Meiszner’s rationale was that Sim was in London, England at a tech conference and would not be available to respond to questions.

“Deferring it for when the mayor is going to be present and in attendance and can speak to the report — and the need for this additional resource — will allow us to have an informed conversation,” Meiszner said.

“I don't feel comfortable today making a decision on this report without the mayor present in order to provide that information that I need to be comfortable making the decision.”

Opposition councillors Christine Boyle, Adriane Carr and Pete Fry have been critical of the $80,000 request, and were vocal at Tuesday’s council meeting until informed by the city clerk that debate would have to wait until June 25.

“I certainly appreciate that Mayor Sim may want to come and defend the allegations that this is further politicization and entrenchment of power in the mayor's office,” Fry said.

“But the fact of the matter is — that by denying this opportunity to speak to it today, it just further kind of clouds this conversation.”

Meiszner, a member of Sim’s ABC Vancouver party, said he appreciated there was “a lot of interest in this item,” but rejected the accusation that his deferral was denying an opportunity for a “fulsome discussion” regarding Sim’s request.

$1.47 million

The mayor’s current office budget is $1.47 million, which is spent largely on Sim’s eight political staff and three administrators.

The budget also pays for community outreach, policy development and “initiatives aimed at improving city services and quality of life in Vancouver,” according to a statement from the mayor’s office.

The $80,000 in question is not new money, per se, with that amount being approved in December 2023 when council approved the city’s operating budget. However, the money was to go to the clerk’s office.

The city staff report explained that since that approval, it was understood that the $80,000 job will entail a close day-to-day working relationship with Sim, routine direction from the mayor and “the exercise of decision-making regarding prioritization of the mayor’s time.”

“Considering the intended function of the new administration position as described above, the city manager and city clerk are of the opinion that the role would be appropriately constituted as a member of the mayor’s staff,” the report said.

The report continued that the required duties are “intrinsically connected to the mayor’s activities and are not conducive to effective performance by an employee who reports through the city’s administrative structure to the city clerk. “

'Best city on the planet'

At that same budget meeting in December 2023, Sim successfully added an additional $100,000 to his office budget, arguing at the time that his office was “operating at a significantly increased capacity compared to past mayors.”

He cited numerous meetings, the need to engage with citizens, senior governments and city departments.

“The mayor's office in some weeks — or in some days — are having more meetings in one day than the previous administration had in a whole month,” Sim said at the time.

“There's a whole bunch of reasons for that. But the reality is the amount of engagement with the public and our team members has increased exponentially.”

Added Sim: “If we want to do a great job and build this city to be the best city on the planet, we're going to have to add a few more resources.”

Fry, Carr and Boyle all voted against the $100,000 increase.

Controversy related to the size of a mayor’s budget is not new in Vancouver, with Sim using the 2022 election campaign to criticize former mayor Kennedy Stewart’s office budget.

Some of the NPA-turned-ABC Vancouver councillors were also critical of Stewart’s budget in the past council term, with Coun. Lisa Dominato requesting in 2018 a review of the mayor’s budget to look for cost savings.

At the time, Dominato’s research showed the mayor’s budget under Gregor Robertson increased by 24 per cent in 2015 and that Stewart’s was more than $1 million. The budget for all 10 councillors at the time, which included salaries and benefits, was $1.7 million.

'Hit the ground running'

Glacier Media emailed questions to the mayor’s communications staff related to that history and asked how Sim could rationalize an increase, considering his criticism of Stewart’s budget.

The response from the mayor didn’t answer the question.

His statement, in full:

“This transfer of funds from the city clerk's budget to the mayor's office budget is an administrative adjustment being recommended by the city manager’s office. This is not new money. Existing funds are simply being reallocated to where they are needed most.

This reallocation is to support the hiring of an additional administrative person in our office to ensure we have the necessary supports to manage our day-to-day operations effectively.

Our council has hit the ground running with a clear mandate, including improving public safety, getting more housing built, clearing permit and project approval backlogs, and addressing crumbling infrastructure.

To meet these challenges and get our city back on track, we've restructured how things are done in the mayor’s office, which has played an integral part in supporting our efforts on council.

We are delivering for the City of Vancouver, making sure Vancouverites are getting value for their money. Out of the 97 commitment points we ran on in the ABC platform, more than 70 per cent have already been actioned or completed.”

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