Chief Electrician shocker! Feb. 12th letter crafted by City

An apparent letter from Tsisserev to Penny Ballem was in fact provided by the City – click for full letter

Alex G. Tsakumis’ dogged coverage of the Ark Tsisserev affair continues. If you thought that the 40-page memo leaked to Frances Bula last Friday evening was the end of the story, think again. Tsakumis has a full on the record interview with the City’s former Chief Electrical Inspector, under the condition that he gives no opinions based on suppositions, and that he does not speak disparagingly regarding anyone or anything at City Hall today – terms required by his agreement with the City of Vancouver.

After reading Arkady’s statements, one detail really jumped out at me. It concerned the curious page 13 letter signed by Tsisserev sent to the attention of Penny Ballem. It very much looks like a home printed memo, in a tightly spaced Times Roman font that looks nothing like memos from the City. If you read the letter too quickly, you would think that Tsisserev had completely capitulated. He dismisses "media coverage" as being wildly inaccurate. The letter is co-signed and date-stamped by Ark’s lawyer Russ Chamberlain.

Tsisserev tells Alex Tsakumis that the letter was in fact prepared by city staff, and he had to sign it as a condition of receiving his payout. Here is how he describes his reaction to receiving the letter in the interview with Tsakumis:

AGT: …how on earth can you have then signed a letter on February 12th, not even a month later, a letter which the City, specifically Dr. Ballem, cites as proof of your lack of knowledge of any potential life safety issues? How can both be true?

AT: You mean the letter that appeared out of nowhere? (Laughs…)

AGT: What do you mean by that? (Long pause…)

AT: I was negotiating a settlement through my lawyer while I was shocked and deeply hurt by the treatment I received…I am still hurt because I loved serving the people and working with the people I worked with. But it was actually the city that sent the February 12th letter over. My lawyer Russ Chamberlain did not draft it at all. I didn’t write it either. It came over from the city just as I signed it and it was made very clear to me that if I did not have any “current” first hand knowledge, like on that day, of specific life safety issues, if I did not sign I wouldn’t get a settlement. It was an essential part of the deal for the city. They insisted I sign as a key part of (the) deal.

AGT: So, in order for you to achieve an exit with settlement, the city demanded you sign that letter…

AT: Correct. I objected a lot originally to Russ but it was no use. Look, Alex, I was not employed by that time, so they could make me sign this and be technically correct, even though I did not feel good about this kind of move.

The letter is addressed to the City Manager, subject "Media Reports". As of February 12th there had only been two media covering the story, CTV, who ran it on their Feb. 6th & 7th weekend newscast, and Alex Tsakumis. CTV’s and Tsakumis’ stories ran during the Olympics, virtually guaranteeing that no one would pay attention to the report. The letter seems to been written over concerns raised by Tsakumis’ persistent blog posts rather than the more limited mainstream coverage.

The letter reads:

Ms. Ballem, I have been listening to the various news reports which allege safety issues in light of my departure from the electrical inspections branch. I want you to know as I have instructed my lawyer, that the "leaks" which the media seem to find are not from me and I have not passed on any emails or information of any kind to compromise the reputation of the City or the department.

The letter goes on to make vague statements full of qualifiers such as:

I confirm that while I was at the department there was absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever with the manner in which the electrical department was carrying out its responsibilities. I can also say that since my departure on January 21, 2010, I am not aware of any facts that would suggest in any way that there is anything wrong in the way the electrical inspections branch is being operated and I am not currently aware of any safety issues or dangers whatsoever.

This letter was written to serve one purpose, to squash any independent media reports of electrical problems. It concludes with this line:

I hope this helps to address some of the misinformation which has been circulating in the press.

The page 13 letter was produced to look like it was a correspondence from Tsisserev himself, when in fact it was anything but. The letter is a complete fabrication, and it was signed under duress.

What could they have been possibly thinking to cook up this deceit? What a horrible way to treat a loyal and competent employee like Arkady Tsisserev.

Our hat goes off to Alex for his report. Now it’s time for Gregor Robertson and Penny Ballem to answer even more questions on this file.

– post by Mike

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  • The Angry Taxpayer

    Rotten. To. The. Core.
    Looking forward to further coverage.

  • Glissando Remmy

    “Our hat goes off to Alex for his report. Now it’s time for Gregor Robertson and Penny Ballem to answer even more questions on this file.”
    I’ve already sent my congrats to Alex on this one. Good for you guys here at City Caucus for giving him and his story the exposure it deserves.
    As for Ballem @ company…
    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Janice

    Anyone else noticing how our mayor has retreated (again) to his bubble? Nary a word. Not even slight stumble from his handsome lips as he fumbles to find words or excuses to get out of latest fiasco.
    Kudos to you CC and AGT for relentless and much-needed coverage + investigative reporting. Where the **** is mainstream media?!

  • I just wanted to say ‘Thank You’ for your kind coverage.
    If there is one thing we can all agree on, it is this: The firing of Arkady Tsisserev and the subsequent life safety issues through the Olympic Games and beyond, are clear evidence that the Mayor was more worried about photo ops than the safety of his citizens.
    We can also all agree that this is about everyone’s safety.
    This is not about politics, it’s about keeping everyone safe.
    I will be calling for a full investigation and for the immediate resignation of Dr. Penny Ballem. That letter she made Mr. Tsisserev sign was a complete falsification of facts to, as you astutely point out, mitigate the damage her reputation was suffering as a result of my reports which by then had begun in earnest. She has soiled her perch to such a stunning degree that if she survives this, then maybe the Mayor should resign instead.
    Too hard? Really?
    What would you say if it was one of your loved ones that died in a fire in any of those venues?
    Or anywhere else now, for what guarantee do we have that the life safety issues persist?
    Thank you again Daniel and Mike. Much appreciation. I wish you continued success.

  • bobhawkins

    I assume Mike that you ask Ballem and Robertson to come clean on this matter with tongue in cheek. You know as well as anyone that neither will speak the truth on this or even most matters that relate to the City. But good try anyway.

  • Omoishiroi

    Hats off to City Caucus and Alex T for covering this story and keeping it alive. I hope I am wrong but with Francis Bula and Mr Bee Keeper firmly planted in VISION’s back pocket I am not sure how this story will grow legs in the broader media. I listened to the Civic Affairs panel yesterday on the whole DERA thing – VISION’S talking heads Jim Green and Francis Bula were infuriating and disgraceful. Blind support for VISION is all we can expect from BC’s media – present company excluded.

  • Dennis O’Bell

    It’s a world class city, headed by a village class juiceboy, run by a no class city manager.
    Penny needs to go now.

  • Wayne

    Write to mayor and council. With enough pressure maybe we can get to that bottom of this.
    Dear Mayor and Council,
    It appears, from reading bloggers I follow regularly, that there is a dark cloud over the dismissal of Arkady Tsisserev. I’m offended by the unfair treatment of any employee and the fact that Tsisserev, by all accounts, was an exceptional long-time employee makes this situation stink to high heaven.
    The mayor and the city clerk had better explain to the rest of us what exactly is going on here.
    Stop playing games and tell us the truth. If anyone in this fiasco has deliberately fabricated information there should be severe consequences.
    Whether in public service or private business, individuals in positions of responsibility have one duty above all others, to protect lives and ensure safety. There is an appearance here that some of the players are willing to fudge on this.

  • Glen Hall

    I’ve recently heard from some friends that “certain” individuals at city hall are in full panic mode over this. Ark was on CBC this morning and it appears more media interviews are on the way.
    So is Gregor going to continue claiming this is all “baseless” like he said on Global, or will we hear that this is a human resources issue and that he can’t talk about it?
    You guys should start a 50/50 pool on the change of stories, lies and smears and lies that are being formulated in the war room over at 12th and Cambie right now.
    Sell the squares for charity, maybe you could even buy some carbon credits from Joel Solomon’s carbon credit company to help the city meet their “green goals”.
    You could have several squares for each councillor and the mayor, squares for Penny Ballum and Will Johnston, perhaps even Penny’s number 2.
    What do you say guys?
    We could call it “Pin the Penny on Gregor”. Donkey or ass it’s all the same thing.

  • Richard

    “Duress” is rather dramatic and over the top. He was represented by a lawyer and if he did not want to sign the letter and settle with the city, he always had the option of going to court so claiming the letter was signed under duress is rather ridiculous. So either there isn’t much to all of this or he got bad legal advice from his lawyer. It is not relevant who wrote the text of the letter. He put his signature to it which means he agreed that it correctly represented his views. In fact, people in positions of authority are always signing letters which they have not drafted.
    As he now has a consulting gig, which I suspect pays more than the city gig, it is hard to claim he signed the letter because he needed the money.
    Anyway, it is obvious that what is at worst a messy firing (as many firings are), is being used for political reasons by those with an axe to grind.

  • Glen Hall

    When the guy signed the letter he was out of work for barely 3 weeks, for the first time in 20 years and there is no evidence to support any belief that he was already in talks with his current employer regarding a position.
    It’s very common for people Ark’s age, when they lose a job, to feel that no one would hire them.
    So yes it is likely he felt duress.
    For you to suggest this is “obvious at worst a messy firing”, is ridiculous. Nice pandering for Vision though, head back over to Frances Bula’s site where you’ll find some company for that drivel.

  • The REALLY Angry Taxpayer

    Really Richard, must you repeat your posts here, verbatim as to the ones you post on Frances’s blog?
    How insulting to Daniel and Michael! Why, it’s almost as if you were cranking them out, ad infinitum to everyone you can think of…
    You’re not a Vision supporter/worker are you???

  • Disgusted

    And here is the Vancouver Sun, finally weighing in.
    Pity they forgot the bit where Ark talks about his responsibility to OK the Olympic Village being taen over by another–while Ark was still at the City. Maybe that’s how you get things “ok’d’ in time for the Big Show!

  • Um, Richie, or is that Dick…
    Sorry to break up the party, but go over to my blog by morning if you want to see what kind of “option” Ark Tsisserev had in signing or not signing the manufactured letter Penny Ballem wrote.
    And then come back here, Dick, so we can address you properly.
    Political axe to grind? You weren’t bitching when I was MORE than giving Gregor the benefit of the doubt during that last election. You didn’t complain when he announced his candidacy in my column. You didn’t think it was a political axe to grind when I took Suzanne Anton to task (who I note for the record, along with the NPA was dead silent today)
    No axes then, huh?
    There is an old Sicilian adage my maternal grandfather used to tell me, that goes something like this, Dick…
    “The man makes the name…”
    In your case it may be the reverse.

  • dave

    “It very much looks like a home printed memo, in a tightly spaced Times Roman font”
    Not only that, but someone took the time to carefully emulate Tsisserev’s distinctive writing style. Perhaps in the hope that everyone would think Tsisserev took pen to paper of his own accord in his eagerness to set the record straight?

  • Chester

    Penny Ballem was front and centre on the news last night explaining why she fired Ark. Hello???? Where is Gregor Robertson. Was it not his decision to fire Ark. Why is bubble boy not coming out of hiding and speaking to the media? Ark was HIS EMPLOYEE…not PENNY’s!!! The media should demand Gregor come out of hiding and speak to this issue.