Gregorgate? Robertson continues to claim no knowledge of Tsisserev sacking

ark tsisserev
Chief Electrical Inspector Ark Tsisserev (right) interviewed by CTV’s Lisa Rossington

Historians agree that it wasn’t the break-in to Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel that led to Richard Nixon’s ultimate resignation as US President. Rather, it was when Nixon and his staff conspired to cover it up in the years that followed.

Denials by Gregor Robertson that he knew anything about the dismissal of Ark Tsisserev have some wondering if Vancouver’s Mayor needs brush up on his political science in the face of a scandal some are now dubbing Gregorgate.

The most recent damaging new revelation for Robertson is an interview which took place between him and CKNW news reporter Nafeesa Karim last Wednesday, March 10th (clip):

Robertson is asked a simple question – did he know if Ark Tsisserev retired, or if he was let go? After stumbling on his words for a full nine seconds, Robertson (as with his interview with Michael Smyth last Friday) claims no knowledge of Tsisserev’s dismissal and that it was a "human resources action" and that HR were "taking care of it". He deflects any further questions on the matter to the City Manager.

As for Penny Ballem, she responded to the question by CKNW reporter Janet Brown about Tsisserev’s dismissal, saying "he fell victim to restructuring. We are an organization that uses best human resources practices and these are always difficult things. Being laid off is a difficult time for employee and employer."

Former Chief Electrical Inspector Ark Tsisserev was replaced in a decision made by Mayor and council during an in-camera meeting which took place on January 21st, 2010. All meetings involving discussion and decisions regarding personnel are held in-camera, and the closed door gathering on the 21st was chaired by Mayor Robertson.

An inside account of the meeting reveals that the deliberation on the matter was brief. Unlike situations where people are being let go for cause, where discussion can typically last an hour or more, council swiftly approved staff’s recommendation to replace Tsisserev with Will Johnston (the city’s Chief Building Official). The decision is noted in council minutes from February 2nd.

The fact that city council ended Ark Tsisserev’s award-winning career at the City of Vancouver in mere minutes suggests that in all likelihood they were duped by one or more party involved in getting rid of the Chief Electrician. And there is evidence to prove this, according to one City Hall watcher.

Google Ark Tsisserev’s name and you’ll immediately find evidence that he is one of the most qualified and heralded figures in his profession. In 2004, Tsisserev was awarded the Canadian Standards Association’s most prestigious honour, the John Jenkins Award, for which he was recognized by city council. In January after receiving the news from a senior manager, Tsisserev was frog-marched in front of his colleagues to his desk to get his personal belongings, and walked off of city property.

Tsisserev’s abrupt removal from his job sent shockwaves through the community of electrical professionals in which he is held in high regard. As we reported earlier, CTV’s Lisa Rossington questioned Mayor Robertson directly on February 7th, and he deflected the question with the excuse that the Olympics were too much of a distraction. The dogged reporting by Alex Tsakumis followed, uncovering many more strange twists in the Tsisserev affair.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation of Tsakumis’ reports was the admission by Coun. Geoff Meggs (in a private meeting with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) that he and his colleagues were led to believe that Tsisserev had retired:

[Meggs] long-standing union involvement found him at the table with the IBEW. They discussed several safety issues, raised by a number of individuals, and were looking for explanations about how their professionalism has been compromised… Councillor Meggs was shown several sources, including copies of the original breaking news and follow-ups from this website.

After some discussion, Clr. Meggs dropped a bombshell admission…that Vancouver City Council was advised by city staff that Arkady Tsisserev, HAD RETIRED!!! Council was then presented with a report insisting that a new ‘City Electrician’ had to be hired and that a city staff report recommended Mr. Will Johnston, a structural engineer without a stitch of electrical knowledge or experience.

This proves beyond any doubt that the termination of Arkady Tsisserev was a clear and unmistakable violation of the Vancouver Charter by senior City of Vancouver management, who are attempting to cover up their tracks by deliberately misleading city council with respect to the reasons Canada’s most respected electrical life safety engineer was wrongfully dismissed…

Even after many questions by media over the past several weeks, Mayor Robertson continues to insist that he knows nothing about the file. Remember, Robertson chaired the meeting where Tsisserev was let go. What can we conclude from the Mayor’s statements that he has no knowledge of the Tsisserev dismissal? Many are beginning to have doubts about whether Robertson is being entirely forthcoming on this matter.

If city council was deceived, Robertson will have no choice but to terminate those responsible. If he doesn’t, then it’s possible that his legacy in office will be remembered for this brewing Gregorgate scandal.


UPDATE: We can confirm that according to lawyer Russ Chamberlain, Arkady Tsisserev has settled with the City of Vancouver for an undisclosed sum and will be making no further comments on this matter.

UPDATE #2: GlobalTV BC interviews Alex Tsakumis and Coun. Suzanne Anton on the matter of the wiring at Olympic venues & the firing of Tsisserev – video link.

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  • Voice of Reason

    Okay, let’s get this straight.
    Nixon participated in a criminal conspiracy to break into the headquarters of his political rivals. He then participated in a second criminal conspiracy to cover up his involvement in the first conspiracy, and a third criminal conspiracy to block the investigation into the incident.
    Assuming the very worst, Gregor participated in a decision to break a contract with a city employee and then lied to the press about knowing about it.
    The big difference? Lying to a reporter isn’t a crime. Conspiring to undermine a criminal investigation is.
    These two events are not similar in any way, other than the fact that you tacked “-gate” onto Gregor’s name.

  • @VOR. You’re pre-supposing that Gregor lied to the media. You’re also assuming that he broke a contract without the consent of council. We’ll let this matter play itself out, and allow the Mayor to provide his own explanation of what happened.
    As for Nixon, his problems were not only legal ones. He also lost the faith of the electorate because of his deceptions.

  • I voted for Vision – D’oh!!

    Penny said that Ark “fell victim to restructuring”. The same restructuring that is suppose to save the city money? What is the true savings after these ‘unknown’ settlements are factored in? Now there is no City electrician. Ark worked tirelessly during days off and vacation to deal with City issues. Will his replacement do that? Probably not since by the sounds of it his replacement has no electrical experience and already has a full time job! Morale at the City is at an all time low and employees who used to put in the ‘extra mile’ no longer do this – productivity is at an all time low. Yet, despite all these factors, at the end of this process, Vision will be able to say “we saved the City $X by streamlining how the city does business”. But the true cost of how Vision is doing its business will never be known!

  • Bill McCreery

    This ‘unusual’ treatment of City employees is unsettling in itself but, when taken together with other seemingly Vision related initiatives such as:
    1] the departure of the previous City Manager, [I believe] the Director of City Finance Department, the Parks Board General Manager [they’re just now getting the replacement selection process started, one year later], the Parks Board Manager of Financial Services, as well as others, & now the Chief Electrical Inspector; Who’s next?; These people have been given golden handshakes to silence them. But, the bigger question is, why? Is this so Vision can cook the books, have they uncovered staff procedural or financial wrong doings? Are there policy differences with the Vision Council? If they’re doing an administrative reorganization, they’re not going about it at all well.
    When TEAM did our reorganization in 1973 – 74, we fired the City Commissioner & Planner immediately but, we said up front that these two individuals were not people we felt could move the City in the directions we wanted ti to go. We also undertook a staff reorganization at the Parks Board to change the decision-making process from a hierarchal, vertical one to a decentralized, community based one. We were open with the public about what we were doing & where we were going. Vision is not.
    2] The Vancouver Sun 9 March article by Civic Scene’s Jonathan Ross accusing City staff of deliberately withholding or providing erroneous information to Council regarding the development cost figures for the Olympic Village during both the NPA & Vision watches. These very serious accusations need to be substantiated or withdrawn. The reputations of the staff members concerned hang in the balance, as does overall staff morale.

  • Disgusted

    Bill, you are certainly correct. It is apprent that there is trouble brewing inside City Hall. To have a persherke like Ross spin it is insulting o all staff.
    I can’t understand why people at Vision can’t be straight-up. If they felt they couldn’t work with him, so be it. Say it. This other nonsense feels sleazy.
    And ‘Voice’, it may not be “criminal” behaviour to lie to a reporter, but I guarantee you, no reporter worth his/her salt will lie back and “take it” once they figure out they have been fiddled.
    Dumb-ass moves, all the way round. Worse, if it goes to the fact that they didn’t want Ark to blow the whistle on the Olympic Village, all hell should rightly break loose.

  • Oop! He did it again…

    CKNW has just run the clip of the Mayor fumbling his answer. Again.
    Maybe a senior journalist in this town will get his/her head out of the office for a bit and keep asking the questions until the Mayor get’s his story straight…

  • Glissando Remmy

    The Thought of The Day
    “Strange how the City of Vancouver`s top Manager thinks that QED stands for – QUITE EASILY DONE when everyone else knows that it means – QUOD ERAT DEMONSTRANDUM.”
    Let me clarify this one for you. Following are three statements.
    Statement ONE
    Ark Tsisserev claims he was fired without just cause after decades of impeccable service with the City of Vancouver. (If true, he has the right to sue the City and may be entitled to compensation)
    Statement TWO
    Penny Ballem claimes that Ark Tsiserev was instead “retired” with dignity. She doesn`t thing there was any wrongdoing. (If true, the City is safe from litigation)
    Statement THREE
    Mayor Gregor Robertson says that he didn’t know about the matter despite him being the head of a Council whose role was to hire Ark in the first place and would have been their role to fire Ark if necessary. (If true, the Mayor`s office is as useful as an extra large condom on a Panda`s yingyang)
    Let`s assume now that statement ONE is WRONG.
    (That means that any lawsuit filed by Ark and his lawyer is doomed from the start.)
    However, Ark hires lawyer, sues the City and apparently they settle for an undisclosed amount.
    If TWO and THREE were RIGHT there would have been NO settlement.
    (Note: no accused party would get advice from a top lawyer to go to trial if there was no way in Hell to win the case. Settlement comes to mind in most cases. Eliminates humiliation for the accused and why not mitigates (as in “hides”) path for future lawsuits.)
    Which gets us to the one and only conclusion: statement ONE is RIGHT!
    “that which was to be demonstrated”
    It bothers me dearly when a manager, public employee or an elected official tries to cover up their one degree of separation wrongdoing with… MY MONEY! I say it`s about the right time for the Taxpayers to correct the situation and have them fired. The City of Vancouver Manager would probably agree with me when I say that is QUITE EASILY DONE.
    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • @ Glissy, I was able to get through to Russ Chamberlain this afternoon before he stopped taking media calls. He confirmed that he was working with Ark, that they had already settled with the CoV, and they were not allowed to speak to any media about it forthwith.

  • Frankly PeeOwed

    I saw Gregor on global tv tonight. He said he paid Tsisserev severance. How much was it? Why do taxpayers have to wait for someone to file a freedom of information request before we know how much this will have costs us Vancouver taxpayers. The mayor needs to tell us NOW how much money he paid out in severance. Why does he continue to pretend like he knows nothing about this? Morale at city hall has hit an ALL TIME NEW LOW. If you don’t believe me, just ask my colleagues. This place has become such a toxic workplace under Ballem.

  • julia

    since when do you pay severance to someone who has ‘retired’ and since when would it come with a gag order?
    this really smells

  • Gerry McGuire

    IQ Quiz-which of the threee following statements is inconsistent with the others?
    1)Lie on a resume and you can be fired later if you got the job.
    2)Lie in court and you can go to jail for perjury.
    3)Lie to a reporter and you can get elected Premier or re-elected to the Mayor’s chair.

  • Michael MacD

    Where is the Vancouver Sun? Where is Gary Mason? Where is the Globe and Mail? Where is Miro Cernetig and Pete Mcmartin? Where is the Province? Where are the editorials? Where is the CBC? Where is Rick Cluff? Where is 24 Hrs? Where is Metro News? Where is the Ming Pao? Where is the Sing Tao? WHERE ARE YOU MEDIA???? Wakie wakie?? He may be good looking, but please don’t give him a pass on this. We’re all counting on you to DO YOUR JOB!!! Investigate what happened on January 21st and why Robertson fired Tsisserev. It’s your duty and you shouldn’t let bloggers do your job. Thank you to CTV, CKNW and the bloggers for asking some tough questions. Politicians that lie should be exposed.

  • Comeback Salmon

    I understand that several key positions have had ‘turnover’ since VISION was elected, including Penny taking over as Manager. I would like to see City Caucus create a list of all senior folks at the City who have been ‘retired’, who quit out of frustration or were fired – what has all this cost the taxpayers? What have we paid to the replacements and how many are linked to Cortez? What has it done to morale for the survivors at City Hall? And why is it only City Caucus and Alex T that have the cajones to criticize this train wreck called VISION?

  • Jerry

    Any mechanism to have this guy impeached? By the time this group gets through their term who knows how much damage will be done!

  • flowmass

    Now I assume Mr. Tsisserev is not a political person. He was probably a great engineer. An my comments are not regarding his dismissal.
    However, what really amuses me is the ‘quelle surprise?’ or the downright naivete of the commenters here on some of the happenings at City Hall.
    Give your heads a shake. When a new regime takes over, some heads must roll. Buraucrats, by their nature, become pawns, bootlickers and sychophnats of the previous regime. Larry Campbell didn’t move fast enough in 2003 to rid of many of the bureaucrats of the old regime. (Veteran City Hall watchers know who I mean.) and look what happened.
    In 1991, Mike Harcourt didn’t move fast enough of ridding Victoria of some toxic bureaucrats, and look what happend to him.
    It’s a fact of life.

  • david hadaway

    He is asked a simple question and instead of answering repeats the question slowly. Classic, we all know what that means. I imagine Bernie Madoff did much the same when asked “Where’s my money?”, and regarding the payoff to Tsisserev I’d like to ask where’s mine?

  • George

    Ark was fired for doing his job, he told the truth…there was a serious safety risk. Nothing to do with party change… You need to get the facts straight…you will be shocked.This man was very well respected for his integrity. Can Gregor say that?
    This has everything to do with a lack of integrity on Visions part… but there is more to the story and Vision hopes you never find out.

  • Observer


  • Redeye

    +1 to George.
    Ark was actually planning to retire in June 2010 anyways. That’s why I think there must be more to this story than Vision is telling us.
    I am really curious to know how much severance was paid since Ark would have been off the payroll in June anyways.

  • landlord

    @flowmass : Harcourt wasn’t pushed out by provincial bureaucrats. He was knifed in the back by his own party, with Glen Clark leading the lynching party. That’s the reason nobody shed a tear when Glen got what he had coming.

  • skipp

    By lieing to a reporter the GQ mayor lied to all of Vancouver. What did he lie about? Hush money in the form of severance pay. We have no idea whether this was a terminatioin for cause or if thsi was voluntary. Ballem’s expalnation is asinine. An employer does not exit an employee due to a restructure and immediately begin an executive search to replace that same person. Beleive me, I have done many corporate restructures. This is HR speak for terminated without cause and thus the need to pony up severance along with a non-disclosure agreement. Thus, the pretty boy mayor fired him without cause, bought his silenec with an undisclosed amount of severance and sealed the hush money with a non-disclosure agreement. BTW, what the hell is meggs doing discussing confidential city council issues with the IBEW???

  • Sorry, this is not true. Arkady Tsisserev was planning on retiring in July of 2011, as per contract.

  • Redeye

    As a regular full time exempt employee, Ark did not work under a contract. He is free to retire whenever he feels like it. You might be thinking of the Collective Agreement which is for unionized employees which expires at the end of 2011. Even, then you can still retire whenever you feel like it.

  • Zeus

    To Redeye: (and to anyone who thinks different on the following)
    It is a known FACT by those close to him and the people who conspired to dismiss him, that Ark had no intention of retiring, did not announce his retirement, did not submit his intent to retire, and implicitly had no plan to retire until 2011. Your attempt to deflect is lame.