Vancouver City Clerk Marg Coulson stepping down

Departure of "consummate public servant" the end of an era

It came as an unceremonious email on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend. Marg Coulson, Vancouver's City Clerk and a 34-year veteran of the civil service, is leaving.

From: City Managers Broadcast Account
Sent: Friday, June 29, 2012 01:20 PM
To: All Staff (COV) – DL
Subject: COV Broadcast from City Manager: Staffing Announcement

Dear City Staff,

I am writing to let you know that Marg Coulson, the City Clerk , has decided that she is retiring from the City of Vancouver after 34 years of service.  Marg’s last day will be October 31, 2012. Marg has made many contributions to the city over these years and we will definitely miss her. Over the next few weeks I will be working with the Senior Leadership Team at the City Clerk’s Office to develop a transition plan for the City Clerk’s Office to ensure continued service to the organization.  Please join me in wishing Marg all the best in her retirement and thanking her for the many years of service to the City and the residents of Vancouver.

Penny Ballem

The City Manager's words were parsimonious to say the least. It's widely understood that the "Type A" personality of Ballem did not mesh well with Coulson's old school class. The latter was on extended stress leave thanks in part to the new politicized environment imposed by Vision Vancouver. The Office of the City Clerk absolutely needs to be the most neutral part of Vancouver's civil service. It's believed that the political interference in Coulson's job made it impossible for her to conduct the job in the impartial and professional way that she wanted.

Marg Coulson has been described as the consummate public service professional. Her departure this fall will be the end of an era within Vancouver City Hall, a break from the non-partisan public service where politicians were told what they need to hear by civil servants, not what they want to hear.

It was just over two years ago that Coulson was appointed as City Clerk. Back then the City Manager saw fit to praise Coulson:

From: COV Broadcast Server
Sent: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 6:54 PM
To: All Staff (COV) – DL
Subject: COV Broadcast: Appointment of City Clerk

I am delighted to announce that today, Council confirmed the appointment of Marg Coulson as the City Clerk and Chief Election Officer for Vancouver.

Marg is the successful candidate of our recruitment process which has been underway for the past few months. Marg has a long career with the City and has held a number of key positions including Deputy City Clerk, Coordinator of Corporate Business Improvement Projects, and the Purchasing Office Manager.  For the past 21 months, Marg has served as the Acting City Clerk.

I want to thank Marg for her support to me and to the Mayor and Council over the past year. I look forward to Marg’s leadership as the Clerk’s Office implements a number of strategies to enhance our service to Council, and to our citizens and stakeholders.

Congratulations Marg.

Penny Ballem
City Manager

At the time City Hall watcher Frances Bula called Coulson's appointment a "nice surprise" and that she appreciated Marg's "quiet help" on questions about city business. Coulson was certainly a low-key member of Vancouver's bureaucracy. The 1935 image above of Fred Howlett from the Vancouver Archives was the best image we could find to represent the office – Coulson was never in the public eye.

Since Vancouver lost Brent Toderian as the Director of Planning it was decided that a committee of senior management could fill the role instead of hiring a new DoP. Given the propensity of the City Manager to give direction to many of her senior staff on their work, perhaps the City of Vancouver will forego replacing the City Clerk altogether.

Our best wishes go out to Marg Coulson and to the professionalism of the public service she represents.

– post by Mike

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  • waltyss

    While some of the discussion on City Caucus has been good (bike helmets on Bixi bikes), posts like this one are you at your partisan worst.
    The City Clerk was appointed by a Vision regime, so it cannot be because she is a vestige of the old regime.
    Your post has no facts, simply partisan innuendo.
    You state: “It’s widely understood that the “Type A” personality of Ballem did not mesh well with Coulson’s old school class.” Widely understood by who besides you?
    You continue on: “It’s believed that the political interference in Coulson’s job made it impossible for her to conduct the job in the impartial and professional way that she wanted.” Believed by whom?
    There are also people who believe in flying saucers peopled by little green aliends. However what basis, if any, is there for their beliefs.
    In passing, you mention that Ms. Coulson has been off on stress leave “thanks in part to the new politicized environment imposed by Vision Vancouver” What basis, if any, is there for that statement?
    I appreciate that you are an NPA hack and see your job to attack Vision, whether there is basis for the attack or not. However, for those of us not so partisan, to paraphrase Amy Winehouse: What kind of hackery is this?” Is there some basis for your comments or is it just spiteful hackery? Having ready your piece, I am none the wiser…

    • Waltyss, if you put your ear to the ground and listen to something else than your own grumpy viewpoint you’d know that Vision have poisoned the public service by making it partisan. Coulson’s respectability and professionalism are legend within the civil service. Her stresses in dealing with the City Manager have been previously documented, though probably not as much as they should have been out of respect for Marg.

      • waltyss

        Mike, jsut so i can do a “grumpy” fact check, where do I put my ear to the ground? Where would I find the previous documentation about her stresses in dealing with the City Manager? Will they tell me that her stresses arise out of partisan issues or because the City Manager has a reputation as a hard task master which is something else.
        You may think that I am more partisan than i am. I voted for Vision because I had no time for Sam Sullivan or NPA. There were many reasons but their opposition to wards was one of the key issues for me.. However i am not a die hard supporter of Vision. I am interested in factual matters that may be critical (or supportive) of any party. My tone may be grumpy but the questions are fair ones.

        • Ned

          Call Gregor, call your Vision brother in arms, pop the champagne… eat your cake.
          Now, do me a favor… Sod Off!

          • waltyss

            Mike, you want grumpy and ignorant. Here is your guy. Maybe you can tell me: Is Ned a typical NPA supporter or just the kind of unfortunate flotsam and jetsam that probably most parties attract?

      • Agreed Mike. Vision has done a great deal of harm in politicizing City staff. Marg is not the first, nor will she be the last to leave.

        I particularly am saddened to hear that she has been off on “extended stress leave”. I wish her well.

        It’s not difficult to connect the dots is it? Is that why she did not fulfill the Clerk’s usual Chief Election Officer function last fall?

        In addition to Vision Vancouver initiated policies, Penny Ballem must take the blame for creating a work environment that requires dedicated civil servants such as Marg Coulson to be off on “stress leave” for an extended period of time, and ultimately to prematurely leave their positions. Her bully tactics remind me of the British generals in WW1 that sent Canadian and other “colonial” troops to certain death.

        • waltyss

          McCreery, your final comment is disgusting and uncalled for. Unfortunately it is typical of the over the top vituperative rhetoric that poisoned this website.
          And I will ask you (but I suspect I know the answer) what is your factual basis (other than drinking Mike’s bathwater) for connecting the City Manager to the City Clerk being off on stress leave?
          Again, Mike, if this is a typical NPA supporter (and I fear he may be) you may start to understand why NPA got codslapped in the last election and will be again in the next election if this hateful rhetoric contineues.

          • My goodness. Yes I am taking Mike’s assertion that Marg Coulson has been off on “extended stress leave” as being accurate. My experience here over the past 3 years is that most of what he reports is. If it is confirmed to be incorrect I will withdraw my comment and apologize. However, if that is not the case, IMO what I have concluded is based on a reasonable assessment of what I know from personal, second and third party experience of what has been and continues to happen at City Hall.

            We can also disagree on the reason why the NPA lost the 2011 election. It had little to do with your dubious rationale.

          • waltyss

            Well, Mr. McCreery, that the City Clerk may have been off on an extended stress leave is easy to verify. That the stress leave was caused by improper political interference by the City Clerk is another matter. And on that score, I have been vainly trying to get a factual answer.
            It just occurred to me that you were one of the failed NPA candidates in the last election. Your unfortunate language in your post gives force to my belief that the nastiness of people like Suzanne Anton (who I at one time had respect for) and you was a major element in NPA’s deserved defeat.
            However you have another view. Perhaps you can share why received some 8700 votes less than the lowest Vision candidate. Aliens?

  • boohoo

    “you’d know that Vision have poisoned the public service by making it partisan.”

    You are actually try to imply it wasn’t partisan before?

    I get that you guys don’t like vision, but all the claims that they’ve ruined democracy, hate/ignore the public, are slaves to developers/whatever other group–give your heads a shake, they are but another in a long list. They didn’t invent this bullshit political system, and they sure aren’t the first to exploit it.

    You want actual change? Abolish the parties. Until then, how you could possibly expect them not to act this way is beyond understanding.

  • Accurateportrayal

    Going back to the main article, the City has lost a key resource due to interference from the City Managers Office.

    I wish Marg Coulson the best with her future endeavours, as retirement is not likely in her future.

    • Ned

      I concur your message. After City Caucus, another sad farewell!
      And perhaps for the same reasons… 🙁

    • waltyss

      Accurateportrayal: do you have facts to support your statement that there has been interference from the City Managers office? Or are you just drinking Mike’s bath water (Yuk!).
      I am on a lonely quest to find out some facts.

  • Walt, I’ve seen the destructive consequences of the current administration’s management style close up. And I suspect you have too, you would,however, rather deny it. Unfortunately the people who are the victims have to live with them.

    I have commented here and elsewhere about some of the reasons the NPA did not fare better last November. Please refer to them.

  • Max


    You speak of the ‘nastiness’ of the NPA people, and yet you do not turn that same mirror to yourself?


    Do you actually read what you post – or do you just spew aloong?

    • waltyss

      @Max: if you look at my posts, you will find I do not start out with nastiness but will respond in kind when I see it.
      The comments in regard to mcCreery arose out of his overthetop ugly comparison between what may or may not have happened between the City Clerk and the City Manager and sending people off to die in World War 1. The comparison was odious; I responded in kind.
      However, overall, it was instructive that this individual actually thought that the citizens of Vancouver might elect him to council. A remarkable lack of insight, don[t you think.

  • Accurateportrayal


    Actually yes I do.

    • waltyss

      @Accurateportrayal: Woudl you care to share them?

  • JJ

    Waltyss I don’t remember who said it but you are the Vision Vancouver wuss! What did the kids make fun of you on the schoolbus? Youcontinue to come in here and kick at the City Caucus defunct body. Piss off!

    • waltyss

      Gee, JJ, others are posting but when I post, it’s defunct. Your “logic” escapes me.
      If asking for factual backup for allegations of improper political interference makes me a “Vision Vancouver wuss”, so be it. Knowing what it means, I will wear the label proudly.
      Just as I expect that you proudly drink the NPA bathwater, no facts need interfere. Enjoy the wilderness.

  • waltyss

    Here is one reason you will NOT be missed. You spew out an allegation against a public servant. Asked to back it up, Klassen, McCreery, Accurateportrayal cannot come up with facts to support their slimy attack.
    The light has gone on. Facts have nothing to do with it; like faith, ya just gotta believe. Drink the KoolAid and be with holy NPA in body and soul. And some future salvation will come to you.
    Sad but true!

  • Mr./ Ms. waltyss please be advised that I have confirmed Mr. Klassen’s report through very reliable independent sources that the City Clerk has indeed been on stress leave.

  • waltyss

    Mr. McCreery:
    As I stated in my post on July 4 at 12:16 am, that the city clerk was off on stress leave is easy to verify. And you claim to have done so. Good on you.
    However, as I said then and as I repeat, it is a giant leap from saying she was off on stress to she was off on stress because of improper political interference from the City Manager.
    Any factual proof of that, other than Klassen’s unsubstantiated allegations from last year, I am still waiting to hear. I am not however holding my breath.

  • Mr./ Ms. waltyss, at this time there is no “factual proof” as to why the City Clerk has been off on stress leave. And, out of respect for the Clerk, perhaps this exchange can now be concluded.