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.
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.
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