Judy Rogers: City of Vancouver Multitasker

Mayor Sam Sullivan is explicit in describing the multitasker Judy Rogers’s role with the City of Vancouver. “Any major initiatives, I go directly to her."


Mayor Sam Sullivan is explicit in describing the multitasker Judy Rogers’s role with the City of Vancouver. “Any major initiatives, I go directly to her.”

When Police Chief Jamie Graham left a bullet-riddled shooting target on city manager Judy Rogers’s desk last July, she was concerned enough to take the issue to the mayor’s office, sparking a police board investigation. The board concluded the gesture was merely a misguided joke, but the incident does point to a larger issue at city hall: it is entirely possible that a disgruntled department chief might harbour frustration with a city manager who at times seems to wield more power than the mayor. But today, Rogers hardly looks as though she’s carrying the weight of Vancouver on her shoulders. It’s a rainy afternoon, and protestors have encircled city hall – the issue today is China’s persecution of Falun Gong. A huge white flag carrying the Olympics logo undulates slowly outside Rogers’s window as the city manager bustles about her office, clearing papers off a table and offering tea as she flashes her visitor a cheerful smile. Rogers oversees an annual budget that is nudging the billion-dollar mark ($955 million in 2006, to be exact, including capital projects and operating costs). But ask her exactly what she does, and it’s nearly impossible to get a straight answer – her responses invari¬ably begin in the first-person plural. “We touch the lives of virtually every citizen,” she says to my question about her role, “whether it’s a new trunk line in the sewer system or the fact that we talk to council about hosting the Olympics and the Paralympics, or whether it’s planning neighbourhoods.” Mayor Sam Sullivan is more explicit in describing Rogers’s role at city hall. “Any major initiatives, I go directly to her. I usually go to Judy saying I believe the city should be this type of city, we need this type of outcome; tell me how to get there.” Sullivan agrees wholeheartedly with critics who grouse that Rogers has more power than the mayor – but adds a crucial distinction between managing and governing, saying that while Rogers is top dog on the administrative side of city hall, it’s the elected politicians who set the agenda. An aversion to the world “I” is only fitting for an administrator whose career has been dedicated to reaching out to those outside the mainstream. Rogers is largely credited with drafting the inclusivity statement that was central to Vancouver’s bid for the 2010 Olympics. And she has won two United Nations public service awards for programs that she was instrumental in creating. In the late 1990s, Rogers oversaw the extensive communication and training that enabled the city’s multiple departments to ¬co-ordinate their responses to community concerns. More recently, she was recognized by the U.N. as the leading force behind the Down-town Eastside Community Development Project. Rogers mobilized city resources to forge coalitions between resident groups, social agencies and multiple levels of government. Managing departments that work 24-hour shifts leaves little time for personal pursuits. (“A city manager is pretty much on call all the time,” Rogers concedes), but when she does find for personal pursuits, Rogers is an avid skier. The native of Kimberly, B. C., lives in Vancouver with her partner, Grant, and has two children and two grandchildren. Has she ever been tempted to step out into the limelight and run for public office? “Never! Not ever!” She says emphatically. “I enjoy this, being behind the scenes.”