A senior city inspector responsible for an Eastside Vancouver property where three men died in a fire has abruptly left her job, prompting shock throughout City Hall and a flurry of political accusations.
Community-services manager David McLellan confirmed that Carlene Robbins unexpectedly announced she was quitting in the middle of a meeting with her supervisor on Monday. She handed over her keys, security card and phone, told her staff she was leaving, and then left.
"We were stunned," Mr. McLellan said Thursday. "I did go down after and the staff were all very upset and confused."
As property-use inspector, Ms. Robbins, who had been with the city 38 years, ran a tough division that was in charge of riding herd on slum landlords, prostitution rings masquerading as escort services, derelict properties owned by people with mental-health problems, and illegal rooftop billboards, among other things.
In her $100,000-a-year job, she was in charge of a file on the Pandora Street house, the owner of which had been ordered four months earlier to make repairs, but had not done so.
The city was also moving to have the single-family home vacated because it was being used illegally as a rooming house, but it didn't have the power to do it immediately because conditions were not life-threatening, according to city staff interviewed after the fire.
The fire erupted just before Christmas, apparently linked to an old extension cord one of the tenants had hooked up to a set of lights. Four people in the house escaped, but three didn't. The causes are still being investigated.
Mr. McLellan said that, after the fire, city management had talked with the department about changes that could be made to try to avoid future catastrophes.
"The Pandora thing was particularly tragic," he said. "We're always looking at ways we could do things better. I don't know if she took that as a criticism."
Opponents of the current administration say they believe Ms. Robbins is being made a scapegoat for the fire.
Political blogger Mike Klassen, who broke the news about Ms. Robbins's departure, said he questions the city's version of events.
"It's clear to me this had something to do with Pandora Street," said Mr. Klassen, a onetime ally of former mayor Sam Sullivan whose blog is dedicated to critiquing the city administration.
Non-Partisan Association Councillor Suzanne Anton echoed that, adding that Mayor Gregor Robertson has left others to explain how such a tragic incident could have occurred.
There has been a long string of high-profile departures from the city since Mr. Robertson was elected.
After he replaced city manager Judy Rogers with former deputy health minister Penny Ballem, the city went on to lose two deputy city managers, the head of human resources, the fire chief, the Olympics operations manager, the head of the freedom of information division and numerous others.
Most have refused to say why they left, but a few have hinted they found the new style at City Hall unendurable, with a new focus on centralized decision-making in the city manager's office and staff decisions constantly being overruled.
Special to The Globe and Mail