Mayor Robertson increasing his budget through the back door

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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ballem bank withdrawal

Robertson has quietly added $90,000 to his Mayor's Office budget without so much as a minute of debate

Yesterday, in what has become a regular occurrence, the Mayor of Vancouver announced the formation of Yet Another Task Force (also known as YATF). This time he pulled together an A-list of folks who agreed to volunteer their time to work with him on something his "branding" department have entitled GCAT - the Green City Action Team (patent pending). I still believe "EcoDensity" has a better ring to it. 

The original motion setting up the task force was introduced a few weeks back, and I know all of you have been on the edge of your seats awaiting further updates. One of the details I've been waiting for is the budget associated with GCAT.

Oddly enough, when the Mayor introduced his motion to set up GCAT, he failed to mention how much it was going to cost city taxpayers. Now that the Mayor's latest photo-op is wrapped up, we can confirm VanCity Credit Union has kindly donated $30,000 to Mayor Robertson's efforts while City taxpayers will be on the hook for an additional $30,000 in expenses for this volunteer committee.

The official news release issued by the Mayor's Office, and dutifully posted on the front page of the City's website by the non-partisan communications department headed by Laurie Best, makes no mention of cost. So if his worship didn't provide a budget breakdown in his motion or his news release, what is the source of funding for the Mayor's latest pet project? More importantly, why did the Mayor not bother to bring the $60,000 task force budget to Council for review, debate and approval?

The most recent controversy the Mayor had with a budget allocation was the dual $30,000 contracts recently paid to Hoggan and Associates for public relations services requested by Geoff 'Mayor' Meggs. That issue will heat up next week when NPA Councillor Suzanne Anton's motion comes up for debate. it just me, or is there a lot of $30,000 projects suddenly being funded at City Hall? As we reported earlier, contracts less than $30K can be approved by the City Manager without ever having to go to Council for debate or ratification.

Under previous administrations (including former COPE Mayor Larry Campbell), projects like GCAT would normally be funded by the Mayor's discretionary fund. This is a special fund provided exclusively to the Mayor by Council to undertake research and conduct public consultation. If memory serves me correctly, there was about $100,000 in this fund.

Former Mayor Sam Sullivan used this special fund to cover the costs of his Project Civil City and EcoDensity initiatives. The fund is approved through an open and transparent debate that takes place as part of the overall budget process.

If a mayor in Vancouver wants to increase their office budget, they normally walk down the 3rd floor hallway and into the Chamber to request Council's approval. However, in the first months of this administration, the Mayor has already increased his office budget by $90,000 without so much as a single minute of debate.

In the case of GCAT, he walked down the other side of the hallway and convinced his newly hand picked City Manager Penny Ballem that he needed another $30,000 for a new task force and voila! The money was scooped out of the City's sustainability budget and given to Robertson's politically appointed task force.

So if you add the $60,000 PR contract ordered by 'Mayor' Meggs to the $30,000 the Mayor just scooped up for GCAT, you have $90,000 worth of tax dollars provided to the Mayor without it being formally added to his budget. I repeat, this is something that wouldn't have been tolerated under the leadership of former City Manager Judy Rogers.

All the recent blurring of lines between the Mayor's Office and the City Manager's Office led one City employee (who wishes to remain anonymous) to ask if "the wall between the Mayor's Office and Penny's office will be eventually be taken down."

Now that we can confirm the $30,000 allocated toward GCAT did not come out of the Mayor's Office budget...there are a few questions that need to be answered.

  1. If every time Mayor Robertson wants to get a pet project approved, can he now simply bypass Council and head down the hall to Penny Ballem's office for funding?
  2. If so, does this effectively give Robertson the power to significantly increase the Mayor's Office budget without it ever appearing on his books?
  3. If Mayor Robertson was truly committed to openness and transparency, why did the motion he put before Council a couple of weeks ago not include a budget breakdown?
  4. Why did his news release not make any reference to funding from the City's sustainability department?
  5. Is the credit union's contribution considered a donation to the City or the Mayor's Office?
  6. What are the policy parametres by which the Mayor will accept future corporate donations to fund new City initiatives?

Robertson, by receiving his back door funding to pay for another pet project, is surreptitiously increasing his Mayor's Office budget without Council's scrutiny. As a result, he needs to be called on it.

Rest assured if the previous Mayor had attempted anything close to this slight of hand, he would have rightfully been Garred in a Courier column or by other City Hall watchers. I'm sure Vision would have even asked for a public inquiry.

Now that the shoe's on the other foot, let's see if those same columnists and bloggers are the least bit concerned that Robertson's access to departmental budgets seems to be limitless.

1 Comment

It looks like an internal committee to me so I don't see how this is anything but a new allocation of the existing sustainability budget. The only difference is it's fantastic value for money to have half of the project paid for by a credit union and to have so many environmental leaders working as volunteers. In light of recent events, the $30,000 dollar figure is ominous but there's no big outside contract which kind of puts a kibosh on the alleged insidiousness of this allocation of funds. I do wonder where all that $60,000 is going though if the committee are all volunteers. So long as the not-so-volunteer research etc. isn't outsourced in amounts over 30G then it looks pretty good I think.

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