Holy Hoggan, Batman! Was Council bypassed for $60K PR contract?

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

9 comments

biff-pow-awk!

Vancouver City Hall Shocker – major Vision Vancouver donor has services contract doubled without required Council approval!

A few weeks back, we reported that Vancouver PR firm Hoggan and Associates, big campaign contributors to Vision Vancouver, had received a sole-sourced contract for $60,000 to help provide communications support regarding the Olympic Village controversy.

CityCaucus.com made attempts to obtain a copy of the contract and other documents related to the Hoggan contract, but were politely told by the communications department headed by Laurie Best that they were off limits. We had to request the documents through freedom of information legislation. Fortunately, a source within City Hall provided us with a copy of those and other related documents a few weeks ago.

It was naturally assumed the public service ordered the PR contract as it was being paid for by Vancouver taxpayers. CityCaucus.com can now confirm the $60,000 public relations contract for Hoggan was not initiatied by the public service, rather, it was requested by Vision Vancouver Councillor Geoff 'Mayor' Meggs.

In a letter obtained by CityCaucus.com, Kristin Treat, Vice President of Hoggan and Associates writes to Vision Councillor Geoff Meggs and states:

December 8, 2008
Geoff Meggs
City of Vancouver
453 West 12th Avenue
Vancouver, BC V5Y1V4

Dear Geoff,                                                    SENT BY EMAIL

Re: Communications Support for the City of Vancouver

Thank you for contacting Hoggan and Associates.

We welcome the opportunity to work with you and the City of Vancouver to provide ongoing communications support for the City and its involvement in the 2010 Olympic Athletes' Village.

As discussed, Hoggan will assist the City with the following communications activities:

  • provide ongoing strategic communications counsel
  • Plan and execute stakeholder relations
  • Develop and refine messaging
  • Conduct media training (if required)
  • Advise city staff that supports the communications effort

Given the high-level nature of this project, Hoggan's team primarily will be comprised of three senior level consultants, including:

  • Jim Hoggan, president
  • Nancy McHarg, vice president, strategic counsel
  • Kristin Treat, vice president

Similar to other professional service firms, Hoggan's fees are based on hourly rates. Below you will find our 2008/09 rack rates as well as a special government rate we have prepared for the City of Vancouver for this specific project.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: the letter outlines the following rates - James Hoggan normally bills $350 per hour, but is billing $295 per hour on this project. Nancy McHarg and Kristin Treat normally bill $295 per hour, but are billing $195 per hour for this project]

Please let me know if you require additional information at this point.

We look forward to working with you and the City and are ready to begin work as soon as approval is granted.

Sincerely,

Kristin Treat
Vice President and Senior Counsellor

cc: Jim Hoggan, Nancy McHarg

According to sources within City Hall, the issuance of this $60,000 contract has raised serious concerns within the public service. Normal practice has been that if individual councillors want PR support, they have one of three options:

  1. Pay for it out of their political party coffers
  2. Lobby the Mayor to pay for it out of his discretionary funds (assuming it is for non-political work)
  3. Bring a motion forward to council for full public debate and discussion

It's clear from the Hoggan letter that the PR firm is planning to work directly with one councillor, and City officials. This is something that would have been unheard of under previous City Manager Judy Rogers. Hoggan & Associates donated almost $12,000 to the Vision Vancouver 2005 campaign, and it is not known how much they donated to the 2008 campaign.

The original $30,000 sole-sourced contract was signed by new City Manager Penny Ballem four days after she started her new job.

The contract value of $30,000 is particularly interesting because it is the maximum allowable amount a City Manager can authorize without having to give notification to her political masters. That includes the lone NPA opposition councillor.

A couple weeks after the issuance of the original contract, a contract amendment was drafted for a second $30,000 contract for Hoggan & Associates, this time signed by Laurie Best. Despite clear rules that indicate any contract over $30K needs political approval, we have confirmed with Councillor Suzanne Anton that this $60,000 contract has yet to go before Council.

Here is an excerpt from a report produced in January 1996 outlining City policy regarding the signing of contracts with consultants:

"Consultant awards comprise a special category of City expenditures that are treated differently than the contract awards for general purchases of goods and services. The present award limits and execution authorities for consultant contracts are as follows:

- for contracts up to $5,000 Department Head approval is required;

- for contracts up to $30,000 City Manager approval is required. The City Manager was authorized by Council to award consultant contracts up to $100,000 for the Library Square project, with a similar authority to award contracts related to corporate/departmental re-engineering work, subject to reporting those awards to Council on a regular basis; and,

- for contracts over $30,000 City Council approval is required."

Here are some of the questions folks at City Hall have told me they want answered:

  • Is it appropriate for one politician on Council to order the City to hire a PR firm to support his efforts to make political hay out of the Athletes Village issue?
  • Why was the contract broken into two separate $30,000 contracts?
  • Why was the contract sole-sourced to a major donor of Vision Vancouver without other companies being allowed to bid on it?
  • What were the criteria used to select this PR agency over others the city has traditionally used in the past?
  • Why has a $60,000 contract for services never gone to Council for approval?

These are all good questions, and I'm sure there are a lot of good civic columnists, bloggers and commenters out there who will help us answer them. Stay tuned for more on this story in the weeks to come.

9 Comments

Obviously, this needs to be paid for by VV membership dues or VV donors contributions since it was not initiated by city staff.

Hello CityCaucus,

Because of the partisan nature of this blog I hesitate to even congratulate you on this story because I don't want to find out later that there is something unsaid or unresearched concerning this issue (ex. I've looked for a more recent policy concerning consultant hiring practice, couldn't find one). I don't want to regret writing this comment (assuming you put it up) like you made Mr. Geller recently regret his comment about the exaggerated "Anton wasn't invited to the Vancouver Club" tripe, in a recent post on Frances Bula's blog, because he assumed you were telling it like it was. And, with all due respect, don't you dare put a part of this comment up without the rest like you have before.

That said, you've outdone yourselves, and I mean that in both the positive and the negative. This is news. This is plainly a $60,000 contract, and if it's argued that it's two $30,000 contracts that argument does not hold water as per policy AF-005-03 section 2.1:

http://vancouver.ca/policy_pdf/AF00503.pdf

Here's a nicer version of the approval policy itself:

http://vancouver.ca/policy_pdf/AF00501.pdf

It appears the City had to put the contract out to public bid according to policy AF-005-01 section 1.3 which it doesn't appear they did either.

Now would be a good time for your journalistic credibility to come in handy but in my view this blog doesn't have very much. I write this whole letter or post, depending on whether you put it up, contingent on the condition that this article isn't full of crap. I'm saying that because I'm very supportive of Vision and still am despite this (alleged) garbage. Of course this is small potatos compared to fighting against homelessness and for tenancy housing, but this is definately garbage.

So good job, and why don't you let this be a turning point for your blog where you stop hacking and start being real journalists because this appears to be real journalism. This is a new party, a new council with many new councillors, with many new senior staff, and with unparalleled ambition. In other words, even if they do well they are going to screw up alot along the way. So why don't you cover the genuine screw ups and otherwise raise awareness about issues, from the right of course. Vancouver politics needs a right, what it doesn't need is manipulative media.

Pending the accuracy of this article:
Good Job CityCaucus, and if anyone involved in this is reading, smarten up! This has all of the appearances of being an intentional and disallowed bypassing of council disclosure, debate and approval concerning the use of a significant amount of taxpayer funds for strategic purposes which have naturally taken a partisan form. This is not your mandate. Still can't stand the NPA, still loving Vision, but guys, smarten up.

Gregor is for the little guy and he's paying $300 bucks an hour for PR spin. I wonder what all those CUPE workers are thinking about this when they are getting way less than that? Didn't they support him? I can only imagine they must be shaking their head.

I saw him on Global tonight. He said that he blew threw $30,000 worth of spin in less than two weeks. Wow.

Michael,

Thanks for your post...and the links to the city policy regarding the splitting of contracts not being permitted. Good sleuthing! Perhaps there is still hope we can convince you to become a special correspondent for CityCaucus.com :-)

Michael, we're not journalists. We don't pretend to be "unbiased" like other bloggers do. The whole medium of blogging is supposed to be about opinions, no matter how sublime. All journalism is shaped by a point of view. Blogging now heavily informs the world of journalism as journalism has heavily influenced the bloggers.

There is no such thing as unbiased journalism. There should be no such thing as a blog without bias if there ever could be such a thing.

You've taken it upon yourself to defend Vision Vancouver in the past several weeks. I sincerely admire that kind of political loyalty. As someone who has supported the other guys, I too have had my doubts some days. But I remain a supporter of the good people I have helped get elected.

We'll take your compliment, despite the many caveats (you might have said, "if this is true then hats off to you, if not then I wish I didn't comment").

Btw, I only rarely read Frances Bula's commenters, which as I've said in previous posts have most often devolved into personal rambling attacks that add nothing to the civic affairs dialogue.

Eventually you'll have to ask yourself how many of these kinds of indiscretions may shake your faith in this bunch. There is something about political loyalty I've learned over the years. When you go into battle, don't charge over the hill led by scoundrels because it is you that will wind up on the bayonet.

I'm with Michael Phillips. Good sleuthing on this. Though I've recently had reason to feel duped that I took the "Anton left out" story at face value. I'm afraid of being misinformed (or half-informed, rather) again and am tentatively reading until I feel a little less shaky about believing you fully. This kind of article makes me want to. It's what we don't usually get enough of elsewhere.

Good detective work. I wonder what Council will do now with this information out there for the public to read about...do they care? Will they take corrective action?

Wow, these contracts stink. I can't believe the City Manager signed off on them. Especially, when you consider Cllr. Louie's motion on the hiring freeze and wanting to "reign" in the budget. Good thing they paid the bills on these before that motion was passed. No question, they should have gone to Council to ask for money... They must have known they needed the 60K to get the job done, especially when you consider their plans to recall the legislature were likely in play. Unbelievable. What's the saying? Oh yeah..."absolute power corrupts absolutely".

and why are they hiring consultants in the first place? Aren't the City P.R. staffers smart enough to do this straight-forward spin stuff? How much is the communications manager getting paid to just hire others to do his work?

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