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
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.
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:
- Pay for it out of their political party coffers
- Lobby the Mayor to pay for it out of his discretionary funds (assuming it is for non-political work)
- 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.