"Nice flash drive" - City tech staff get great digs in Las Vegas
The allure. The luxury. The exclusivity. The seduction. The indulgence. The experience. The Hotel at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas sounds like a pretty nice place according to their website. Now Vancouver taxpayers only have to think about is -
An avid reader of CityCaucus.com tipped us off to the five members of Vancouver's IT (information technology and web) department attended the Web Trends Engage conference and the concurrent HDI tech service conference early last month in Las Vegas, NV. We heard that it was going to cost a lot for taxpayers, and they weren't wrong. The bill for sending 5 employees on this US training junket comes to $18,540.
According to an FOI request by CityCaucus.com, those attending the HDI conference got to stay at The Hotel at Mandalay Bay, one of the luxury inns in Sin City. Other staff attending the Engage event stayed at the Red Rock Casino Hotel & Spa.
Each staff had their costs covered for conference registration fees, on average $2150 CAD after exchange. The trip was originally booked February 2nd, during a period where it was increasingly clear that budget cutbacks were coming. In spite of this, very little was done to acknowledge the City's looming financial crisis.
In an email dated February 20, 2009 Connie Zelter, Vancouver's Manager of Customer Relations had the following exchange with Shari Wallace, IT Dept. Acting Director, which indicated that staff were aware of tight budgets:
From: Zelter, Connie
Sent: Friday, February 20, 2009 1:05 PM
To: Wallace, Shari
Subject: FW: Invoice - ZELTER - 03APR - Training Change Request
In light of the training plan cut backs, I feel I should support my branch by cutting back my own training. It will cost only $50 to drop the Knowledge Base training in April, saving $2600 on budget. For me, it will spend more time pumping Janet on what I want her to get out of the course before/after, and doing som research on my own through webinars, etc. I will fly out of the Monday morning and attend the conference, so the $50 is just in changing the airline date. No penalty for changing hotel dates or dropping part of registration.
Hope to get this in today as there are only 3 seats left on the plane Monday morning.
Zelter was one of the staff staying at The Mandalay Hotel, along with her colleagues Janet Haines and Harry Keshishian. Red Rock guests included staffers Marianne Hammond & Lisa Hildebrandt.
The two staff at the Web Trends training session were there to learn more about the high end analytics program the City uses to understand their web traffic. Vancouver.ca is often criticized for being poor to search and navigate in spite of the gloss of the new home page. We can hope that staff learn from Web Trends where the City's site falls short in this increasingly web-focused age.
The other three staff attended seminars on customer relations (one with a title, "Build the Best Team: Soup to Nuts," cost $395) and others with a focus on phone service, possibly in preparation for this summer's roll out of 311. The new customer-friendly 311 service was adopted at the urging of former City Manager Judy Rogers and passed by the previous NPA council against howls of protest by the Vision/COPE opposition.
While staff training and seminars are not out of the ordinary, governments and private businesses large and small have cut back on these perks during the global economic slowdown. The City of Vancouver enacted a hiring freeze earlier this year alongside a record 8% property tax increase.
It's arguable if this kind of training required sending staff offsite to the USA, or if webinars (web-based training) could have accomplished the same learning goals as heading down to Vegas. We do know that the average homeowner (including condo, townhouse & detached properties) in Vancouver pays around $1800 annually for their property tax, which means that at least ten households needed to save up for a year to cover the cost this trip.
We're sure that Mayor Robertson and Mayor "Geoff" Meggs will have a response as to why this money was spent, and they'll be quick to respond once they return from their junket to Oregon and Washington.