GlobalTV's coverage (see video) has Coun. Raymond Louie denying he approved the spending, but City staff say otherwise
It’s not been a great day for Vancouver’s Mayor. It all started when he slumbered downstairs to grab his morning coffee and pick up the Vancouver Sun off the front porch. Staring the Mayor in the face on page A15 was a somewhat hard to miss editorial from CityCaucus.com regarding the upcoming 2010 city budget.
That's why he quickly put the paper down and decided to review his daily agenda instead. “Hmmm” the Mayor said. “Look honey, Kevin has organized another lovely photo op for me with a bunch of foreign dignitaries at the Olympic Village. This should be a great day, I suspect there will be lots of media cameras there. I wonder if we'll get to use our mayoral flags behind me as props?”
On the way to
the White House City Hall, all hell broke loose. CBC and CKNW starting running stories that the Mayor and his Vision crew approved over $800,000 in expenditures to spruce up City Hall to impress foreign dignitaries coming to town for the Olympics. The reports all stemmed from an FOI that CityCaucus (and apparently a few other media) filed about a month ago with the City Clerk’s office. A few disgruntled City employees encouraged us to dig into how much all those Olympic renovations on the third floor of City Hall were costing taxpayers. The FOI package arrived in the mail last night.
Once the news broke, the Mayor ducked out of site of the media and refused to answer questions about why Council spent $147,000 on regal carpeting, while at the same time maintaining they are in a budget crisis. So much for the great day Kevin had planned for him.
The Mayor may have ducked clear of the media, but his budget chair Councillor Raymond Louie was clearly thrown under the bus. The boss leaned over to him and said "Hey Louie, handle this one will ya.”
Raymond's first response to the reno fiasco was to immediately shift into his auto pilot message box and blame the previous NPA government. Incredibly, moments later, he then told the media he had nothing to do with the expenditure. Here is what he told CKNW news:
I never voted for this to be clear. This never came before us for us to vote on as part of let's renovate the third floor of city hall. No. Never.
There you have it. Despite a staff report coming to council on March 3, 2009 requesting the Vision council approve funding to purchase new carpets and upgrade the bathrooms, Louie says he didn’t have anything to do with it.
Hmmm...a quick review of the minutes of the meeting indicate that Louie was not only in the chamber during the debate, he actually voted in favour of this expenditure. Also worth noting, there actually wasn't even a single minute of debate questioning the $850,000 Olympic reno fund. Nada.
The Vancouver Sun also reports the following expenditures were approved:
- $2,900 to oil the wood walls of the mayor’s office.
- $4,000 for new picture frames for past mayors’ photos.
- $2,700 to improve the gold gilding on the ceiling.
Was Councillor Louie really asleep at the switch in his role as budget chair? It would appear so as the staff report was pretty clear about the scope of work to be undertaken:
Improvements to floors 1,2, and 3 include the installation of new Energy Smart light fixtures to improve the level of illumination and to reduce energy costs, the cleaning and painting of existing surfaces, the upgrading of washrooms, new public seating to replace the existing worn furniture, new carpeting, and upgrades to the existing mechanical and ventilation system.
The Protocol Office has requested that these improvements be completed by the summer of 2009 in order not to interfere with the visiting Heads of State and Dignitaries that are expected commencing the fall of 2009. Funding for this work is therefore requested in advance of the 2009 Basic Capital Budget in order to proceed with tenders and contracts to achieve this timeline.
Perhaps Councillor Louie should have taken a page out of his Vision colleague Kerry Jang’s message box. At least Jang seems to recall supporting the expenditure and was quite prepared to defend it when asked about it by GlobalTV’s intrepid reporter Ted Field earlier this year:
There is no public space large enough to host, to do regular city business. And on top of this we have the Olympics coming and we're going to have crown heads of state and all this kind of stuff coming as well. The place, quite frankly, is falling apart.
In his zeal to demonize the NPA for all that is bad in the city, Mayor Robertson is creating for himself a nightmare scenario whereby every tax dollar he wastes becomes fodder for his opponents. Today’s PR disaster (when will Gregor realize he needs new media handlers) about costly rugs and martini chairs will only continue as we head closer to him hosting the biggest party Vancouver has ever seen.