A bold initiative or another empty promise from Vancouver's Mayor?
On this last day of the Paralympics, Vancouver's Mayor announced he would like to post the expense claims of elected officials online. You currently have to go down to the City Clerk's office if you want to get a detailed breakdown. It's a good move that will likely garner applause by many of his supporters and foes alike. As Frances Bula points out on her blog, it may not be the boldest of moves when it comes to making the Hall more transparent, but at least it's a start.
In a news release issued from his office today, Robertson states "Vancouver lags behind other cities when it comes to openness and accountability." Mr. Mayor, CityCaucus.com could't agree with you more. Perhaps Robertson's quote will even make its way into an NPA brochure one day. I digress.
Unfortunately, despite his announcement today, Vision has done virtually nothing since being elected in 2008 to address the issues of openness and transparency. In fact, many of their recent actions put into doubt whether today's announcement is anything more than another empty promise.
Take for example the issue of campaign fundraising. Last fall Vision Vancouver held a major fundraiser and committed to letting the public know which developers, unions and business leaders donated the big bucks. After all, the Vancouver Charter states quite clearly that elector organizations and candidates must declare who is paying off their campaign debt, or giving them money to fund their upcoming campaign – full stop. To date Vision has kept this information under wraps with no explanation as to why.
Secondly, just a few weeks ago Vision slapped a gag clause on the City's former Chief Electrician Ark Tsisserev after they let him go. They dismissed Tsisserev back on January 21st and have since come to a financial agreement with him which included the infamous gag clause. If Vision Vancouver has nothing to hide, they should commit to openness and transparency and remove the gag clause immediately.
Speaking of shedding more light on the Mayor's expenses, we thought our readers might find interesting the details of a recent FOI we placed into his office. We asked for a listing of who has been receiving contracts directly from the Mayor's office. Here is what we found:
- A-line Communications received $5,000 for duties such as strategic communications, media training/coaching, review of materials and clippings and consultation with key staff. This company is owned by Clay Suddaby, a former NDP staffer from Victoria. This amount was invoiced on June 11, 2009. A-line proudly boasts on their website that their client lists includes Canada's NDP, BC NDP, BC Federation of Labour, Vision Vancouver, CUPE 15 (City Hall employee's union) to name but a few.
- A-Line Communications was advised by Mike Magee, Chief of Staff that they had been awarded a $15,000 contract inclusive of disbursements for the period covering July 1 - Sept 30, 2009. Suddaby agreed to perform a number of services including assisting the Mayor's office with communications and media relations counsel and strategic support, particularly with the July 13th launch of the Burrard Bridge lane closure; attend meetings with the Mayor's Chief of Staff and other staff; develop a strategic communications plan focused on short, medium and long-term priorities. It was previously revealed on CityCaucus.com that the City was spending $250,000 on a communications plan for the Burrard Bridge.
- Stephen Learey, Larry Campbell's former right-hand guy when he was mayor and the fellow who just got turned down for the position of Vision Vancouver's Executive Director, also recieved some dough from Mayor Robertson. In 2009, he received a $5,000 contract to handle "Downtown Eastside Issues". His job description included assisting the Mayor with advice and feedback relating to the Downtown Eastside. He was also asked to attend meetings on the Mayor's behalf "when necessary".
With all the help the Mayor has working for him both inside and outside his political operations on the third floor, we did find it a tad curious that of all the names who appeared, former staffer Brent Humphrey was nowhere to be seen. When Humphrey left last June, Mike Magee hinted that he would continue to do the work which Suddaby and Learey appear to be doing instead.
In any event, we hope with the release of the FOI'd information that we are helping the Mayor to keep his commitment of more openness and transparency at City Hall.