Not everyone at Vancouver City Hall appears in a celebratory mood
Last week CityCaucus.com broke the story regarding the Mayor and council spending $34,000 (plus staff time) to throw an Olympic party for 9000+ city staff. In terms of the City hosting a big bash to thank all the "blue coat" volunteers...well, we're still waiting for that announcement. If you're not familiar with the "blue coats", they're the thousands of people who volunteered their time (many of them taking unpaid leave) to make the Games a great success.
We've now received a tip from a disgruntled City of Vancouver employee who advises us that the Mayor is planning yet another costly Olympic party – beyond the one we told you about last week. According to our source, this party is taking place on May 15th and will cost taxpayers up to $30,000. What's the occasion? The Mayor, VANOC and the Athletes Village developer are getting together for a "hand back" ceremony. VANOC will officially turn over the keys of the Village back to the City of Vancouver. As opposed to the staff only party the Mayor will be throwing this week, the public is permitted to join Robertson and his Vision crew at this media event.
What has many folks at City Hall rolling their eyes is not so much the cost of this event, but rather, it's the fact the City had to hire an outside consultant at $15,000 to plan it. Why would you need an outside consultant when there are at least three staff in the protocol office sitting idle (council is about to shut this office down soon and lay off staff) and a full complement of communications staff hired to do this kind of thing? Why not put them to work instead and save taxpayers the consultant's fee? According to our insider, the City has hired consultant Kim Sanderson (she used to work for the City but is now an independent contractor) at a fee of up to $15,000, to organize the event.
Over the last several months we've all watched as Vision's majority on council implemented a series of cutbacks at City Hall which resulted in layoffs. We're now watching the Vision majority at the Vancouver School Board "slash and burn" bridges with Victoria on their way to a balanced budget. All the while, Council is hiring external contractors to throw another costly Olympic Village party (is it just a drop in the bucket?) in addition to spending $34,000 on an Olympic staff celebration party.
We have it under good authority that despite the current hiring freeze, the City Manager's office has been on a real tear when it comes to signing contracts with external consultants. Several city insiders insist these contracts are not only bloated and a total waste of money, they have resulted in some of the contractors eventually becoming employees of the city. We've place several FOIs in this regard and we will report back to you once we can substantiate what we've been told.
It should be noted that just before Christmas Vision gave the City Manager extraordinary latitude (some call it a pre-Christmas gift) when it comes to signing untendered contracts without having to obtain pre-approval from the politicians. Not long after she started, Ballem landed herself in hot water when she signed two untendered contracts valued at $30,000 each with Hoggan and Associates. At the time, it was Council policy that she obtain council approval prior to the expenditure.
With the big Olympic party now over, city staff are realizing the road ahead for them is quite grim. Next year's budget is looking like it will be a significant challenge and could well result in even more layoffs and cutbacks. Let's just hope the people attending the Mayor's Olympic Village bash on May 15th realize that while everyone is partying seaside, up the hill at 12th and Cambie there remains a pretty toxic work environment.