Ryan Merkley did a six-month tour of duty in Vancouver before returning home
CityCaucus.com readers will remember the odd story of the last-minute hiring of Toronto's Ryan Merkley as Vancouver's new Director of Communications replacing Laurie Best just prior to the 2010 Olympics. Merkley is best known as yet another Hollyhock hire, that is, another person with direct ties to the pervasive social venture network headed up by Vision Vancouver financier Joel Solomon.
On the face of it Merkley came with some good credentials. He was a political operative from back east who worked for the outgoing Mayor of Toronto David Miller. But what set him apart was his clear connections to Solomon and the Hollyhock crowd. What the real head-scratcher for anyone who knows media relations was why would they bring in someone from out of town to run Comms weeks before the Olympics? Hiring Merkley appears to have been a poor choice when the City's priority should have been to get the most experienced local PR flack for the job.
Those in the PR business know that it can take months if not years to build up rapport with key media. Job One during the 2010 Games was to make sure that Vancouver's message hit the wires. On that score Vancouver gets a giant FAIL. The biggest story out of the 2010 Games was nothing Vancouver did per se, rather it was how many people just went out and enjoyed the surroundings, and the free events.
With this in mind we have to ask how wise it was to offer Merkley the job and to sweeten it with a $5000 relocation dispensation! According to our freedom of information request on his letter of offer (see page one & page two), Merkley was given the job without any stated terms, nor any salary changes to reflect the merits of his work. For his temporary position (which would have led to full time status) Merkley received the equivalent salary pay grade of the outgoing Best from word Go. Although he didn't qualify for the reimbursement of moving costs, for some reason the City made an exception as the letter describes:
Your temporary appointment does not qualify you for our City of Vancouver Relocation Assistance Program; however, we are prepared to offer assistance up to $5000 in recognition of the expenses you will incur due to relocation.
Merkley's hiring appeared to be a straight up case of bringing in one of the social enterprise disciples being groomed by Solomon through the Hollyhock educational apparatus. His mug is all over this Renewal Partners retreat from a couple of summers back. While in Vancouver, Merkley reportedly devoted himself to fellow Hollyhockers Sadhu Johnston and Gregor Robertson, regularly taking lunches with the former.
It should be no surprise that Merkley decamped for his life back in Toronto once his temporary contract ended – perhaps Vancouver wasn't exciting enough after the Games ended.
Bending the rules to make another five grand available for Merkley's move sets a costly precedent for future political hires. But in the end it is the degradation of Vancouver's traditionally non-partisan public service that will ending up costing us all the most. The loss of senior staff in the past 18 months has been astounding, and the incoming replacements do not instill confidence.
It's also ironic that by the time we received this FOI, Vision's "temporary" hires Merkley and the offer letter signatory Robin Adair, have moved on to greener pastures.
- post by Mike