Blog bills beg big questions for Gregor Robertson

Post by Mike Klassen in

23 comments

electric-shock
Many are shocked by the recent release of documents by a blogger

There's no denying that when it comes to Vancouver politics, the local blogosphere is becoming a provocative source of news and analysis valued by many. Our recent story about low Vancouver city hall morale was widely discussed by several pundits. Now, a local blogger has shared some documents relating to political website work done with the Mayor's office that raise many questions.

City Hall watchers already know that Vision insiders FD Element helped build Mayor Gregor's blog. Despite recent media attention the story received for being "untendered" work, I can say in defense of Robertson's staff and the contractor that given the scope of work there was nothing wrong in how they chose The Element Agency*.

Tendering processes are used by public bodies to ensure accountability and good value for taxpayers. They are almost exclusively used for high cost projects rather than small ones, as going to tender on work can be expensive and time consuming. Before Penny Ballem became city manager, all contracts under $30,000 were allowed to be sole-sourced provided the supplier was competent. FD Element are a qualified supplier and the budget for this project was below $30K, but not by much.

However, like so many things happening in Vancouver City Hall lately, there are some bizarre twists to this story that if verified will demand an explanation from Mayor Gregor Robertson. According to documents released by blogger Alex Tsakumis relating to work done by FD Element for the Mayor's office, the agency proposed to improve Mayor Gregor Robertson's "About" page for a $14,500 fee. Having some experience in this field the number seemed high for what was promised in return, but not completely outrageous for a full service marketing firm.

Then in an odd twist, further documents show that rather than the nearly $15K price tag, Robertson's Chief of Staff counter-proposed a budget of $27,500 for what appears to be the same job. According to media who contacted Magee, the Chief of Staff confirmed that these documents released by Tsakumis were authentic. Given the tight financial constraints of the Mayor's office (their annual budget is set and approved by council and covers everything from staff, travel, and in some cases hospitality) it's puzzling that Magee would opt for double the amount proposed by FD Element. We admit though that the description of the scope of work on each document is vague.

Once the news got out that the site built to promote Mayor Gregor cost $27,500, it caused quite a stir among local Wordpress consultants who tweeted about it, asking why so much?

As a follow-up to his $28K blog story, on Wednesday Tsakumis posted further documents that, if also authentic, raise further questions about the relationship between Gregor Robertson and FD Element.

Our readers may remember a reference we made a number of weeks back to blogger Jonathon Ross, dubbed "Civic Boy" by our crack research team here at CityCaucus Tower. Ross' name came up in relation to work he provided for Vision Park Board Commissioner Aaron Jasper, writing a press release aimed at discrediting Green Party park commissioner Stuart Mackinnon.

From the two sets of documents shared on Wednesday, it appears that Ross has been hired to do web-related marketing and "conversation mining," which is jargon for research on someone or some subject. This wouldn't really raise an eyebrow per se if not for another set of documents provided, which indicate that the costs for Ross' political blog – both its hosting and design – were paid by FD Element.

When questioned if there was any business relationship between Ross and his company, FD Element VP Mike Wilson denied any connection. But if the documents are authentic then there is a clear link:

Mayor Gregor Robertson > FD Element > Jonathon Ross' CivicBoy blog

So to recap,

  • FD Element are hired in the summer of 2009 and paid double their initial asking price to produce a Wordpress blog for Mayor Gregor that could have been produced for a fraction of what was paid;
  • concurrently, FD Element appear to be paying for the development of a blog geared toward criticizing and mocking opponents of Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver;
  • at the same time they are bringing the person who writes the blog on their payroll.

So the questions for the parties involved are:

  • Are the documents shared this week by blogger Alex Tsakumis all authentic?
  • Why did Mike Magee double the fee paid to FD Element for the Mayor's blog?
  • If the documents are authentic, why is FD Element paying for the pro-Vision Vancouver political blog and why did they deny this when asked?
  • Is someone paying FD Element to pay for Jonathon Ross' blog, and if so who?

We look forward to reports from local media who might want to ask these questions of Mayor Robertson and his staff.

- post by Mike. * Full disclosure: my company was hired to provide email list and web services for Mayor Sam Sullivan's office. The work usually involved about 10 billable hours per month on average. After 32 months all itemized invoices totaled about $24,000 + gst.

23 Comments

After reading these documents on Tsakumis' site several times, it has occured to me that there is a further disrespect to those attacked over the course of Jonathon Ross' blogging history.

Considering the effort Ross' and the rest of the mayor's cronies have put into the character assassination attempts on Daniel, Mike and Alex, is $50 an hour all you three are really worth?

Further, they've criticized Charlie Smith, Jeff Lee, that brunette reporter from Global which is slipping my mind before my mornign coffee, etc..

$50 an hour is an insult to all of you.

Then again, you get what you pay for and Ross has not only been pathetic at his now-revealed paid gig, it was obvious to some of us that this wasn't any normal effort.

But still, just $50 an hour to insult any critical media in this town....that's a level of disrespect from Gregor and company that will be extremely hard to ever top.

Of course I haven't even touched on the disrespect to the Vancouver taxpayer and voter in all of this.

If true, this is puzzling that you'd pay twice as much for the same service.

I think the question 'are the documents authentic' is the only question at this point. Why you don't figure that out before speculating and rumour mongering is also puzzling.

Now if you'll excuse me I need to log in with my other nom de plumes and spread the vision gospel elsewhere.

Funny how the MSM have not touched this story with a ten foot pole. Why? I suspect if Larry Campell or Sam Sullivan had undertaken this type of activity, the Sun's headlines this morning wouldn't be about cutsie lion cubs (not kidding folks, check it out for yourself).

Bula's headline would have been "Sullivan's PR Firm Caught Funding Covert Activities in Blogosphere". Followed by weeks of investigative journalism by Allan Garr and Rod Mickelburgh. Stepehn Quinn over at CBC would have done a three part in depth series on "blogogate". Vision would have gone on the attack with countless news releases about the need for a full investigation. Oh how it would have been nasty.

Back to my morning coffee now so I can read more about how someone has been charged for raising lion cubs. Yawn.

@ Glen Hall. The Global reporter you mention is Marisa Thomas, aka #4. Very tenacious reporter. We really enjoy her work.

@ Boohoo. I think you ask fair questions as to why we would mention the documents if there are still open questions as to their validity. Here are my reasons:

1. Some of the documents have been public for several days, and in the case of the invoices and Ross contract nearly two days allowing time for a response or retraction. If it were my company and the information were untrue I would take immediate measures to respond to falsehoods.

2. Documents released Monday morning have been authenticated in a report by GlobalTV.

3. Attempts were made by Tsakumis to reach FD Element staff who either denied involvement (without denying the validity of the documents) or refused to answer.

4. FD Element have confirmed publicly that they have hired Ross.

Given that most media will run with initial reports and add or alter key details with further investigation, by including all the typical caveats we feel comfortable sharing the information we've seen so far. If we learn that the info is invalid, we will correct the record and let our readers know.

Notice that the cost to do the mayors website was supposed to be
$15 000 but doubled to $27 500. I would be interested as tax payer to know what the money was for, when according to Marissa Thomas' report where there were security issues and free wordpress was being used. Thats worth $27 500?

From what I understand - this site was outsourced by FD Elements to KIMBO Designs. (Global TV report)

Dig a little more - why not look at back to back contracts at under $30k - called "bending the system".

the issues raised in the news piece were laughable and truly not the issue of concern. Wordpress is a web content management system (CMS)that handles ever changing content. It is a starting point and the fact that it CAN be free means absolutely nothing in terms of the skill and time required to work with that platform to make it useful. What it does do however, is allow web designers opportunities for efficiencies and gives the contract value something that can be measured against. That is simply a lot of money for what was provided. As for security concerns - again, red herring. The city/mayor wants more information from people than it should be asking for in that environment. That is likely a long term election planning decision-and obviously something that is not in the best interest of the person filling in the information for the reasons given in the news piece.

So, the news segment was a joke to anyone that knows even the smallest bit about website construction. The issues of accountability for money spent is the issue - not whether WP is free or not.

I think the one part of most summaries about bloggate seem to be avoiding is the last part.

Ross is paid by FD. FD is hired by Vision. TAXPAYERS ARE FUNDING ROSS TO (admittedely) SLAM VISION OPPONNENTS AND SHILL FOR VISION.

I actually think it's fair game for Ross to shill this way if it is with Vision money.

But if they are funding it from the public kitty and Vision is deliberately hiding the funding in an FD contract, that's pretty close to theft.

How long before they try to blame this on Mike Klassen, the NPA or Sam Sullivan....

rf,

you should be hearing the bells going off about now for winning the prize on why this is an issue.

lets put it all together though and go one step further.

if you can stomach reading Jonathon's garbage, have a stroll through his blog and read the venom he's written about ANY and EVERYONE who's criticized the mayor and council,

this would summarily also provide validity to the "media" hit list, tsakummis has been ridiculed for by the likes of bula, lee, smith, garr, etc...

that hit list appears to be a "to do" list for little Jonny-boy.....paid for by you and me.

so theft? maybe....

if not, completely unethical and disgusting and the lowest any mayor and council have EVER dipped in this city.

AGT says on his blog

"What it should say is this: Jonathan Ross received a no-bid/no-tender contract with the West Vancouver Police while Kash Heed was Chief Constable.

The contract was arranged for Ross by Barinder Sal. Of course it didn’t hurt either that Ross’ wife became the executive assistant to Kash Heed.

It should also say that he was paid almost a thousand dollars per page to put together a manual without a stitch of police experience. The total contract? Almost $12,000 dollars. The total number of pages of the manual? About a dozen.

That Kash Heed sure surrounds himself with big shots…"

Is this true? Does anybody have a copy of this report or is a fabrication?

Off topic:

Does anyone know if the new street food vendor carts lease their kiosk space on a sliding scale - depending on the area?

All original news reports stated that the cost was $40K in lease costs for each vendor - but I stopped at one yesterday who is in a very high foot traffic area and the operator told me their rent was 'cheap'.

Just curious.

If it looks like a skunk, walks like a skunk and smells like a skunk...

Today Jonathan Ross writes...

"I am putting my cards on the table, and I am also calling out those that want to keep our political discourse and debates above the belt. Let’s practice what you preach."

What a low rent hypocrite.

On a previous post on his blog Jonathan asked Randy Helten, the spokesperson for West End Neighbours of infamous "@#$%ing NPA hack" fame, to confirm the addresses that Jonathan posted of him, his brother and mother for what else except to initimidate & Randy is no political rival, he's a regular citizen AND Vision supporter. So on his own accord he went through the effort to find these addresses?

I have no doubt and don't need to see service invoices to believe there is coordination between Gregor's staff and Jonathan's clown show regardless of whether there is a contracted middleman. Excuse the following inside baseball, but for the benefit of Magee, Quinlan and Ross, here's a further hint on what I'm talking about: does the keyword "stereotype" ring a bell?

He's a bully and bullies usually are cowards to begin with.

Max...
those vending permits all cost the same regardless of location. I believe it was less than $1,000 for the year which is paid to the city. Cost of the actual cart is the vendors business expense an irrelevant to the question of 'rent' and yes, it is dirt cheap compared to the coffee shop 100 meters away.

Thanks Julia.

All the news clips surrounding the topic of the new street vendors stated the amount of $40K for 'rent' of the area they were located.

Wow. I would imagine some of the local eating establishments wouldn't be too happy to know otherwise.


According to the Sun article below, the fee for sidewalk vendors is $1,000. If a vending vehicle uses on street parking space, then they have to pay to use that parking space.
"The winning applicants in the city's street food pilot project will face parking fees of at least $43,200 to secure the coveted downtown curbside locations through the end of April 2011"
http://www.vancouversun.com/Pilot+food+vendors+face+curbside+parking/3214877/story.html

Hi Richard:

Thank you.

I've only seen 1 curbside vehicle so far - the pizza truck at Burrard and Pender.

You have to sell a lot of $3.00 slices to cover that cost and turn a profit.

Yikes!

Another day passes, another day the main stream media ignore this shocking story. Can't help but think how they would have reacted if the NPA or COPE were in power. Their reaction (or lack thereof) to all of this is perhaps the real story.

My, my, my,

Such a tight little group!


Isn't that polyamory as defined by ridiculous lawyer, professional creepy guy, and owner of sex toy shop, "The Art of Loving", Mr. John Ince?

(There, I think I should be given a medal for working all that together!)

It's a matter of public record. I called Ross about it and he didn't deny a thing. Instead, he used the tired old line, "I (he) have nothing to hide".

I didn't bother pursuing the story because he had pathetically showed himself since to be a sort of PR ambulance chaser.

But the information is true and I have the FOI documents from the West Vancouver Police in my possession.

I also interviewed three different members of the WVP administration who dealt with the contract.

Kash Heed never returned my calls. nor did Barinder Sall.

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