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.