Crankin' up the rhetoric on taxes – Gregor won't admit to poor spending choices
Tongues were clucking loudly on Tuesday afternoon in Vancouver city council when Councillor Suzanne Anton wondered, after just receiving a briefing from the Director of Finance on a $20 million budget shortfall, why the City of Vancouver was spending $6000 to help fund a conference. Further, she asserted, a conference being organized by a key financial and political supporter of Mayor Gregor Robertson.
Vision went on the attack, with a little of Carbon Cadman's puffery added in for good measure. The video of the self-flattering Kerry Jang was worth the price of admission – "I'm embarrassed to be a city councillor after listening to Councillor Anton's accusations," offered Jang. After the smoke cleared it's a surprise that Anton wasn't just a smoldering pile of ashes in her chair in the council chamber.
What peed off the Vision crew was Anton's noteworthy appearance on Monday night's GlobalTV News Hour (which, by the way, is the most watched local newscast in Canada at close to 1,000,000 viewers). Anton scoffed at the notion of Mayor Robertson talking about not wanting to "crank up" taxes, while continuing to spend in such a cavalier manner on new offices, self-promotion, inaugural balls, etc. Despite Vision's insistence to the contrary, the City of Vancouver typically does not fund conferences for third parties, although the COPE/Vision council (2003-2005) found plenty of excuses to do so.
What made this handover of taxpayer dosh to the "Social Purpose Real Estate" (see staff report, with references to "positive social change" goals) conference all the more egregious was the name of a key Vision Vancouver insider on the list of organizers. Martha Burton (seen in this photo looking reverently at her business partner Joel Solomon) is a woman who wears many hats. She's a Vision Vancouver director, as well as being a key operative in Joel Solomon's mix of US-backed charities and investment bucks.
Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith wrote a highly recommended piece last weekend for Straight.com providing a bit of important background on the money trail surrounding Solomon and Burton. Here are a few quick bullets about Martha:
- Martha Burton is the treasurer for Vision Vancouver and sits on their executive.
- According to IRS tax returns Burton was Senior Vice-President of the charity Endswell Foundation earning $135,325 in 2008 (Endswell is funded by Carol Newell, President was Joel Solomon), up from $72,036 in 2007. Records show that 99% of Endswell grants went directly to Tides Canada Foundation.
- Burton is a partner in Joel Solomon's Renewal Partners venture capital company, which was also bankrolled by Carol Newell.
- Renewal Partners is recorded as the largest business donor in BC municipal politics, donating well in excess of $100,000 to Vision Vancouver.
- Burton, along with Solomon, are directors for a company called Interdependent Investments. Endswell Foundation is reported as giving $1.2 million in payments to Interdependent Investments between 1997 and 2008.
- Interdependent Investments Ltd. have in turn donated $6000 to Vision Vancouver. Burton has personally donated $1050 (2008).
So when it comes to being a Vision Vancouver insider, it doesn't get much more inside than that. Charity senior VP, corporate executive, board member, Vision donor & Vision treasurer – all in one package! Which is why having Martha Burton on the list of organizers of this City of Vancouver sponsored event is just a bit concerning. You certainly can't fault Anton for asking these questions:
- Why spend $6000 on a conference when we're being asked to bootstrap for the 2011 budget?
- Why give money to an event with clear connections to Vision Vancouver?
Social Purpose Real Estate (SPRE) might be, according to Gregor Robertson, the greatest thing since sliced bread, but why should Vancouver taxpayers support it? We haven't received a good answer for that yet.
Renewal Partners are big believers in the SPRE concept – they practically coined the term. They invest money to different "social" real estate ventures, including the Renewal Land Company (holdings on Cortes Island where Robertson and Solomon own property), and Village Real Estate Services of Nashville, Tennessee.
Joel Solomon is a ten-percent owner of Village Real Estate Services. According to Burton's bio, she is a founding member of Nashville's Women in Commercial Real Estate.
If they're experts on profiting from real estate transactions, surely they don't need taxpayers help?
Read more: Charlie Smith's Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson's associate generated significant income from charity work
UPDATE: We've spoken with one of the event representatives for the SPRE conference. They explain that Martha Burton's involvement is "minimal" and asked us to share this information. It was agreed by us that any appearance of conflict regardless of which political party was involved should be avoided. They assert that the linkages between Mayor Robertson's political supporters and the conference should not reflect badly on the good work being done by other partners including the Real Estate Foundation of BC, Vancity, and the Central City Foundation.
- post by Mike