24 Hours crack reporter Bob Mackin has a new twist on an old story relating to the controversial Gregor Robertson spin doctors FD Element. In Friday's paper he reported that FD Element were paid $5000 to provide media and communications assistance on Mayor Gregor's trip to New York last April. That's the one where he met with the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation folks, and the anti-oil crusaders NRDC (Natural Resource Defense Council).
According to Mackin's report, the PR bill doubled the cost of the Mayor's trip to New York:
The Vancouver branch of New York ad agency FD Element billed city taxpayers $5,250 to manage and promote Robertson’s April 12-14 trip, according to documents released Monday under Freedom of Information.
Taxpayers were also charged $5,272.29 for Robertson and chief of staff Mike Magee’s expenses. Magee stayed until April 17 and his expenses included $621.59 for “hosting.” He refused to identify the people he hosted. (see Mackin's story on Magee's Manhattan Mystery Guests)
FD Element were heavily criticized last summer when it was discovered that they were paying the costs for Vision Vancouver's blogger, while taking healthy contracts from the City and the Mayor's office to promote Gregor Robertson locally and abroad. GlobalTV Reporter Marisa Thomas first broke open the matter of FD Element getting a $52,000 contract to record videos of Mayor Gregor during the Olympics.
The items FD were hired to do were:
- $10,000 to conduct "international media relations" for Gregor Robertson during the 2010 Games
- $21,000 to produce "100 DVDs" to promote Mayor Gregor Robertson as the leader of Vancouver Green Capital at the COP15 Copenhagen climate summit last year
- The aforementioned $52,000 no-bid contract for producing the so-called "SNAP: 2010" videos
- $27,500 to create the Mayor's blog after the company quoted $14,500 to do the work
That totals $110,500 not including sales tax. When Penny Ballem was pressed about this number by Coun. Anton at a September 21st meeting of city council, the City Manager agreed "it's just over one hundred ten thousand, that's correct".
So you would think that's it, right? Penny Ballem said on September 21st no more money had been paid to FD Element after a direct question from council. But not so fast! Turns out that there was more paid to these guys – five thousand bucks. Of course, for Dr. Ballem that's just a drop in the bucket.
After allegations were made last September that the Mayor's office might have funneled money to a third party to hire someone to attack Vision's critics while plumping up the accomplishments of the governing party, Chief of Staff Mike Magee howled that he had been defamed. He even went so far as to say that he would "open his books" to prove that there was nothing conspicuous about him doubling the payment to a Vision-friendly company who it was proven had covered the bills for creating the pro-Vision blog.
Magee's statements turned out to be a lot of hot air. In the end Magee didn't sue anyone for defamation, and he certainly never bothered to let anyone review his files for proof of a kickback to a blogger. In fact, our FOI request for Magee's cell phone records during this critical period have still not been responded to in nearly four months.
Key personnel such as CEO Don Millar (see right) and Vice-President Mike Wilson of FD Element worked on the Vision Vancouver campaign in 2008. Perhaps because of increasing criticism by this blog and other media about non-itemized invoices being paid by Chief of Staff Mike Magee, FD provided a 2-page explanation of their work six months after they had billed for their work. See the invoices and the attached letter dated September 18th here. The date of the file shows that it was originally created September 23rd by the City, and revised on November 9th.
September 23rd was two days after Anton's inquiries about FD Element in council.
The letter explains that for $5000 they provided approximately 20 hours of work. Quick math shows that Gregor Robertson's personal public relations crew are getting paid a very healthy $250 per hour!
Nice work if you can get it, eh boys?
For their fees FD Element managed to get interviews with an Ontario freelancer based in New York who took note of Robertson's good looks, and interviews with stringers from both the Globe and Mail and National Post. An environmental reporter from Time also spoke with Robertson, but nothing from the meeting was published.
The most puzzling thing about Gregor and Magee's New York trip was that they slipped out of town on the public dime with no press release. Letting media know you're leaving town on City business has been standard public relations procedure for all mayors until now. But no one knew Gregor and Magee had left until Robertson tweeted from Brooklyn.
Bob Mackin's FOI and subsequent story on Roberton & Magee's New York itinerary provided some amazing fodder for this blog. Gregor not only met with some of his American campaign donors, he sat down with a VP of the powerful Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, a group that have been supplying the Tides Foundation with untold millions, who have in turn poured large amounts of that money into Canada.
Gregor Robertson is a former director of the Tides Canada Foundation, and his principal financial backers are employed by Tides charities. And eight weeks after returning from his 90-minute meeting with NRDC reps Gregor decided to put oil transport through the Burrard Inlet on the Vancouver council agenda, despite the fact the City has no jurisdiction over these matters.
So how much more money has been paid to FD Element by Vancouver taxpayers that the public doesn't know about yet? Will we keep finding out about more contracts as time goes on, or are they cut off for now? Perhaps it's time that Mike Magee truly "opens the books."
Why Gregor Robertson continually has to hire outside help for public relations when he has full time staff who are paid generous salaries to do this work already is not clear. What is clear though is that Vancouver taxpayers are not getting any return on their $120,000 investment in Mayor Gregor's public image.
- post by Mike