Secrets at City Hall: time to fix the accountability deficit? Watch the video.
If there is one person who exemplifies the secrecy principle which prevails within Vision Vancouver, it's the party's former president, key organizer, generous donor to the tune of $40,000, campaign manager and now Chief of Staff to Mayor Gregor Robertson, Mike Magee. It's said that Magee is the man who truly runs Vancouver City Hall today, making his hand-picked City Manager, the Mayor, and everyone in the Vision caucus all report to him.
When he's not making systemic social change happen at 12th and Cambie, Mike is a consultant who advises Tides Canada and dozens of other environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) and fantastically funded über charities like Seattle's Bullitt Foundation. Late last summer Mike got himself into a bit of a pickle when it was learned he had doubled a web development contract for favoured sons FD Element.
FD Element also work in the charity/environmental causes sector. That's the same group of organizations which seems to have boundless bundles of cash when it comes to making sure no tankers can carry oil from B.C.'s coast, but apparently not nearly as much for other causes.
The wrinkle to the story about hiring FD Element – first for $14,000, then for $28,000 – was that concurrently the contractor was paying the costs for a pro-Vision blog written by Jonathan Ross. Ross has since retired from writing at civicscene, and there's no word whether FD Element still have him on the payroll. At the time FD's CEO Don Millar – who is currently up to his eyeballs trying to get Christy Clark elected as B.C.'s next Premier – said that they had Johnny doing "conversation mining."
It was an embarrassing predicament for Magee, who had either signed off on contracts, or had helped FD Element to land over $110,000 worth of projects at City Hall. Did Mike's office pay FD Element, so they could turn around and pay Ross to write his pro-Vision/anti-CityCaucus.com blog?
Magee was extremely miffed by the suggestion. When he came back from the $120,000 junket to China with Mayor Gregor, he promised to be open and accountable for all decisions made by him and his office with regards the payments to FD Element. He insisted that he had been smeared by the accusation. Frances Bula reported:
...in Magee’s first interview since coming back from China yesterday, the chief of staff says he’s willing to open up the books so people can see anything they want about FD Element billing and work for the city.
Well, let's count the months since Magee made that promise. One, two, three, four, five months, and no accountability, no explanation, no "opening of the books" by him.
We thought we'd help Mike out, as we're sure that single-handedly piloting Vancouver toward systemic social change must take up a lot of his time.
We made a freedom of information request for Magee's cell phone records during that period. Simple, right? If there were no calls going back and forth between Jonathan Ross and Magee to work out the wording of a CityCaucus.com rebuttal, or some new unique way to put down Park Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon or any other enemy of Gregor Robertson, surely that would exonerate Magee.
Well, the City of Vancouver didn't see it that way. Four and a half months after we made the request, we were told the cell phone records were not going to be released. Too much personal information, it was argued by the City Clerk's office. We asked, scratch out the numbers. We just want to know how many calls, what duration, where and when.
Nope, can't have that info either.
Before you know it we're going to be on a first name basis with the Privacy Commissioner after we register a review by the OIPC!
Being "accountability challenged" is something Mike has exhibited on another occasion. For example, when he quietly took off to New York last April with Mayor Gregor on the taxpayer dime to meet with a Rockefeller Brothers Foundation VP and reps of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Magee picked up a $600+ dinner tab in Manhattan. When queried by 24 Hours reporter Bob Mackin about it, Magee didn't think it was anyone's business:
Vancouver city hall’s chief of staff charged taxpayers $621 for “hosting” during an April trip to New York. But Mike Magee won’t identify the people he hosted.
Among Magee’s expenses, obtained via Freedom of Information, were $441 in combined charges at ABC Kitchen on April 13 at 12:31 a.m. and April 15 at 9:05 p.m. Neither the establishment nor his guests were listed in his agenda. The receipts do not list the food and drinks purchased. See the documents
Magee would only say he hosted “businesses we’re in negotiations with for moving to Vancouver.”
I'd like to give Mike the benefit of doubt. Surely he wants to "open up the books" but just hasn't had the time. We thought perhaps we'd send him a DM through Twitter, but... oh, he doesn't allow anyone to read his tweets.
Oh well. Maybe we'll just have to accept that Vancouver City Hall's present status as a 'sealed fortress.' But I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that Magee will still get some of that ol' time accountability religion one day.
- post by Mike