A $10 petty cash expense would have bought this book instead
UPDATE: Frances Bula on her blog is reporting information given to her by Mayor's office staff:
I’ve now been told that actually Sam Sullivan spent $3,125 on his Chinese lessons. No bills forwarded to me yet for Punjabi, Tagalog or Italian.
Sullivan confirms that he had no "lessons" for any language training while in office. There was a budget for hiring communications help in translating speeches for addresses at ethnic events. His language skills are self-taught.
This is what Bula had to say about Gregor's new language skills:
He spoke some Mandarin at council recently and I, a temporary resident of China for three months at one time, was impressed with his accent.
Bula also notes that the former quadraplegic Mayor had:
quite an expensive upgrade to make it easier for him to get in and out.
Sullivan was castigated by Vision and COPE for hiring a device to help him make a state of the city address, and allow him to flip the pages of his speech. The former Mayor has limited use of his arms, and uses his knuckles to answer his phone or move objects.
While Vision and COPE position themselves as "progressive" politicians, they're less charitable to people with disabilities, especially when they're political opponents.
Mayor Gregor's junket to China last September cost taxpayers $120,000, but the high cost and low return on investment didn't seem to faze overburdened Vancouver ratepayers. However, we wonder if recent news about the cost of paying for Robertson's private language training might raise at least an eyebrow.
According to a report by 24 Hours reporter Bob Mackin, Gregor Robertson billed taxpayers $2,258.16 for six-months of Mandarin tutoring prior to the China junket.
Robertson grossed $18,870.25 in taxpayer-funded travel costs, though $1,426.56 was paid by the organizers of a New York climate change forum. His 2010 itinerary also included trips to Toronto, Ottawa, San Francisco, Whistler and the Vancouver Economic Development Commission tour of China. The travel expenses included $2,258.16 for almost six months of Mandarin tutoring and translation by Jie Jade He.
In order to make sure our Mayor said 'hello, how are you, greetings from Vancouver,' and not 'your son eats fish heads' or 'is that watch really gold?' taxpayers had to pony up.
Since Mayor's office staff are already going into the "but the previous mayor did it" message box, I decided to give Sam Sullivan a call to ask if he used public money to learn how to speak fluent Cantonese, or become conversant in Mandarin or Punjabi.
"About as close I came to that is when I used to invite the security guard at City Hall up to my office on his lunch break," says Sullivan. "I'd ask him how to say something in Punjabi, or to critique my pronunciation."
Sullivan said his office would occasionally hire translation services for speeches or communiqués to ethnic communities, but never was someone paid out of his office budget to teach him how to speak in other languages.
The news about the Mandarin tutor expenditure is in addition to Robertson topping out his car allowance at $7,175. The pedal-powered Mayor has apparently already spent more on car travel than Larry Campbell and Sam Sullivan combined.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson rides a bicycle to news conferences and lives two kilometres from city hall, but he took a $7,175 transport allowance last year. Robertson was just $25 under the annual cap, according to the Thursday-published 2010 report on council remuneration and expenses.
In 2003, when it was known as an auto allowance, then-mayor Larry Campbell cost taxpayers $2,535.07. Robertson's predecessor, Sam Sullivan, charged $1,656 for transport in 2006 but nothing in 2007 or 2008.
Robertson aide Kevin Quinlan said the mayor needs to drive to some Metro Vancouver and TransLink board meetings for scheduling reasons.
According to the Translink website, there were a total of four meetings of the Mayor's Council in 2010. Gregor Robertson only attended two of the four meetings.
No one we've spoken to can actually recall seeing Robertson driving.
We've not calculated how many Metro Vancouver board meetings Gregor Robertson attended in 2010, but for those who wish to sift through the minutes, you can find them here. Whether attending those board meetings should have totalled over $7,000 in car allowance is another matter. We should point out that the Metro Vancouver offices are located beside a Skytrain station.
In a time when the City is cutting amenities like the Children's Petting Zoo at Stanley Park, it sure doesn't look good when the Mayor is spending tax dollars on personal language tutoring. Whether or not Mackin's story gets any legs, Gregor Robertson should do the right thing and pay that $2,258 back to the City.
- post by Mike. Follow @MikeKlassen or check out @24HoursVan.