Councillor Suzanne Anton is going to raise questions this afternoon about the contract that went to public-relations expert Jim Hoggan for his company’s help in managing the messaging around the Olympic village mess. Previous explanations I’ve had from the city say it went to Hoggan because his company has expertise in international business media, which the city’s communications department didn’t have and which was going to be needed in a story involving the Olympic village.
Hoggan got two $30,000 contracts, which Anton and others from the NPA have flagged as a problem because of suggestions that 1. somehow Councillor Geoff Meggs arranged them and 2. they should have been approved by council, since anything over $30,000 is supposed to be and breaking them into two $30,000 bits is sneaky.
I don’t think that Anton et all will get very far with those arguments because, to my understanding, Geoff made a suggestion in a meeting, he didn’t order that Hoggan be hired. Second, it’s obvious from looking at the city’s Schedule of Payments that many many organizations get paid more than $30,000 in a year by the city and somehow it doesn’t come to council for approval. That’s likely because at least some of them, like the Hoggan contract, pushed past the $60,000 mark because they were given one contract (and since $30,000 is the triggering limit, usually departments set the cap at $30,000 for smaller contracts) and then work got more complicated and extended and they were given another. (And, before one of my posters can bring it up, I’ll also mention that the Pace Group, aka Norman Stowe, got the contract to do former mayor Sam Sullivan’s Project Civil City announcement from the mayor’s discretionary fund, with no approval by council.)
But even though there’s nothing technically or legally wrong, the reason this contract is attracting attention is because Jim Hoggan and his company have been supporters of Vision Vancouver. Hoggan worked with Jim Green during his mayoral bid. His company was also one of the dozen that had a table at the recent Vision fundraiser, a fundraiser that was held to pay off what I understand is at least a $300,000 election campaign debt.
That means it’s not passing the smell test or the resentment-by-others-wondering-if-they’re-being-shut-out-because-they’re-not-Vision-supporters test. Council members also have to be hyper-cautious about those perceptions. Even if they firmly believe they’re doing nothing wrong, the public and people who have business with city hall don’t like any suggestion that personal ties or political donations influence who gets contracts.
Decades ago, there was a big flap about Jim Moodie getting a lot of contracts from the city as a development consultant. Was he incompetent or undeserving? No. But he was a friend of Gordon Campbell’s and so people in the development industry who also do business with city hall were resentful.
For the same reason, the watching public and people in the taxi industry may wonder about Vision Vancouver councillors’ future decisions on whether to support additional taxi licences. Black Top Cabs were another company with a table at the recent Vision Vancouver fundraiser. Recently, Geoff had a fun little journalism-type piece on his blog where he went around with a Black Top cab driver for the day, where the point seemed to be that there isn’t enough business already for the existing licence holders.
There is a valid argument to be made for not granting more taxi licences. And I’ve never had any sense from Geoff that his opinion is swayed in the least by political donations. But when people perceive there’s a built-in bias, good intentions or good arguments aren’t always enough.