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The problem with the Hoggan contract

March 3rd, 2009 · 6 Comments

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.

Categories: City Hall Talk

  • Michael Phillips

    “I don’t think that Anton et all will get very far with those arguments…”

    Well, you were sure right about that.

    But really, the contracts simply stink, there’s no way around it. No, it’s not a huge issue but I think we should apply the “broken windows” theory here and not tolerate these kinds of extraneous indulgences so easily, no matter what we think about a government’s other policies.

    I don’t think it’s so much that the contracts look bad and that the City needs to be more sensitive to our need for cleanly appearance, but that these contracts taken as whole plainly violate City policy.

    City Corporate Procedure AF-005-01 Policy 1.1 states that for “all projects excluding Corporate Re-Engineering/ Better City Government (BCG) projects: City Council approval is required to appoint the consultant, if the gross cost will exceed $30,000″

    http://vancouver.ca/policy_pdf/AF00501.pdf

    The second City/Hoggan contract, which is in fact an amendment to the first rather than a completely different contract, states in section 2.1: “The maximum liability of the City for all fees and disbursements for the complete Services will be $60,000 (the “Maximum Total Amount Payable”) plus GST”. Anyone who wants to read the contracts can plug their nose and go to City Caucus who must actually be given credit in having outdone themselves by breaking this story.

    Even if you interpret the contracts as two distinct contracts (although the second is only an amendment to the first), given the proximity in time of the two contracts (15th of December vs. 5th of January = 3 weeks), and the fact that they are identical except for the amount of $30,000 being amended to read $60,000, there is significant risk that the contract was simply split to avoid Council and public scrutiny. Even if this was not actually the case, City Corporate Procedure AF-005-03 Policy 2.1 applies when it states: “Splitting contracts to circumvent the approval limits specified in the section 1 of AF-005-01 (Consultants-Hiring) will not be permitted”.

    http://vancouver.ca/policy_pdf/AF00503.pdf
    This policy naturally incorporates a measure of subjective interpretation as you could rarely prove this kind of intent, and so the spirit of the policy is plainly that where two similar contracts seem like they could in fact have been conceived as one split contract, with each piece consequently falling below the approval limit, council approval is required. These contracts clearly fit the bill. Otherwise, you could just pay a consultant $30,000 every month for a year under different contracts for doing the same thing and circumvent Council because no one could prove intent, which shouldn’t really enter into it.

    Not to mention that Hoggan is a Vision donor, that any contract over $30,000 must be put out to tender, and that the whole Olympic Village issue which Hoggan was contracted for has been treated in a very partisan way, which is fine, but lets call a spade a spade considering it’s taxpayers money and all.

    The fact that the motion was not even seconded by any Vision or COPE councillor so that they might explain themselves I think demonstrates the unfortunate position their argument would otherwise have been in.

    Successes:
    More shelters, momentum on homelessness, momentum on greening the city, transparency of the Olympic Village situation etc etc.

    Failures:
    Hoggan

    Again, not a huge deal, but not really to be taken lightly either.

  • Interesting…I don’t have a problem with the Hoggan contracts. He’s a very capable guy, although his bills do tend to add up. However, I have to say a few words about TAXIS.

    Will someone please explain to me how we can become the most sustainable region in the world, when we insist that a taxi taking a fare from Vancouver to Surrey has to return empty. That’s right he’s not allowed to pick up a fare in Surrey and bring him to Vancouver.

    Similarly if the taxi takes a fare to the airport, he can’t pick up another fare and bring that person back downtown. He has to come back empty.

    Last week when I took a taxi from the Pan Pacific to 1500 W. Georgia, (I was late for a meeting!) I apologize to the driver for such a short fare, but noted that he could just go over to the Bayshore and pick up another.

    “No I can’t” he told me. “Our company is not allowed to pick up the Bayshore. I have to go back to the Pan Pacific.

    I am sure there are many people who can explain why this has to be. But frankly, I find it all absolutely absurd. I consider taxis to be an important part of a public transit system. If we want to get people out of private automobiles, not only do we have to improve public transit, but we also have to improve our taxi system.

    I am told that we may be instituting some temporary measures to improve the taxi situation during the Olympics. I would like to suggest that we need some brave person to undertake a comprehensive review of the taxi system in order to improve service before and after the Olympics.

    Hey, who knows, maybe he’ll determine that we don’t need more licenses. We just need to make better use of the ones we already have! But at least, let’s take a proper, open-minded review, since the taxi owners were at both the NPA and Vision dinners.

    I apologize for this diversion, Frances, but I just had to get this off my chest!

  • hohoho

    The taxi situation in Vancouver needs a lot of improvement. A taxi driver I spoke to said that it’s expensive to become a taxi driver because of all the fees and upfront costs, which make it prohibitive for people with no or low income.

    Plus, as Michael pointed out above, they aren’t able to stop in certain places to pick up people, which is absurd. Licensed City Taxis should be able to pick up a passenger ANYWHERE in the Vancouver area.

    Too many restrictions and high up-front costs make Vancouver’s taxi services inadequate for a city this size. And as personal cars will be severely restricted in Vancouver during the Olympics, lack of taxis will make it extremely difficult to get around.

    Regarding Hoggan, I think it’s pretty clear by now that every decision Vision makes is political, so, it doesn’t really surprise me. However, taxpayers should not be paying for some company to spread the propaganda of a political party. This should be paid for by Vision, not the City.

  • Joe just Joe

    Acutally taxis a Vancouver taxi can pick up in Surrey, but only if it was called there it can’t pick up a random fare. (ie if your company has an account with Yellow cab, you can arrange them to pick up an employee or guest in another city).
    The solution to most of this mess is to have Translink take over taxi licensing region wide, expect a nice backlash from the cities but so what it needs to be done for the good of the people.
    As for certain taxi’s not being allowed to pick up at certain hotels etc, it’s usuallybecause a hotel signs an exclusive contract with a provider, the hotel gets some money for this and gets control on who works there and who doesn’t. There are lots of times certain drivers are banned from certain properties for numerous reasons. Being private businesses they are free to choose who they wish and I don’t see that aspect of things being much of an issue.

  • Travis

    I find it interesting that someone who is supposed to be a public-relations expert is practically asking for a PR nightmare! If the whole Olympic Village debacle has taught us anything, Vancouverites wants their elected officials to be open and honest with what they are doing with their money. That is almost as important as being legal. No matter what way you look at this, you have to raise an eyebrow and wonder if this isn’t just a big coincidence.

  • rf

    Funny how Robertson and co. were patting themselves on the back with operation Phoenix and the “no-barrier” shelters. On the positive, yes, people are going indoors.
    What they failed to mention is that while “no barrier” is being spun as “bring your cart and your dog”, in reality, “no-barrier” means you can show up drunk or high. This is causing fits for providers.