Mayor Gregor Robertson taken to court over City of Vancouver lease with HootSuite

The Vancouver mayoral candidate for the Cedar Party, financial analyst  Glen Chernen, has announced that he has filed documents in B.C. Supreme Court alleging that Mayor Gregor Robertson has violated conflict-of-interest provisions in the Vancouver Charter.

In a news release dated February 15, Chernen stated that he and nine other petitioners are seeking a judicial declaration that Robertson "failed to disclose a direct, or indirect, pecuniary conflict of interest".

Chernen told the Georgia Straight by phone that the allegations are in connection with the City of Vancouver leasing a building to the social-media management company HootSuite Media Inc.

“I would just like to see this go to a judge and have it run its course, and give the mayor a fair shake at defending himself," Chernen said. "I’m quite curious to see what he could possibly say that might lead him to believe that he has any defence."

HootSuite's building is the Vancouver Police Department's former investigative office at 5 East 8th Avenue.

Chernen said that he filed the documents, including two lengthy affidavits [click downloads tab to see], in the B.C. Supreme Court registry on Friday (February 14). He added that someone else has already served the City of Vancouver.

In one of the affidavits, Chernen states that Robertson was "presented with a gift, called a Hootkit, by HootSuite at a technology networking event in August 2011 that Gregor Robertson and HootSuite CEO, Ryan Holmes both went to, and both gave speeches at".

A Hootkit includes a T-shirt and a package of stickers.

Chernen's affidavit also notes that Robertson had a "pre-election night twitter social media event" at HootSuite headquarters two days before the November 19, 2011, civic election.

On July 27, 2012, Chernen claimed in his affidavit, the mayor joined HootSuite's vice president, Dave Olson, and others "in a high profile street hockey game attended by media in which the City of Vancouver closed down the busy transport route of Granville Street".

Less than four months later, the city announced that it had leased the property to HootSuite.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. 

Meanwhile, the Cedar Party has posted numerous documents on its website concerning its efforts to gain information about the city's lease with the social-media company. Initially, city staff refused to reveal how much rent it was charging HootSuite.

"I’ve heard a lot of people on the Vision [Vancouver] side dismissing claims there’s no transparency—saying that they’re fully transparent," Chernen said. "Well, that’s one of the things that this lawsuit is all about....There’s a serious lack of transparency as the affidavits will clearly show. It’s inexcusable, indefensible, [and] we want to bring a transparency back. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Last month, the city finally revealed how much HootSuite is paying in "net payable" rent under its lease: $17 per square foot in the first year, which equals $47,149.50 on an annual basis.

That rises to $19, $20, $21, and $22 per square foot in each of the following four years, maxing out at $61,017 in the fifth year.

The company received three months of free rent as an inducement, according to the document.

In addition, HootSuite is being charged $4,615 per month to use 71 parking stalls on site. That works out to $65 per spot, not counting parking taxes.

Mayor Gregor Robertson was unavailable for comment.

Robertson's office issued the following written statement on his behalf: "It's disappointing to see these bizarre claims being made. As Mayor, I'm very proud of the strong local tech companies that are investing in Vancouver, and City Hall will continue to support the new jobs they are creating in our city's growing economy."

There is no record of HootSuite or its CEO, Ryan Holmes, making any political donations to Vision Vancouver in 2011.

However, one of Chernen's affidavits discloses that the mayor's chief of staff, Mike Magee, had passed Holmes's request for tenant improvements under the city's tenant improvement program to the then-director of real-estate services, Mike Flanigan.

Under section 145.2 of the Vancouver Charter, members of council must disclose before any vote if they have "a direct or indirect pecuniary interest or another interest in a matter that constitutes a conflict of interest".

If this is the case, the member must disclose this and state in general reasons why this is so. After doing this, that person cannot do anything in connection with the matter.

Under section 145.3(3), a judge can disqualify any person from holding office who is found to have contravened the conflict-of-interest provision in the Vancouver Charter.

Comments (21) Add New Comment
Joshua Poon
Other than stickers and a T-shirt, this article doesn't mention any "direct, or indirect, pecuniary conflict of interest"?
Rating: +15
“145.6 (1) Sections 145.2 to 145.5 [disclosure of conflict; restrictions on participation; inside influence; outside influence] do not apply if one or more of the following circumstances applies:

d) the pecuniary interest is so remote or insignificant that it cannot reasonably be regarded as likely to influence the member in relation to the matter…”

I fail to see how the things alleged by Mr. Chernen would not fall into that category. This is simply a political stunt.
Rating: +25
Mark Bowen
Man I bet the Kinder Morgan execs wish they had known the mayor could apparently be bought off for some stickers and a T-Shirt. Maybe sweeten the deal a bit by standing around chatting with him while watching some street hockey.
Rating: +28
It's Gregor Robertson, enough said! Vancouver city hall has no business cutting rental deals with specific companies. What about the rest of companies that are expanding here?
Rating: +1
If the Chernen affidavit claims that HootSuite's vice president is Dave Olson, then there's been no fact checking at all. It suggests that Chernen is just political grandstanding at the expense of local businessmen.
Rating: +15
Juan Carlos
Wow, what a great day for Gregor and his team. If this is the only sort of "dirt" his opponents can dig up, he'll be swept back into City Hall with the election being nothing but brief annoyance on his way back to office.

"I'm curious how the mayor is going to defend himself?" -- well, here's a hint... what you've accused him of is about as horrifying as jaywalking on quiet Sunday morning when there are no cars around. I suppose it'd be out of place for him to simply state, "Who gives a shit?" -- but that's what everyone is thinking.

For those hoping for a change in government, you'd better hope Mr. Chernen and his boys have something better up their sleeve... because if they're planning on running a "negative campaign", they need to face the facts... they're not very good at it. Perhaps a platform of what good they will do would be a good start. And a promise not to waste anyone and everyone's time with this sort of nonsense.
Rating: +1
Glen Chernen
lol. What are you doing Glen?

sounds like a persistent fool
Rating: +2
The deal with Hootsuite is a bad one for the city, especially if Hootsuite takes up the option to buy the property for $9.5 million. The densification plan Vision is going to put in place if they win in November will only increase the value of the property giving Hootsuite a nice windfall. Management of city properties under Mayor Robertson has become questionable at the very least. It is one thing giving breaks to arts & cultural groups, perhaps even worth considering some breaks for the poverty business, but Hootsuite is never going to be a major employer no matter how successful they become and giving them a preferential lease that short changes the taxpayers is wrong. If the property belonged to the Province the same deal would be causing outrage amongst those of you so eager to defend Vision and Robertson.
Rating: +8
Is Mr. Chernen going to be vancouver's Rob Ford?
Rating: -1
Barbarian at the Gate
The Mayor is answerable to the citizens of Vancouver whether he believes so or not. The Mayor and his office are refusing to give details of the terms and agreement between the city and Hootsuite, citing "privacy".

Considering that the property is publicly owned by the city, its fair that the public knows the details.

The true point of this lawsuit is to unveil the shroud of secrecy behind this secret deal. But its the Mayor's office that hides behind legal loopholes, so I guess we have to resort to playing their own game.

You may want to ask why we have to play such games when the city government is supposedly so "transparent".

Rating: +17
People who are defending Mayor Robertson have completely missed the main point. It has nothing to do with free T-Shirts.
The City of Vancouver has underestimated the value of the property at $9.5 Million Dollar and has charged monthly rental of $17 which is far below market value for similar properties. The City has either not done their due diligence or gave Hootesuite a sweetheart deal.
The fact that local Vancouver media has not done any investigative journalism on this matter is surely a sad state of affairs. It has to be brought by a private citizen in a lawsuit to get the attention of taxpayers.
Rating: +15
James Blatchford
In this context, Mr. Chernen is not a private citizen...he gave that up when he started a political party to oppose Vision. I get that it's hard to get any serious media attention when you are an upstart political party. But this looks and smells like a political stunt, and consequently, it questions the judgment of its authors.
Rating: -8
This is a great thing for Mr. Chernen to be doing. He's encountered so many roadblocks in terms of obtaining information that there's no other choice (got to ask why they don't disclose the information he's seeking).

Hootsuite isn't the most reputable company (unpaid interns anyone?) and it wouldn't be surprising to see a behind-the-scenes deal to have been struck. I'm certain that there are more deals like this that Vision has struck as well (see developers), but this would be one that has a chance of being proved. Robertson is good friends with Aquilini as well and he gets deals, but it's not easy to prove that.

Good luck with nailing Robertson Mr. Chernen. Hopefully you can have him ousted and all of his followers (who are defending him by bringing up irrelevant arguments at this point - confirmatory bias at its best) will look the fools they are.
Rating: +1
A one time believer in Vision
Gregory and the Vision majority have to go. They've fallen under the spell of their own BS and have clearly lost respect for civility and the citizens of Vancouver.

Too much time in power and politicians start to smell, it's a simple truth but one few elected officials ever get. Vision haven't been immune to the corrosive effects of time on power, and as a result their time should soon be up.

A change is needed reasons why abound, but I'm not sure if this Hootsuite business is one of them.
Rating: -3
James Blatchford
Sorry to pop your bubble, Slider, but some of us aren't necessarily supporters of Vision or Gregor...just observers on the political scene. You can dress this up anyway you want, it still looks like a stunt with all the downside risk if it is judged as so. But clearly Cedar has calculated that risk and decided that it was a risk worth taking...I think they've made a mistake, and doubt anyone will be calling Mr. Chernen 'His Worship' anytime soon. Cedar, your woodshed is calling.
Rating: -5
I Googled and found Vision Vancouver's 2011 election platform. It would appear that Vision ran on a platform that included attempting to expand digital media jobs by offering tax breaks and other incentives for businesses. They promised to do this aggressively.

Is Hootsuite a digital business that has, like, employees? Yes.


Rating: 0
To James Blatchford - no worries, no bubble popped. I'm certain that not all people on here are supporters for Vision, but I bet the majority are (always an exception to the rule). But note something - I never claimed what you said. A diligent political observer should be noting that.

I don't think Cedar has much of a chance anyway, even if they are able to oust him. And as an observer on the political scene - this is quite intelligent. If you think about where the party is starting from, there's not much downside risk.
Rating: +4
Well said Chris.
Rating: -4
Who are the other 9 petitioners?
Rating: +4
Glen 'Bitchin Camaro' Chernen is a twit. That 'high profile street hockey game attended by media in which the City of Vancouver closed down the busy transport route of Granville Street' he complains about? A very worthy charity called Five Hole for Food.
Rating: +2


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Glen Chernen affidavit 1

PDF (65.05 MB)


Glen Chernen affidavit 2

PDF (37.51 MB)