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".
“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.