Gregor Robertson's chief of staff, Mike Magee, says he was defamed by ex-FD Element employee

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      The chief of staff to Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson says he's contemplating legal action after being accused of using taxpayers' dollars to fund a partisan Web site.

      In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Mike Magee claimed that an unnamed former employee of FD Element told lies about him in a September 14 interview on Global TV.

      "I’ve been defamed," Magee maintained. "But I don’t want to give more air to the lies that have been created here than are warranted. So there is a legal question and a strategic question."

      FD Element obtained an untendered $27,500 contract from the mayor's office to create a personal Web site for Robertson to highlight some of his environmental initiatives.

      The former FD Element employee, whose identity was concealed on Global TV, made some astonishing allegations. He claimed that Magee directed the company's principals, Don Millar and Mike Wilson, about content that should go on a private blog operated by Vision Vancouver partisan Jonathan Ross.

      "That’s a fabrication and completely false," Magee responded.

      Ross's posts on his site, which is called "civicscene", sometimes excoriate critics of the mayor and various journalists. FD Element paid for the creation of civicscene and has employed Ross on contracts to perform something called "conversation mining".

      The former FD Element staffer claimed that this was a ruse to hide the real purpose: having Ross produce content at the behest of Magee. The former staffer also alleged that his employer instructed Magee to communicate with Ross via a private e-mail account.

      Magee denied this took place. "That is also false," he said.

      Late last year, the Straight filed a freedom-of-information request seeking copies of any e-mails that Magee had exchanged with Ross's civicscene site or his company, TDH Strategies, between September 1, 2009 and December 28, 2009. The city responded that Magee had not sent civicscene or TDH Strategies a single e-mail on Magee's city account over that period.

      The Straight also filed a freedom-of-information request earlier this summer to determine if the mayor's media assistant, Kevin Quinlan, had uploaded any content from his city-owned computer onto Ross's civicscene site.

      The city responded that it was "not feasible [to fulfill the request] using our normal computer hardware and software and technical expertise".

      Magee said that the mayor's office is "very scrupulous to make sure that...we’re getting good value for money and that there is no taxpayer dollars that are being used inappropriately".

      He emphasized that no tax dollars funded Ross's civicscene site.

      Magee also claimed not to know the identity of the former FD Element staffer, but added that the company is aware of who he is.

      FD Element's Millar refused to speak to the Straight about the former employee. He said that FD Element employs about eight people.

      FD Element initially proposed creating the mayor's site for approximately $14,000. Magee increased the fee to FD Element to $27,500.

      "The scope of the work increased significantly," Magee said. "We developed a stand-alone rather than just one page; it was a full stand-alone Web site with video and a database and this whole thing, but the [city's] IT department wasn’t prepared to handle [it]."

      Robertson's chief of staff described the coverage of the contract and Ross's blog as "distressing", adding that the media have repeated "clear lies that have been put forward as fact" by the anonymous source.

      "It’s not based on any reality," Magee said. He also mentioned that Ross spoke to numerous people about his site, but maintained that the mayor's office had "in no way, shape or form been involved in the creation of this blog".

      Earlier this year, another local blog,, printed a copy of an e-mail from Ross to the hotmail account of Aaron Jasper, the Vision Vancouver chair of the park board. It included a news release that was about to be issued later that day, which featured Jasper's name at the bottom as a contact.

      The media statement sent by Ross condemned Green commissioner Stuart Mackinnon for introducing a motion seeking a referendum on keeping cetaceans in captivity. Later, Ross wrote a post on his site criticizing Mackinnon's motion and quoting from Jasper's news release.

      The Straight said to Magee: "Somebody might look at that [news release] and draw a conclusion that Jonathan Ross was doing work for Vision politicians. And I’m just wondering, first of all, whether you knew about that e-mail that was sent, and then secondly, what your comment would be on it."

      "No, I wasn’t aware of the e-mail," Magee replied. "And as I said, you know, Jonathan has been a Vision member and been around for a while. You know, it wouldn’t surprise me that he’s doing work for the assisting in a volunteer way or in whatever way. The reality, the facts of the matter with respect to the mayor’s office, we have nothing to do with this blog."

      Mike Magee on the blogosphere:

      Magee expressed concerns about the increasingly common practice of bloggers' posts being repeated in the mainstream media as factually accurate. He claimed that this is "a highly problematic trend that you’re seeing in the U.S. and now being adopted here".

      "I don’t think it bodes very well for accurate reporting or an appropriate means of having public discourse about issues," the chief of staff stated. "It has turned into a smearfest and I think that’s a bad turn of events."

      The Straight asked if Ross's civicscene has been a participant in this "smearfest".

      "I think that all blogs that are dealing with city politics right now have culpability," Magee replied. "Everybody needs to start taking a higher road insofar as how they’re dealing with each other and with the issues that are important to the city."

      The Straight then asked that when Magee used the term "all blogs" if he was referring to civicscene as well. "Yes," Magee responded.

      When asked if he was going to convey those thoughts to Ross, the chief of staff replied: "I certainly will, you know. I’ll be conveying it to everybody through appropriate means in the media."

      He claimed that stories based on anonymous sources, including a recent alleged "mayor's media hit list", are being "fabricated" to harm the mayor's relationship with the media.

      "So that’s a great example of a story that’s completely constructed," he added. "There is no reality to it. And any reasonable person looks at it and thinks, 'Why would we do that in the first place?' "

      However, he stated that a lot of thought was put into creating the so-called hit list, which was covered in 24 hours.

      "Well, every journalist is going to look at it and say, ”˜Why am I on the list or not on the list?'," Magee said.

      When asked if he thought that Ross has damaged the mayor’s office’s relationship with the media, he replied that the Global news story was "problematic".

      Jonathan Ross's criticism of the Georgia Straight:

      Ross has described me as a "borderline journalist". In the same post, he wrote: "I wonder what will happen to the Georgia Straight’s political coverage if Charlie Smith gets hit by a bus and dies. I highly doubt that there will be much nostalgia. In fact, I speculate that the quality of the content will definitely improve."

      He has also claimed that my political radar is "skewered by irrelevance" and ridiculed me for asking if Vision Vancouver was paying for his Web site. In other posts he has sneered at my reporting and condemned me for a Web-only article in February about the mayor's taxpayer-financed Web site.

      I asked Magee if he had read any of Ross's comments about me or the Georgia Straight on the civicscene site.

      "No, to be honest," Magee replied. "I mean, to be honest, you know, the blogosphere could consume a huge amount of time trying to track all this stuff, and I just don’t do it."

      Magee repeated that the mayor's office has no control over what Ross writes. "Our intention and our hope is to have a respectful and open communication with the Georgia Straight," he added. "Any comments in the blogosphere that would be painting you in a derogatory light, we wouldn’t support."

      Does Mike Magee read civicscene?

      I followed up by asking if he reads Ross's site. Magee replied that he looks at it sometimes when Quinlan, who deals with the media, points out things that the chief of staff should be reading.

      "I don't do it as a practice," Magee added.

      Ross has written several laudatory posts on his site about Magee, describing him as "a uniter–someone who can bring in disparate interests to reach deals and advance projects that benefit the city as a whole".

      In another post on civicscene, Ross wrote that Magee isn’t motivated by power, profile, or financial benefit, but rather by the improvement of the city.

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      Jerry Thompson

      Sep 16, 2010 at 1:22pm

      I've been super critical of you in the past Charlie, but will give you kudos on this piece for your neutrality, despite being ripped at by Ross.

      I still have to question whether you believe Magee or not, you certainly didn't let on in your writing. Conceivably, this guy paid another, to ridicule on a regular basis.

      If you don't believe him, how do you keep a balance to your future writings?

      If you do, how do we believe that your future writings are balanced?

      Rock in a hard place I say.

      Charlie Smith

      Sep 16, 2010 at 2:14pm

      These are good questions. Given the volume and the tone of the attacks from Ross, I have trouble believing Magee when he says he hasn't read a single one of the diatribes against the Georgia Straight on civicscene. It was the only time in the lengthy interview when he used the word "honestly" to amplify his response, and he did it twice.

      I can't say for sure, though. I would be interested in hearing from someone with more expertise in determining if the use of the word "honestly" in this context is a psychological flag that the person might not believe what he is saying. Memory is also a tricky thing. Magee could have read them and not recalled reading them.

      Ross repeatedly tees off on me, but I've never seen him tear a strip off the editors of any of the other papers (i.e. Ming Pao, Sing Tao, Vancouver Sun, Province, Vancouver Courier, West Ender, Indo-Canadian Voice, The Link, World Journal, etc.). Nor have I heard him take swipes at any local talk-show hosts. He might have done it, but I've never seen it.

      It would be a sign of incompetence if Magee, as the mayor's chief of staff, didn't notice a Vision Vancouver campaign manager doing something like this to the editor of a widely read newspaper in Vancouver.

      I was surprised by Magee's statement that he doesn't know the identity of the anonymous former FD Element employee. It's a small shop. But I have no evidence to indicate that he wasn't being truthful.

      Do I believe his responses to the anonymous former FD Element worker? To his credit, Magee answered all my questions without hiding his face and disguising his voice. The former employee has hidden behind the cloak of anonymity (even though his former employer must know who he is) for reasons that haven't satisfied me.

      In the absence of any other theory, my hunch is that the former employee probably signed a non-disclosure agreement with FD Element after he left the company or after his contract expired. Now, by going public with these allegations, he may be violating that non-disclosure agreement.

      If I'm accurate with this evaluation, some people would think that's pretty unethical. Global TV gave him a soft ride on this point.

      I can't say that I believe the Global TV source without knowing more about his identity, his motivations, and his reasons for maintaining secrecy.

      At the same time, his employer hasn't gone to court, as far as I can tell, with a claim that he violated a nondisclosure agreement. I'm sure that people at the company's U.S. head office aren't thrilled to see these types of stories circulating. They have an interest in getting this story out of the news, which might explain why there hasn't been litigation.

      And as far as I can tell, neither Ross nor FD Element has furnished invoices to prove that Ross was conducting "conversation mining" for U.S. companies. Meanwhile, Magee hasn't sued the former FD Element employee.

      I quoted Magee extensively so that his side of the story appeared on the record. Ultimately, it's up to readers to draw their own conclusions.

      Jerry, you've already said my writings are unbalanced, so I don't expect that to change regardless of what I produce.

      Ross must know the identity of the source. I posted a comment on his site asking him to reveal the name of this person. Ross is not an employee of FD Element, so I can't imagine why he wouldn't do this. What does he have to lose?


      Sep 16, 2010 at 4:00pm


      I've been a commenter who has been very critical of your writings in the past. We have very different ideas regarding the direction Vancouver should go in to serve all its citizens. And at times, I've teed off on the credibility on your articles.

      But I would never write or even think anything close to what Ross was quoted in your article (I wasn't even aware of his blog until it was pointed out by others). Whether it was funded by taxpayers or just his own opinion, it was a disgraceful sentiment that's inexcusable.

      Disagree with you? Certainly! There's even times and issues where I think it's necessary to be disagreeable with conviction. But give and take are part of political discourse. No one should ever be wishing to silence anyone in a debate.

      And if my postings have ever offended you in the past, I apologize. If they've made you re-examine your views, good!

      Charlie Smith

      Sep 16, 2010 at 10:08pm

      Dear RealityCheck,

      The apology is accepted. I value the blogosphere, even though I get hammered from time to time. I've probably learned something from everyone, even Ross. Here are some examples:

      1. From Sean Holman, I've learned a great deal about government and the people involved in various political parties. He's a shining light of integrity and intelligence in the media.

      2. Stephen Rees has ripped me in the past, but he has also taught me about transportation.

      3. Alex Tsakumis has taught me that I shouldn't be so trusting. Sometimes, it seems that he loathes me, but I can live with that.

      4. Jonathan Ross has helped me develop a thicker skin. I also learn things about Ontario civic politics from his blog, and I appreciated his post about Tsakumis's coverage of the Pride parade. If I hadn't read it there, I probably would have missed it.

      5. Bill Tieleman taught me about the B.C. Rail trial and the value of social media. He also provides regular reminders of the degree to which the premier has been captured by his corporate cronies.

      6. From Harvey Oberfeld, I've learned that there are some people who will give no quarter when it comes to criticism of Israel, no matter what their ideological disposition might be when it comes to domestic issues.

      7. From Mike Klassen and Daniel Fontaine, I have learned a great deal about how Vision Vancouver finances its operations.

      8. From the young Langara grads at the Dependent, I've learned not to take myself so seriously and to admire the dedication of young people to create their own new media when the old media won't give them jobs.

      9. Alex-Waterhouse Hayward taught me about photography long before he started blogging. But his blog has helped me see people in different ways through his words as well.

      10. The various municipal political blogs in the suburbs help keep me up to date on what's happening in the region. Frances Bula has taught me that I should pay more attention to planning issues. Michael Geller has helped me learn about different forms of housing around the world.

      There are many more whom I didn't mention. In the past week, we've heard an MSM backlash against the blogosphere. I would wager that the vast, vast majority of bloggers are engaged citizens who are doing this sincerely, even if we don't always agree. Many are doing it for free. I hope people keep this in mind the next time a media person with a six-figure salary pooh poohs their contributions.

      James Green

      Sep 17, 2010 at 12:11am

      If Gregor is to get back on track and live up to his election promises he must show leadership and fire Magee.
      Magee talking about suing anyone is a joke.
      Show some guts Mr. Mayor and fire this thug, NOW

      Mikey Grey

      Sep 17, 2010 at 11:33am

      This city desperately needs a Real Mayor... Someone like Diane Watts (recently named in the list of the World's Top 10 Mayors). Gregor and his ridiculous ideas have brought nothing but embarrassment to Vancouver.

      adding to the squabble

      Sep 18, 2010 at 4:22pm

      Charlie Smith wrote:
      <i>"Ross must know the identity of the source. I posted a comment on his site asking him to reveal the name of this person. Ross is not an employee of FD Element, so I can't imagine why he wouldn't do this. What does he have to lose?"</i>

      And I can't find your question on his blog!

      W.M. Gibbens

      Sep 20, 2010 at 9:48am


      The Georgia Straight's journalists do get the majority of their civic and rights coverage spoon fed to them by the BCCLA which currently filter's the intake of government, police and institutional violence, rights violations, (such as intimidation, blacklisting and no-go zone) complaints from individuals to block anything - even the Jan. 29th, 2009 VPD "Police Involved" injuries and death of 89 year old Phyllis Elaine Gibbens - which might be embarassing to their 'Vision' political bedfellows from seeing the light of day. The Vancouver Police Board just renewed Chu's contract without a peep - or was that a tweet?