The payroll for Vancouver city hall’s communications department was $2.58 million last year and it is forecast to reach $3.28 million by the end 2018, according to figures obtained by theBreaker under the freedom of information law.
In June, the 43-person communications department, which ultimately reports to city manager Sadhu Johnston, was named the recipient of the city manager’s award for “an individual or team whose ongoing commitment and consistent delivery of exceptional service has won the respect and appreciation of the entire [corporate leadership team].”
theBreaker subsequently applied for a copy of the individual payments made in 2017 and the pay rates for 2018.
The documents show department head Rena Kendall-Craden was the highest-paid in 2017 at $168,609. Her salary increases to $171,044 this year.
Associate director Gail Pickard ($116,173) and public engagement director Amanda Gibbs ($103,000) were last year’s other six-figure spinners. Communications managers Kira Hutchinson, Neal Wells and Megan Fitzgerald are slated to join the six-figure club in 2018.
Fourteen people in the department were paid over the $80,000 threshold last year. In 2018, 18 staffers are to be paid $80,000 and up.
Under NPA Mayor Sam Sullivan in 2006, communications cost taxpayers $631,110. In 2009, the first full year of Gregor Robertson’s mayoralty and Vision Vancouver’s majority control of city hall, there were nine people in corporate communications. By 2013, the city was paying $1.6 million to 33 people in the department.
Johnston said he was unavailable for an interview because of council meetings on July 25. By email, he was asked to justify the spending amid tax increases and cost pressures for social services and policing.
“Virtually all work at the city is supported by communications,” Johnston wrote. “From separated sewer projects to big planning projects, budget and capital plans to Japanese beetles, overdose deaths to public art. And the public want to know about it. We have significant challenges in staying in touch with citizens asking for more service, more engagement and more information, not less.”
Mayor Gregor Robertson’s chief of staff Kevin Quinlan did not respond to theBreaker.
NPA Coun. George Affleck, who is also not running for re-election, has often criticized city hall communications spending and called for an external review to cut waste.
“This is representative of [Vision Vancouver] style of governance, the mayor’s style of management: Spend, spend, spend,” Affleck said. “On Oct. 20, the voters of this city, I hope, will choose a council and mayor that are more frugal and cost efficient.”
Johnston said the department currently employs 22 full-timers and 16 temporary and casual staff, which doesn’t include staff hired or assigned directly to capital projects or other departments, such as Park Board.
In 2011, when Penny Ballem was city manager, city hall bureaucrats were barred from speaking to reporters, after they had been free to do so for decades. Reporters were required to contact the communications department first. Interviews with staff became rare. That was eased after Mayor Gregor Robertson won re-election in 2014 and Ballem designated select department heads to receive media calls.
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