Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton is standing behind city CAO Annette Antoniak’s decision earlier this year to contract a Vancouver communications consultant company for about $2,500 a month without sending the job to tender.
Because the year-long contract with Laura Ballance Media Group is under $50,000, Ashton said the process was in line with the city’s purchasing policy and within Antoniak’s authority.
“Council, since the last election, has had to involve ourselves too much in the day-to-day operations of the City of Penticton, getting down to areas where council would not normally be because we had to,” said Ashton. “What we are trying to do is give Annette the normal autonomy that a city manager should have without interference from council.
“We are very happy with Annette and the job she has done, and we are comfortable with letting her choose the people she wants to work with.”
LBMG lists several major organizations as clients on its website including the municipalities of Surrey, Richmond, White Rock, Mission, Sechelt and Gibsons, as well as the US Consulate General – Vancouver, the Union of B.C. Municipalities and the BC 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Secretariat.
“This is a professional (company) that has worked with Annette at the province and who works with other municipalities, some of which are quite large, and it is my understanding that Annette has been very comfortable with this (company),” Ashton said. “Annette asked council and council was very supportive of it.”
According to the mayor, the purpose of hiring the consultant was to be more efficient communicating city information and positions with the media and the public, particularly during this year’s labour negotiations with CUPE. So far, the city has used LBMG’s services for press releases, facts sheets, internal communications and postings to the city’s website.
“I have never been on a more transparent council in my whole 10 years than what this council has been. But there are still some individuals who feel that there should be better dissemination of information and that is what the city manager is trying to do,” said Ashton.
“The (communications) were handled very professionally during tense labour negotiations where CUPE had their people working 24 hours a day.”
Ashton said that when the contract is up Dec. 31, he would like to see the job go out for tender, thus giving local consultants an opportunity to compete for the contract.
“The manager realizes that this isn’t the province of British Columbia and this is not Surrey and with some of the issues that have come forward, which are very community minded, maybe we need to address it differently,” said Ashton.
“In hindsight, knowing what I know now, I have no issue with it going out for a request for proposals the next time and then the cream will rise to the top.”