Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

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State of the City at 50 cents a word

BLOG #668: Mayor Joe Fontana released details of his 2011 consultant fees and purchased services on Monday. A few eyebrows were raised at the tab for writing his speech for the State of the City Address, a mere $5,638.30 for about 10,000 words. All told, taxpayers paid almost $20,800 for various services at the breakfast which the London Chamber of Commerce sponsors.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 – London

A month ago city council requested more details on amounts Mayor Joe Fontana spent in 2011 for purchased services and consultants. Well the results are in and, while there don’t appear to be any eye-popping surprizes, the fact that Susan McElroy and Associates picked up almost $39,000 in work from the mayor’s office will certainly wag a few tongues.

Ms. McElroy, you will remember, was the media consultant and go-to gal for the mayor’s successful 2010 election campaign. One supposes he could argue he knew her work.

In fact what the mayor does argue, in a report released Monday to council’s Finance & Administrative Services Committee, is this: “Previous mayors have hired full-time executive assistants, on contract, who have held backgrounds in communications. I, on the other hand, have chosen to contract an executive assistant with extensive constituency experience and, to complement her skill set, engage the services of a communications professional on an ad hoc basis.”

That means Ms. McElroy isn’t on staff full-time. She is just a darn well paid freelancer.

On her website, she describes herself in the third person as someone with “an extensive environmental and community services based client list as well as municipal and corporate experience. She is always happy to introduce potential new clients to current and former clients, however, she has a very strick (sic) policy about sharing client information on websites.  She doesn’t.”

Among her contributions to the mayor’s office in 2011, according to the report, were the following: “Meetings, virtual town halls, speaking notes, media releases, speech research, correspondence, articles for publication, mayor’s economic council preparations, Order of Canada, letters, communications resource, writing, media invitations, prime web video stream events.” Total bill for all this last year was $32,852.31.

Some of those duties, you’d might suggest, appear to overlap or duplicate; some should have been handled by the mayor’s 2.5 person secretarial pool or by his full-time executive assistance, Jennifer Buchanan.

But that’s to quibble.

Of more interest was another bill for $5,638.30. That’s what Ms. McElroy charged to write Mayor Fontana’s 2011 State of the City Speech. It ran to 62 minutes – about 10,000 words or about 50 cents a word (which is the way most freelancers in this city get paid and none that I know command anything close to that rate).

Expenses for the Mayor’s State of the City Address figured prominently in the questions the committee raised Monday. Including Ms. McElroy’s speech-writing fee, taxpayers picked up charges of $20,727.99 for the event.

That sum was of considerable interest to the committee – and should be to you, too – because the State of the City Breakfast is sponsored by the London Chamber of Commerce. It is billed as the largest of its kind in Canada and in 2011 drew more than 1,200 people, at an average admission of about $45, to the London Convention Centre. Gross receipts would run upwards of $50,000, leaving at least $25,000 after the cost of the meal.

So why were taxpayers paying such a large tab? No one is quite sure. The total included $5,849.88 from the Convention Centre itself. General manager Lori Da Silva couldn’t answer the question Monday night but promised to find out today.

There’s no question Mayor Fontana – or any mayor of London – needs a budget to properly conduct the affairs of his office. But one problem with so much of it spent off-line on consultants is there’s no way for the public to monitor whether we got good value for the money spent.

And that’s a problem much wider than the mayor’s office. The city spends a small fortune on consultants; they are often appointed without much oversight and produce all manner of fancy-looking documents long on words and short on new ideas.

You might want to pay attention to the agenda of the May 28 meeting of the finance committee. That’s when a report will be presented listing all the consultants hired last year.

By the way, Mayor Fontana told the committee Monday that he simply followed rules set by the previous mayor. Well, that’s not exactly correct.

Anne Marie DeCicco-Best said she always wrote her own State of the City addresses, all 10 of them. And, for the most part, she used the city’s own communications department for media invitations and releases rather than hire expensive outsiders.


+2 # Fontana State of City costsSteve Shillington 2012-05-08 02:33
JoFo. Hypocrite.
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# RE: State of the City at 50 cents a wordHarriet Brown 2012-05-08 02:35
I wonder what happened to the report. It say File not available. Coincidence?
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# RE: State of the City at 50 cents a wordPeter Griffith 2012-05-08 02:46
The Mayor uses the expression "communications professional" but the cynic in me thinks "spin doctor".

gryff :)
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# Strickly speakingLeila Paul 2012-05-08 03:22
I've just picked myself up off the floor laughing. This man is no longer corrupt he also has a head empty of words and cannot speak for himself and, worse, does not know his material.

But I'm real strick (ugh) and try to speak from my own mind and my own heart and would never pass off someone else's words as mine. And that's just as a private citizen.

If I were hired help - especially elected - then I'd be sure I know my stuff and can speak from my own knowledge and would use my own reasoning and my own words.

Strick (ugh) principles require a person be who they are.

This is really embarrassingly funny. Did he learn nothing in 18 years as an MP?
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-3 # Hey, Joey, I'll do it for nothing!Leila Paul 2012-05-08 03:55
I've never taken money to write anything. Anything I write is out of concern, love for the topic or a deep commitment.

I love this city and believe it has a future if it's handled correctly.

You want help presenting our better self - I'll write and it won't cost taxpayers a single penny!

Shame on anyone who asks for money or an honorarium to help promote our city - our future!
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-2 # Mules1-2, Yucca Ducca-Do 2012-05-08 06:28
Lots of people have been used by various people as meat puppets to either attack or support various candidates in elections.

A pitiful Tory game taking advantage of weak minds.
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# Speaches etcwalter hanisch 2012-05-08 12:15
If we truely want to believe what anyone is saying on any subjet 'speak from the heart', write your own speach. If they want something written due to their inability they should pay for the service themselves, or use in-house salaried staffers. We need to ask for this money to be returned?
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-1 # RE: State of the City at 50 cents a wordYvette 2012-05-08 12:20
Where writers are concerned, they are a notoriously underpaid industry. I don't have any quibbles with what the writer charged. You get what you pay for.

Should Fontana use a professional writer for his speeches? That's an entirely different debate. If there are staff that have the skills to write, then no, perhaps he should not be paying consultants to do what has already been paid for.
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-3 # correspondance expensesBrenda Rowe 2012-05-08 13:24
That's not an unreasonable amount of money for a mayor to be afforded in their annual budget for marketing, advertising and promotion. The mayor decided to blow it all in one fell swoop. He put all his eggs in one basket. I hope it was good omlette.
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-1 # Fleece-Job Joe's Expense Report1-2, Yucca Ducca-Do 2012-05-08 13:28
The expense report can be found here:
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+1 # This guy's a Liberal, remember?Leila Paul 2012-05-08 16:03
You're right many politicians dare not speak honestly but find someone who claims to be an expert svengali and knows the words to manipulate voters and yes Conservatives are guilty of that but they're only following what Liberals did for decades.

And Fontana has old-time Liberal written in glaring neon lights all over him. The new Liberals will hopefully clean out their closets and offer us fresh, honest thinking minds.

But you can't blame Fontana on the Tories.

Quoting 1-2, Yucca Ducca-Do:
Lots of people have been used by various people as meat puppets to either attack or support various candidates in elections.

A pitiful Tory game taking advantage of weak minds.
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-1 # Fontana's a Red Tory1-2, Yucca Ducca-Do 2012-05-08 18:29
While Fleece-Job Joe flies the Liberal flag, in reality he's a Red Tory.
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# All 3 Parties Now Cluster in CentreLeila Paul 2012-05-08 20:37
No such thing anymore as a red Tory. Each party is trying to retain its old base while appealing to centrists. Until they figure out which end of the continuum has more votes, they remain stagnating in yesterday's middle-ground where they think there's safety in numbers.

Voters need to lead our leaders by showing them what we want or believe.

Quoting 1-2, Yucca Ducca-Do:
While Fleece-Job Joe flies the Liberal flag, in reality he's a Red Tory.
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