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One HootSuite mystery solved, but others continue

City stalled on releasing details of deal with social media company
HootSuite moved into new city-owned digs near Main and East Eighth Avenue in January 2013. photo Dan Toulgoet

The financial terms of HootSuite’s lease with City of Vancouver were finally revealed Jan. 21, but city hall refuses to show what the social media company actually pays every month or charges the city for a subscription.

City council unanimously voted behind closed doors on June 27, 2012 to lease 5 East Eighth Ave. to HootSuite. The Aug. 23, 2012 contract set $47,149.50 per month rent ($17 per square foot) beginning in 2013, escalating to $61,017 ($22 per square foot) for year five.

It included a $700,000 allowance to upgrade the former Vancouver Police Department building, two five-year renewal options and the option to buy the 33,282-square-foot building for $9.3 million before the end of 2015. The 71 parking stalls are worth $4,615 per month.

Dunbar resident Glen Chernen, leader of the newly formed Cedar Party, requested the contract on Sept. 20, but the city’s Freedom of Information office claimed disclosure would harm the city and HootSuite financially.

Chernen appealed the censored contract to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, which has ordered public bodies to disclose negotiated deals. City hall refused to reconsider, so OIPC scheduled a March adjudication.

Chernen held a Jan. 21 morning news conference about the dispute. City hall released the full contract in late afternoon.

“It’s a big puzzle as to why they were keeping it from us for so long,” Chernen told the Courier.

“We have to break down the walls and get outside assistance in order just to see something so simple as a rental agreement for a piece of city-owned land. It tells me that [Vision Vancouver has] got to learn the definition of transparency.”

HootSuite communications manager Sandy Pell said the company “believes the transaction was done at fair market value.”
Are taxpayers getting a good deal? Avison Young Realty vice-president of research Andrew Petrozzi said the average net rental rate for such a class-C building in the Vancouver-Broadway submarket area is $15 to $19 per square foot.

The lease was effective Jan. 1, 2013, but HootSuite had a rent holiday until April 2013. In February 2013, city hall began paying for the subscription.

The city’s FOI office refuses to release the amount HootSuite is actually paying every month for rent, parking and property taxes. It is also keeping secret how much is paid monthly for the HootSuite Enterprise package.

When he was originally sworn-in as mayor in December 2008, Gregor Robertson promised to “ensure transparency” at city hall.

“I will not let you down on making city hall more open and accountable,” he said at the time.

Documents released to the Courier via FOI show the city inked a 12-month subscription for 50 users on Jan. 8, 2013. An April 5, 2013 value proposition report by the city’s senior public engagement adviser Tracy Vaughan recommended HootSuite be the “social media dashboard tool of choice” funded from the corporate communications or IT annual operating budgets.

Vaughan did not compare competing products or their prices, but wrote that corporate communications “investigated a number of social media dashboards” including Tweetdeck, Tweet Roost, GroupTweet and HootSuite.

“The ability to create teams, bulk-schedule posts and assign messages to other team members sets HootSuite apart from the other tools,” said Vaughan’s report.

For contracts below $75,000, city policy states prices are supposed to be sought from at least three bidders by phone or in writing. A public call for bidders is triggered for contracts over $75,000.

The report said the city and its community centres had 90 social media accounts — including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Instagram — that were managed by 70 people. HootSuite’s basic service is free, but five  per cent of users include businesses, like the Vancouver Courier, that pay for different levels of premium service.

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