City Public Engagement Initiative Triggers PR Fiasco

A brand-new initiative by the City of Hamilton to engage the public on public infrastructure funding has already drawn sharp criticism and ridicule.

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 08, 2013

this article has been updated

A brand-new initiative by the City of Hamilton to engage the public on public infrastructure funding has already drawn sharp criticism and ridicule.

Called "Our Voice, Our Hamilton", the initiative seeks public input on which city services Hamiltonians most value in an era of declining transfers from higher levels of government.

The City hired a PR company, Ottawa-based Dialogue Partners Inc, to run the campaign. It includes a website, as well as social media presence on Twitter and Pinterest.

The website includes a letter from Chris Murray, City Manager for the City of Hamilton: "Knowing what services Hamiltonians value most will help the City make more informed decisions when it comes time to prepare the budgets for future years. The input you provide will help my colleagues and I invest our limited dollars according to what you value."

The City is paying Dialogue Partners to undertake broad public consultation on how to prioritize public spending, followed by a summary report in the Spring.

A May 24, 2012 Information Report [PDF] said the City is paying Dialogue Partners $402,450. However, according to a September 19, 2012 Information Report [PDF], the approved budget for the project is actually $376,000.

The work will also include several "legacy items" for the City that will outlive the consulting contract, including: online and mobile tools for citizen engagement, a "comprehensive communications/media plan template" that the City can use for future initiatives, an "internationally certified five-day citizen engagement training course" for 25 City staff, a City citizen engagement policy, and a citizen engagement stakeholder database.

According to Kelly Anderson, spokesperson for the Department of Public Works, "Dialogue Partners was hired through the City's usual competitive bidding process that considered both cost and related experience."

The PR firm helped administer public consultations in Calgary and Edmonton, including Calgary's Our City. Our Budget. Our Future program.

PR Fiasco

Do you know the difference between civic engagement and PR? Civic engagement is authentic communication, whereas PR uses phrases like "capture your comment".

Our Voice, Our Hamilton launched a shitstorm on Twitter when the consultants responded to a comment by Eric Gillis expressing support for "the continuation of voluntary pay for disabled [people] on the HSR" with this reply:

we launched officially today. Thks for the comment - what is "HSR" just so we can accurately capture your comment :) Thanks!

Things sort of went downhill after that. After taking some flak for not knowing what the HSR is, the consultant replied, "had to ask. We can't assume anything".

This prompted another wave of outrage, including a satirical new Twitter account called @OurRealHamilton and a humorous suggestion that the consultant could try Googling "HSR".

Things really got going when Michael Pett proposed a new hashtag, #TellOHEverything, to inform the out-of-town consultant about all things Hamilton:

Comedy ensued, but so did a more critical look at the initiative, including the discovery by independent journalist Joey Coleman that Our Voice, Our Hamilton was using a photo of the Hamilton Ohio Courthouse on its Pinterest page.

Coleman also noticed that the Hamilton t-shirt on the Our Voice, Our Hamilton Pinterest page was for Hamilton, Washington.

T-shirt for Hamilton, Washington (Image Source: Pinterest)
T-shirt for Hamilton, Washington (Image Source: Pinterest)

Essentially, a case study in how not to conduct civic engagement.

Update: Updated the cost of the consultant based on the city's audit, finance and administration committee information report. You can jump to the changed paragraph.

Update 2: Updated to add a more recent Information Report citing a project cost of $376,000. You can jump to the changed paragraph.

Update 3: A city spokesperson confirmed that the PR company was contracted through a competitive bidding process. You can jump to the changed paragraph.

Update 4: Updated to include more detail in what the City is receiving for the $376,000 cost of the project. You can jump to the added paragraph.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By AlwaysARedhead (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 07:40:38

This is the first of probably many embarrassing actions to be made by Hamilton City Council in 2013. I will, of course remember this at voting time, and once again try to vote someone else in to represent in chambers.

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:10:45 in reply to Comment 84795

To be fair, I doubt Council was directly involved in the decision to retain this organization. City Hall staff likely reviewed candidates for providing this service, narrowed it down to a short list, and pitched it to the councillors in charge of this decision.

There are some great people at city hall, but all in all it seems like the whole culture in there is rotten.

Permalink | Context

By jorvay (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:49:38 in reply to Comment 84819

This is something that frustrates me for many reasons. First, I've found that there are a significant number of city employees that live outside of the city. They are good people, trying to do good work, but many simply don't really get Hamilton, or at least have the passion to make it a better place to live. They're not invested in it. On the other hand though, I understand to a degree why more don't live here. While some fear what they perceive to be a dangerous or unwelcoming city, for many more it's about keeping your private life free of work-related issues. One of my municipal contacts (in another town, not Hamilton) once said that he'd never live in the town where he worked despite loving it there. He simply found that his friends, neighbours, and acquaintances would never stop harassing him about their frustrations with the municipal government. Should our municipal staff be citizens of our municipality? Absolutely. Can I understand why many choose not to be? Sure. Though I will say that I think it's still an excuse for the weak, and I don't like weak people running our city.

Comment edited by jorvay on 2013-01-08 11:11:53

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 21:11:23 in reply to Comment 84834

it's not just those outside the city. Many IN the city act as though the lower city is 'another city'. And it goes right through many of our institutions etc... A school teacher told me that many Mountain teachers came downtown for their day of action a few weeks ago to be in front of schools with more visibility than in Mtn neighbourhoods. He got chatting with one teacher from the West Mtn as they picketed in front of Hess St school at Queen/York, where he teaches. The Mtn teacher said "can you believe it around here??" My friend was perplexed by what he meant and let him know that he walks to the school everyday to teach from Dundurn/Aberdeen. He continued "I hope my car is ok parked down here". My friend asked what kind of car he had, thinking it was a high end Beemer or Lexus or something.

It was a Dodge minivan.

He could only chuckle at how completely out of touch with the neighbourhood this fellow was, even though he only lived 10 minutes away. MOST of our decision makers at city hall, and in our major institutions are just like this. That's no exaggeration. It's one of the huge reasons we see such a disconnect between those desiring vibrant, urban life and everyone else who might have to slow down by 90 seconds when flying through. They don't care. And they are the majority. And here we are.....

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:36:01 in reply to Comment 84819


all in all it seems like the whole culture in there is rotten.

Permalink | Context

By nosaj (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 20:14:47 in reply to Comment 84826

Are you referring to City Hall or RTH?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 07:49:59

I sent the following email to my Councillor Jason Farr. I encourage everyone to email your Councillor about this enraging waste of our funds.

Councillor Farr,

As you will surely learn of from our national media today as this becomes a national story, the City of Hamilton has spent $400,000 on a consulting firm to engage the public in seeking suggestions to solve our infrastructure deficit of $150-mil a year.

I'd like to suggest that we not waste money on consultants that do not provide value to our City.

Case in point:

1) The website for "Our Voice" is a poorly modified $50 wordpress theme:

2) The survey is a SurveyMonkey powered site which does not meet the requirements of MFIPPA because the information is stored on US servers. (It's cheap, they are using the $19/mth version)

3) The website's poor coding and design means it is completely inaccessible to those with visual disabilities.

4) The site includes a picture of the Hamilton OHIO courthouse as being in Hamilton Ontario.

5) The site also includes a T-Shirt promotion Hamilton WASHINGTON state.

6) They do not know what the HSR is

7) The big picture on the page is of a bike path in Ottawa, Canada.

In short, we just got taken to the cleaners by a consulting firm. We need to stop being taken to the cleaners like this.

In the next week, a group of citizens will meet and launch a Hamilton version of Change By Us - a program designed by the City of New York in partnership with its citizens. The program is open source and can be launched at no charge in other cities.

Please take a look:

Here's the version in Philly:


Chicago and Memphis plan to launch city-supported versions as well in the next few weeks.

Please notice something about NYC and Philly's site - they have strong municipal leadership support.

Joey Coleman Citizen

Permalink | Context

By A Number of Questions (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 22:28:15 in reply to Comment 84797

Hi Joey
Even ignoring the sloppy choice of photos and apparent lack of Hamilton IQ or web chops among the consultant's staff, your assertions here raise a number of questions...
1) Did the consultant promise to provide "custom" work in their bid? If so, do slightly modified versions of basic wordpress and SurveyMonkey templates count as such? I'd like to see what the City asked for and what they were promised by the successful bidder.
2) Are there not standard requirements in City RFP's and contracts that mandate that vendors' offerings be provided in accordance with MFIPPA rules? If not, why not? It should be part of the boilerplate.
3) Same questions as in #2, except regarding adhering to disabled access standards.
4) Is this the same level of "service" that this consultant provided to the other municipal clients they brag about about (Calgary, Burlington, Halton, etc.)? If so, were these problems that went unnoticed elsewhere as well or did Hamilton not adequately vet the firm's prior work? Issues like these should have been caught by somebody if they occurred before.
In short, if what you suggest here is true, especially that the collection of the requested data through this site is in contravention of MFIPPA requirements, questions need to be raised not only the about consultant but also the hiring/purchasing policies that led to their employment. If reasonable purchasing requirements are in place in contracts signed by the City here, there should be ample for room for recourse to address this fiasco while it's still in newborn phase.

Permalink | Context

By AlHuizenga (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 13:28:05 in reply to Comment 84797

In the next week, a group of citizens will meet and launch a Hamilton version of Change By Us

Nice. Want help?

Permalink | Context

By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 13:31:55 in reply to Comment 84847

Yes, I'm working on this now. I'll update as son as I confirm some more details.

Permalink | Context

By movedtohamilton (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 16:22:37 in reply to Comment 84849

Please update when you can. I would like to get involved with Hamilton Change By Us.

Permalink | Context

By Dry Cleaner (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 07:59:24 in reply to Comment 84797

LOL, at least one person WANTS Hamilton to keep getting taken to the cleaners.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Mal (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 07:53:05

I don't understand why this had to cost any money at all. As the backlash neatly demonstates, there are free modes of communication that are more than capable of conveying the information being sought. When was this measure approved?

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:36:48 in reply to Comment 84798

1980....or last's all the same at city hall

Permalink | Context

By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 23:13:17 in reply to Comment 84827

Stop trolling

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:30:30 in reply to Comment 84798

To know how to use that stuff. Just like a plumber uses a few bucks of parts and tools, but charges you $200.

If city hall sucks this badly at sourcing a consulting firm, how freaking good can they be at running this operation themselves?

I mean, besides the website, look at the hideous crap they develop in house:

They've managed to develop anti-graffiti wraps that are uglier than the graffiti.

Permalink | Context

By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 14:29:58 in reply to Comment 84823

I can't stand those window dressings. You can't see outside. When you spend all day in a cubicle, it's nice to look out a window on your commute to and from work.

Permalink | Context

By Mal (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:47:09 in reply to Comment 84823

Thanks for the H wrap snap.

Probably "inspired" by Canada Post's rebranded maildrops, but the most incoherent kind of plagiarism.

And yes, it definitely ratchets up the ugly.

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:55:24 in reply to Comment 84832

Yeah, but the Canada Post wrapped mailboxes actually look good because they were designed by a designer instead of a febrile two-year-old. Seriously, I could probably find you some highschoolers that could outdo that crap.

It's not like Hamilton doesn't have its own stable of designers and PR firms. I'd wager some of them work for cheap.

Permalink | Context

By brendansimons (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 23:27:00 in reply to Comment 84835

I've been through this when HSR repainted the B-Line busses (the details are another story).

Getting an RFP together and then evaluating bids for artwork is a giant PITA for the HSR. They just don't have the budget (or at least, don't make room for it). Instead, they just get the person who does the schedules to bang out promo material on Corel Draw.

I think it's misplaced priorities, but there are plenty of people who would argue that money is better spent on bus maintenance and extra service. Lots of people just don't care enough about design.

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2013 at 09:15:06 in reply to Comment 84902

Why is the HSR solely responsible for producing this? Certainly with the amount of print put out by City Hall they must have one graphic designer of some form or another on permanent staff. Was there nobody in the building who could do better?

Permalink | Context

By GoGo (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 11:29:15 in reply to Comment 84835

Must be the same person that designed the NEW Barton Village signs. Look like they should be taken down now put up.

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 12:32:20 in reply to Comment 84839

See, to me that looks more like the work of an out-of-city designer. That sign would look perfectly fine on Upper James or in the Meadowlands or something. It just looks ridiculous on Barton Street, implying it was done by the kind of firm that needs to ask what HSR stands for.

Permalink | Context

By Zephyr (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:12:46 in reply to Comment 84798

Sadly the highly-paid consultants used free and almost-free methods themselves. Twitter, FB, a Wordpress template and Survey Monkey.

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 21:14:12 in reply to Comment 84821

of course...they need to save some of that 400grr to enjoy the good life in Toronto while 'in town'.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 07:56:14

BTW, the cost is actually $402,405.

Please visit their Facebook Page and add your voice to my suggestion to address deficit. STOP being taken to the cleaners by consultants:

Also, add your own suggestions.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 08:04:16

Here's a screencap of the Official City of Hamilton Pinterest page last night with our courthouse


Here's the page "our" courthouse picture was taken from:

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:38:28 in reply to Comment 84802

I noticed that last night and thought 'that building can't be in Hamilton, or I would know about it' (and it would have been demolished for a parking lot by now)

Permalink | Context

By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 23:14:47 in reply to Comment 84828

Stop trolling x2

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By H+H (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 08:23:13

We all support citizen engagement. Our energy, words and actions prove that. While I anticipate some staffers and Councillors saying we're being negative, I for one am sick and tired of this kind of expensive mediocrity.

We have enough resident knowledge and talent more than capable of doing this kind of work. At least they could have hired a couple of them as consultants to the consultants. Or at least hired a local to manage the Tweets and questions. Whenever anything or anyone tells me that it was "designed just for you", I don't believe them.

Chris Murray needs to get a handle on details, or surround himself with people capable of doing so. This is the kind of ill-advised planning and spending I expect from the mayor's office.

Permalink | Context

By Chris Angel (registered) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 01:38:36 in reply to Comment 84804

Sadly it seems with large organizations both public & private if you are always gracious you are played for a fool if you then become more resolved you are treated as an adversary. The absolute best thing an organization could do would be to bring in some of its critics as consultants. Those who cannot be co-opted over time,(probably the main event for the organization) will have much to offer those rare organizations unafraid of change.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 08:30:17

Need a payday loan?

The City of Hamilton has a loan shark for you. Imgur

Hattip to @Gumshoe for this discovery.

Permalink | Context

By Ferrs (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 12:40:37 in reply to Comment 84805

Great, so they're also running a spam black-hat SEO campaign to boost the pay day loan folks. Might as well of hired a mob front to run the campaign.

Permalink | Context

By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 08:55:29 in reply to Comment 84805

Deficit solved -- plus they threw in a free slice, so that's lunch sorted as well!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Observer (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 09:20:58

Why didn't they hire a local firm? And also, don't they have a marketing/communications department that should be able to do this things in-house? It is very embarrassing.

Permalink | Context

By Mal (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 09:27:51 in reply to Comment 84807

The very fact that City Hall has to spend any money on outsiders (in Hamilton or outside of it) to engage citizens suggest to me that there are at least 16 people at 71 Main West not doing their job.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Jay Robb (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 09:35:39

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Permalink | Context

By SR29 (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 21:12:16 in reply to Comment 84809

It is too bad this comment has been hidden. I agree with Jay Robb. I think the city should release all the information related to the other bids received. I firmly believe this kind of transparency will only further serve to embarrass this Council.

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:41:29 in reply to Comment 84809

you've obviously not been in Hamilton very long. This is the same sort of 'consultation' that landed us Vision 2020, Grids, Putting People First (hahahahahaha, as if), Shifting Gears etc.....
it's a facade of 'public consultation' but when all is said and done, the reports and public suggestions collect dust on a shelf for decades while the mediocre status quo continues indefinitely.
I stopped going to public consultation meetings. They're a complete waste of time. I remember Vision 2020 back in the early 90's. We might as well call it Vision still won't be a reality by then.

Comment edited by jason on 2013-01-08 10:41:57

Permalink | Context

By Jay Robb (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 14:45:33 in reply to Comment 84829

Jason & Stepchild:

A job brought me to Hamilton in 1995. It's my kids' hometown so I have a vested interest in making this a great place to live (that includes a vibrant downtown where our family spends many, many hours).

My wife might agree on "crotchety" and I'm warming up to school marm.

As for building a community around myself -- why & who's got the time? Although if the community's willing to make my kids' lunches and sort the blue boxes...(I promise not to scold much).

Never one to shy away from voicing an opinion, taking a stand and putting my name to it.

And I enjoy Raise the Hammer for views & perspectives that I don't always share but start to better understand.

Next couple of years will be interesting.


Permalink | Context

By Stepchild (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 19:50:05 in reply to Comment 84862

"Next couple of years will be interesting."

Translation: I'm running for office in 2014

Permalink | Context

By Jay Robb (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 22:14:29 in reply to Comment 84881

You need a better translator.

No running (for office or otherwise). Don't have the patience. Or the experience to guide a billion dollar operation.

Willing to help the right candidate though.

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 17:02:03 in reply to Comment 84862

appreciate the reply. Glad to hear you have a vested interest here. I certainly didn't mean to imply you don't - was just assuming that you haven't been involved in too many of these city-led consultation exercises. They are amazing and full of brilliant ideas during the open houses, and then once the consultation is done, everything goes back to normal.
Hence, much of the frustration you're seeing today.

Permalink | Context

By Stepchild (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:31:45 in reply to Comment 84809

Another online scolding by Jay Robb. That schtick is getting kind of tiresome.

Sooner or later Jay, you'll realize that you can't build a community around yourself by playing the crotchety school marm all the time.

Do you know why it always feels like you're swimming up stream? Because you have failed to grasp the fundamental concepts of online communities and how to harness them to do good. Instead, you've wasted whatever respect you had on trying to shame people into taking your point of view. How's that working for you?

Permalink | Context

By fake engagement (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 09:54:19 in reply to Comment 84809

That's funny cause Blanchards comments sound similar to me too but for a different reason. Just like Blanchard, the city will 'talk to' the public and then go ahead and do what the want, just like they always do.

Permalink | Context

By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 09:51:01 in reply to Comment 84809

Most of us "joined the conversation" a decade ago.

The city has yet to join. And when they attempt to do so, it costs us 400 grand and appears to be no more than a sheen of uselessness.

Worried about infrastructure costs? The experts and ENGAGED citizens have been telling them what the solutions are for years. Stop building more infrastructure, and work to increase density on the infrastructure we've already built.

  • No aerotropolis
  • No casino
  • No minimum parking requirements
  • No stadium
  • No unnecessary demolitions
  • No tax breaks for parking lots and empty buildings
  • Yes livable streets
  • Yes progressive zoning
  • Yes transit improvements
  • Yes walkability and cycle plan priorities

But staff and council can't understand these concepts so they keep hiring more and more consultants, waiting for one of them to give them the answer they want.

It's not tough to understand...

Comment edited by seancb on 2013-01-08 09:52:15

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:44:09 in reply to Comment 84815

Bro, can we all agree to pay you $400,000?? That list of suggestions there would absolutely transform Hamilton for the better, for generations to come. There is more city-building, quality of life, economic stimulus in your 19 line comment than anything we'll see in April once these consultants tell us how to make Hamilton,, Ontario, a better place to live.

Permalink | Context

By Robb'd (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 09:49:50 in reply to Comment 84809

$402,405 is probably enough to buy every working adult in the city a regular coffee in exchange for their thoughts on what matters most to them. Except it would require public servants to mingle with the hoi polloi.

Permalink | Context

By excuses excuses (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 09:43:40 in reply to Comment 84809

Yup, spoken like a PR guy.

Permalink | Context

By Positively Reticent (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 11:15:56 in reply to Comment 84810

Points to JR for staking an opinion, however half-baked. Seems like many of the stock #HamOnt PR voices are sitting this one out.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 09:45:27

Again, Hamilton's best successes happen in spite of city hall, not because of it. Our best source for info about the bus system is a private twitter feed. Our best civic engagement is private blogs like RTH. The city website is nothing but a pile of PDFs. The city appears to actively sabotage new businesses trying to set up downtown. Meanwhile, people who do actual damage to the city seem to operate unfettered.

City Hall would do a lot less damage and cost a lot less money if it was Chris Murray and a phone and nothing else.

Permalink | Context

By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 20:29:23 in reply to Comment 84811

Chris Murray alone in an office deciding who to Nuke...

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By cynic (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 09:46:42

Dialog partners last blog entry; is great read given the circumstances...

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Huh (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:02:22

How did the contract seriously end up all the way in Ottawa? Wouldn't it be in the best interest of all Hamiltonians and City Hall to have a local company do it? I mean it's not like they're building a new stadium or anything.

Permalink | Context

By Good Reason (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 22:36:59 in reply to Comment 84817

There can be seriously good reasons for going out of town for expertise. Unfortunately, you have to ensure that that is what you're getting.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Zephyr (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:10:50

First of all, I'm very proud of Hamilton today! I love the engagement of the residents of this fair city - there is hope that we are going to get better governance. After all, we get the government we deserve!

Secondly, I am not in favour of paying ANY consultant to engage the people of Hamilton. We are already engaged. And I already elected a city councillor to represent me. You can't outsource democracy. If the city wants to know what we think, ask. Schedule town halls. Partner with us.

Lastly, if we were to get some PR/consulting help make sure the people hired are intimately involved with the city.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Resolute (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:34:09

Populace: Acute vision, healthy spleen, sound reflexes. Body politic? Not so much.

Let's not have this predictable flustercluck distract us from the more pressing issues facing the city and Council in the coming days, weeks and months.

Would be a shame to roll off a socmed dogpile only to find that there was a Casino going in on the Gore, with BRT connections to Aerotropolis.

Permalink | Context

By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 16:29:07 in reply to Comment 84825

I agree somewhat that we can't get distracted from the big issues, but perhaps if we can closely look at what's important services wise, we can become less dependent on funds from such things as Casino's.

And I am not on the side that agrees with the PR thing. Just that looking at this in general could be seen as something to help us sell against Casino's and Aerotropolis's.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By cox (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:45:28

When were they hired by the City of Hamilton in the first place? Their Facebook page ( was created on August 27, 2012. Surely there should have been time in four months to read up of such quaint details as the HSR, the courthouse, the population figures - no? Also note the use of a garbage truck as their cover photo - speaks buckets (or trash cans), doesn't it?

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 10:47:09 in reply to Comment 84831

you mean Hamilton actually has more than 354 people?? Who knew?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By AP (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 11:22:09

It could have been worse. Two words: SPONSORED TWEETS

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Ferrs (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 12:37:25

One comment I haven't noticed on any article yet is that the website is done by a company (sub-contracted) called Purple Forge, which is situated in upstate New York. So the site was sub-contracted out of the country. And I'll bet anything that the website server isn't hosted in Canada either.

Permalink | Context

By HeyMikeBrown (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 15:38:36 in reply to Comment 84841

One of my first tweets last night, but it should be repeated if only to make the point that it's not a local enterprise. Purple Forge also developed the app and the 'game' (CityScape) they have linked to their site.

And in other news, the term 'join the conversation' has become meaningless. And tiresome. And this is especially true since none of this 'conversation' is appearing on the Our Voice website, due probably to judicial cherry picking and editing of comments.


Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By alexsevigny (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 13:13:19

Ryan, Good piece, but there is one line that I have to take exception to:

"Do you know the difference between civic engagement and PR? Civic engagement is authentic communication, whereas PR uses phrases like "capture your comment"."

This just simply isn't true. In fact, it perpetuates a negative stereotype about the public relations profession that disrespects the thousands of ethical, conscientious practitioners who make a living as PR pros in Canada.

Here is the official definition of public relations, from the Canadian Public Relations Society website:

"Public relations is the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals and serve the public interest." (Flynn, Gregory & Valin, 2008)

You really should be careful to avoid casting aspersions at an entire profession. It's not fair and it is a prejudiced shortcut that perpetuates untrue, negative stereotypes.

Permalink | Context

By Def (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 14:20:39 in reply to Comment 84844

You have your work cut out for you.

Here is the consensus definition:

"Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing the flow of information between an individual or an organization and the public.[1] Public relations may include an organization or individual gaining exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment.[2] The aim of public relations by a company often is to persuade the public, investors, partners, employees, and other stakeholders to maintain a certain point of view about it, its leadership, products, or of political decisions. Common activities include speaking at conferences, winning industry awards, working with the press, and employee communication.[3] Public relations is thought by many to be propaganda by a different name, ironically, the very term "Public relations" could easily be seen as a public relations ploy to make the idea of propaganda more acceptable."

Propaganda, of course, is just a charged word to describe political advertising designed to shape public attitudes about a particular person or subject.

Permalink | Context

By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 13:31:28 in reply to Comment 84844

I agree with you Alex.

There are many great practitioners of professional communications and public relations.

I know Ryan is not trying to cast stereotypes against the profession itself.

I believe the use of the term "public relations" refers to the exercise of communication engaged in by government when they've already pre-determined outcome not to the practice of public relations as a profession.

We do need to find a new term to describe other the professional practice of public relations or the fascade of consultant in the face of a predetermined outcome.

Permalink | Context

By Def (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 14:18:45 in reply to Comment 84848

"Outcome Management"

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By BeulahAve (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 13:18:42

As someone who has worked most of my adult life doing consulting work, though never with such a great budget, I am embarrassed that consultants can do such shoddy work and sometimes even get away with it. It is unethical to be sure.

In all the discussion, I have not seen anyone ask whether or not any Hamilton firms even tendered a bid for this work. If not, then how can we blame the City for contracting out of town firms? Hamilton clearly has the talent to do this kind of work, just want to know if anyone local actually applied, though I suspect that knowledge would be protected by privacy laws.

Permalink | Context

By Good Question (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 22:49:38 in reply to Comment 84845

Good question.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 13:19:04

Yes, I am sure that there are ethic and moral people who work in the PR business, however, given the book I read, Toxic Sludge is Good for You, we must always be aware of what messaging that comes out from PR firms.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 13:47:12

I'm surprised, no "In Hamilton our Mountain is actually an Escarpment" tweet yet!

Permalink | Context

By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 14:01:13 in reply to Comment 84850

Permalink | Context

By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 14:22:08 in reply to Comment 84853

Thanks Joey, I'm over 45 so Twitter frightens me like crossing the road in Hamilton traffic

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 13:55:21 in reply to Comment 84850

I'm fairly certain I saw that one, but from one of the lower-reputation users who's been drowned out by the bikini-clad spam accounts jumping on a popular hashtag.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By J (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 14:10:18

"in an era of declining transfers from higher levels of government."

$400K would have gone a long way to replace the discretionary benefits cuts.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 14:24:21

Yes J, I agree with you. The discretionary benefits are no longer covered, the one time funding from the province is to cover 2/3's of the CSUMB.

376,000 would have helped, 537.1 single people on OW, to access housing, instead of being homeless.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Stilleposter (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 14:27:45

I have not seen the local interwebs this pumped for three years!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By movedtohamilton (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 16:09:06

What a mess. The PR firm will be paid in full. City politicians and staff will weasel their way through the momentary period of anger. This issue will run out of gas and City Hall will breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Once, just once, I would like to know that there are consequences for this ill-advised, shoddy, horrendous example of governance.

A successful village is not run by the village idiots.

Permalink | Context

By Kevin (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 17:30:54 in reply to Comment 84866

"A successful village is not run by the village idiots."

Hilarious, movedtohamilton. Thanks for the chuckle.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 16:56:24


The CEO and President of OLG told the Spectator's editorial board that we might increase our $4.4 million hosting fee 10% by moving the casino downtown. That equals $440,000. What did we just spend on this project.


We have leadership problems Hamilton.

Permalink | Context

By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 17:09:20 in reply to Comment 84871

Maybe we should just get 2 casinos. problem solved!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 17:07:38

What is the HSR??

Permalink | Context

By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 17:09:41 in reply to Comment 84874

What is the OLG?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Unbelievable (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 17:53:20

Wow... I cannot believe what a debacle this communications nightmare must be for the City of Hamilton. Hopefully they will acknowledge their error in choosing this particular PR company and cancel the contract immediately. What a waste and misuse of taxpayers's dollars!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By t.w. (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 20:35:41

Wow. It looks like somebody just completed a My First Website tutorial—the index tab is seriously reads ‘Homepage – Understanding’.

There’s no way that a professional PR firm comes up with “Our Voice, Our Hamilton” and a Pinterest account; it’s the equivalent of going to the most expensive restaurant and being served cheez whiz on wonderbread. I’m pretty sure the City of Hamilton just gave 400k to the same guy that I gave a $50 down payment on a rental suite in Montreal that turned out not to exist.

I won’t even begin to explain how cheaply I could’ve trained a handful of unemployed Hamiltonians to build a better, more functional website… what do you think of jobs and skills development for “legacy items”?

There are so many creative and infinitely more useful suggestions in the comments to this article. Idea: save the $400,000 and write a Raise the Hammer article! Or hire a group of real professionals who have at least heard of Candy Chang and her I Wish This Was project, or Jason Roberts’ Build a Better Block project, or has a clue.

Permalink | Context

By kevin (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 21:16:33 in reply to Comment 84884

You nialed it. Ryan and others could have done it better for FREE! FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! FREEEEEEEEEE!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Hamilton Civic League (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 21:20:36


Another $400K, this time invested in consultants, outside our borders, for what appears to be a fairly straight forward information gathering IT project. This is in addition to the salaries paid to the City’s IT department. That should not be taken as a shot at the hardworking, frontline IT professionals employed at the City. It is however a message for the City’s decision making IT Managers. It is my understanding that we invest over $70 million annually towards consultants. The message is therefore directed to Managers of each City department. You should not be permitted to hide behind the failures of consultants that are often hired to avoid accountability in the first place.

In 2010, the Hamilton Civic League conducted a Community Values & Priorities Survey which was volunteer-powered at zero cost to the City. For 2013, we have partnered with McMaster University and will soon begin to design a new survey with a complete implementation plan to ensure each Ward is represented. It will be another feet on the pavement, door to door survey. We are the same group that recently visited over 350 Aerotropolis area homes to survey ALL residents, again at zero cost to the City. Four volunteers spent a week at City Hall reviewing 35,000 pages of tax assessment data to identify all industrial employment lands in an effort to hold local government and paid consultants accountable for related data within their reports. In a matter of minutes, the City’s Finance or IT department could have produced an identical report, saving hundreds of volunteer hours but were unable to do so. We discovered 1000+ acres missing from the City/consultant reports. I put much more faith in a zero cost, grass-roots, volunteer-powered survey and invite everyone to get involved in our project to ensure we get this critical accountability tool right for 2013.

I recall the following recent events/issues that have arisen over a fairly short period of time:

• The City decided not to adopt a bi-weekly garbage collection schedule at a potential savings of $10 million over 7 years. Will anyone be held accountable?
• The City permits heritage buildings to be demolished. Will anyone be held accountable?
• Against the wishes of area residents, the City approved the largest expansion of our urban boundary in history and is defending it at a cost of $300K. Will anyone be held accountable?
• CasiNO! Will anyone be held accountable?
• Waterfront Trust!!! Will anyone be held accountable?
• Skyrocketing employee costs! Council and Managers, this is not a shot at frontline City employees! Will anyone ever be held accountable?
• Unacceptable poverty levels. Will anyone be held accountable?
• A $15,000 traffic-calming, speed bump! Will anyone be held accountable?
• Will the City’s Accountability Committee be held accountable for the lack of progress?

It is fantastic to witness the blog surge in civic engagement when these and other issues arise. I believe our level of civic engagement plays an important role in the state in which we find our community today. Imagine the results that could have been achieved and the money that could have been saved or kept in our community through this one, fairly straight forward IT project had engaged residents learned about the project at the planning stage rather than after its failed implementation. How many more ill-conceived and/or outrageously expensive projects are in the works today that make this $400K mistake appear as just another drop in the bucket? Like all engaged residents, I accept my responsibility to try to improve our community, but accountability belongs with the financially compensated decision makers at City Hall.

Have you had enough? Is it possible that the frustration resulting from this single issue combined with that of so many other issues has generated a heightened clarity of focus and further ignited your commitment to civic engagement? The road to Accountability 2014 requires the immediate and ongoing commitment of all currently engaged residents to continue to expand the dialogue, to encourage the unengaged to get involved and to turn our thoughts, words and emotions into meaningful actions.

It is unfortunate that we won’t all agree on the best path to Accountability 2014, however we can certainly advance widely held values and priorities in pursuit of a healthy, happy, engaged, accountable community. Please take this opportunity to commit to further developing and implementing a plan of action. Join the Hamilton Civic League today. Attend a meeting, get involved in an existing project or propose and advance a new project.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Jay Robb (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 22:25:54

I'll try not to scold. Couple quick points:

I've worked with my share of consultants and agencies. All of them have required review and signed approval before going live or sending anything to print. If no one from the City reviewed the site before it went up, why not? Wrong photos would of been easy to catch.

It's odd that Dialogue Partners had to go to Pinterest to get Hamilton photos. Why didn't the city offer up stock images from their digital library?

Like a good host, clients generally introduce their consultants to constituents prior to consultations rolling out. Did this happen?

And was there a comms strategy for this initiative? Getting buy-in in advance from key opinion leaders is always a good idea.

For sake of comparison, the City of Ottawa's corporate communications department has a $4.6M budget and 41.5 FTEs (HR speak for full-time equivalents). Good PR people add value by building & strengthening relations and fostering 2-way communications.

Permalink | Context

By highwater (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 10:19:38 in reply to Comment 84892

I'm sorry Jay, this is a very weak defense of DP.

My husband builds scenery for the entertainment industry. He is often given vague, incomplete, and even contradictory direction from designers. However, he considers it part of his job to ask the right questions, and keep on asking questions, until he has all the information he needs to produce the highest quality result.

He's far too professional to even dream of going ahead and building something half-assed based on incomplete information, but if he ever did, he'd be far too professional to blame the designer, and would accept responsibility for not having asked the right questions.

This is why you hire professionals. The city is the client and they are paying handsomely for DP's services. They shouldn't have to be the ones doing the hand-holding, it should be the other way around.

And it's not as though DP failed because they weren't given privileged information by the city. Their failures are due entirely to their lack of familiarity with google, and their subsequent defensiveness and less than forthright 'apology'. That's why everyone is rightly angry. It is a great credit to the character and goodwill of Hamiltonians that we have chosen to channel that anger into humour and action.

Sam Merulla is right. The only word to describe DP's work to date is incompetent. The mistakes they made, and the way they have managed them so far, betray a gross lack of professionalism. If I were in the PR biz, I would not want to tarnish my industry by making excuses for them.

Comment edited by highwater on 2013-01-09 10:27:41

Permalink | Context

By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2013 at 09:18:55 in reply to Comment 84892

Before we apologise for DP, let's take a look at their previous "accomplishments"

Here's an interesting story about the $800,000 report they delivered to Calgary:

Much of the report -fully 73 mind-numbing pages of it -relays how the consulting firm conducted the consultation process with 25,000 Calgarians -38 per cent of whom were city employees. That would be akin to me writing a column and using most of my space to tell readers about all the people I called and what reports I read before writing the column. Most of this report should be an appendix at the back of the report in fine print. Instead, it forms the bulk of the front of the report.

Some of the pages in the report, written by Ottawa consulting firm Dialogue Partners, are literally cut and pasted from The International Association for Public Participation website, laying out its seven core values. Get a load of value number five: "Public participation seeks input from participants in designing how they participate."

Wow! An 11-word sentence that uses the root word participate three times! That must be some kind of record. That has got to be worth at least $5,000.

Comment edited by seancb on 2013-01-09 09:34:47

Permalink | Context

By brendansimons (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 23:37:41 in reply to Comment 84892

I think this is the crux of the matter. The city is clearly looking to get into the "social media" game on the cheap. They could have hired their own communications department, but that would have cost much more than a one time cost of 400 k$ (we'll see if even that was worth it when Dialogue Partners writes their report).

The thing is, people are pretty good at sniffing out phoneys, and a half-assed effort at dialogue is probably worse than no dialogue at all. It's more insulting to ignore people's opinion after you've asked for it.

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2013 at 22:40:05 in reply to Comment 84892

So I'm not the only one who's been given a project with no copy and marching orders to hit up Flickr for stock photos?

... yeah, that could've happened here. I wouldn't put that past City Hall.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Wow (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 23:24:04

This has turned into a business school case study on how to f**k up quickly.
Press "Stop";
Choose "Eject";
Start again.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 02:37:01

I guess review, comment, and oversight were not part of this procurement? [shakes head]

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Sot (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 07:29:50

Another new year rebrand...

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Hamilton born and raised (anonymous) | Posted January 15, 2013 at 16:20:29

Wow. Talk about an overblown story. Interesting too that Joey Coleman's website features a photo of Las Vegas on the main page - how is that Hamilton? Something about glass houses and throwing stones. This whole story may be the result of too many people with too much time and too much access to social media....

Permalink | Context

By AlHuizenga (registered) | Posted January 15, 2013 at 16:36:26 in reply to Comment 85203

You may feel like you just contributed something to the conversation. Rest assured, you did not.

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

There are no upcoming events right now.
Why not post one?

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools