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CoH hires New York PR firm

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The Corporation of Hamilton has ditched its Bermuda public relations firm and brought in a New York company.

Councillors approved the hiring of Marston Webb International at a special Board meeting last month.

The company had previously been hired as a consultant by the Progressive Labour Party Government, but was dropped in January after the One Bermuda Alliance was voted into office in December.

According to minutes from that Board meeting, the Manhattan-based company will be paid $5,000 per month, and will also be able to bill all “out of pocket expenses” back to City Hall.

Yesterday Marston Webb president Victor Webb confirmed that his company had been working for the Corporation “for some time” and that he was friends with Hamilton Mayor Graeme Outerbridge and other elected officials.

But he denied that his company was being paid a flat monthly rate plus expenses, claiming that his compensation was “an absolutely minimal amount of money that merely covers our expenses”.

“We have worked for some time with the Mayor and Donal Smith and Keith Davis,” Mr Webb said. “I know Graeme very well and think he's a very talented photographer. I know Donal Smith very well, I know Keith Davis very well.

“We have been associated with Bermuda ever since we worked with the Ministry of Finance.

“We had a contract during the PLP's time but when the new Government came along they changed and that's no secret — everyone knows that.

“They are good friends of ours essentially and we don't have a contract or anything because they are doing their level best for Bermuda. We have a four-month agreement.”

Mr Webb added that his company had been hired to help the Corporation attract international investment into the capital.

On its website, the company describes itself as “a recognised pioneer in international investor relations and public relations representing governments, ministry's [sic] of finance, financial exchanges, trade associations, corporations and international and domestic business media”.

“What the Corporation is trying to do is extend their reach into the international community and we are going to help them do that,” he said.

The minutes from last month's Corporation meeting note that Marston Webb was in contact with the municipality at the start of the year, just after the new OBA Government had pulled its contract.

“Councillor [Keith] Davis commented on Marston Webb and how it has evolved to what it is today,” the minutes state.

“They had agreed from January 2013 when the announcement was made about the waterfront that they were at the end of a relationship with the past administration.”

The minutes also record a dispute between councillors over when Marston Webb began working for the Corporation, with councillor Larry Scott expressing concern that the hiring decision may have already been agreed before it went to a Board vote.

“The Mayor commented, spoke to the outline already distributed to the Members,” the minutes said.

“He said that this request was to finish out the year and then put the contract forward to a committee to ratify.

“This was not to ratify the contract but to ratify the expenses from now until the end of the year.”

The minutes continued by describing a scene where; The Secretary confirmed that the agreement is until September 2014. Councillor Larry Scott queried if there is a contract in existence to which there was negative response. He further commented that there is no contract but CoH has someone who has been acting on behalf of CoH. He queried who engaged Marston Webb, expanding money for work to be done without a contract.

“The Mayor said that CoH had not expanded any money on any project,” say the minutes. “Councillor [Larry] Scott said that this is a quarterly report that was distributed and upon reading the work completed and work in progress for CoH, persons had been working.

“The Mayor said there is no signed contract and there is no engagement until it is formalised.

“Councillor L Scott commented that when the Council enters into relationships, should always have it in writing and brought forward to the Council otherwise there are going to be accusations of decisions being made in secret,”

“There was further discussion between Alderman Smith and Councillor Scott and the Mayor had to bring the meeting to order again.

“Alderman Simmons requested that both withdraw and refrain from insulting and making personal derogatory statements about each other. Both Members withdrew their comments.”

And the minutes also note concerns raised by Alderman Gwyneth Rawlins, who reportedly pointed out that “in view of the credibility that CoH has lost, they should be shying away from spending any additional funds”.

“She further stated that this matter appeared that there was something already agreed upon by a select few and now being brought before the Board to ratify,” the minutes state.

“She suggested taking a step backwards and exercise some common sense and discretion. She is not minded or inclined to support.”

The Board resolved to “engage” Marston Webb with a retainer of $5,000 per month for four months, backdating the agreement to September 1.

The resolution was not supported by Alderman Rawlins, or councillors, Larry Scott, and Troy Symonds.

Mayor of Hamilton Graeme Outerbridge
The Progressive Labour Party held the first of three public forums on the Spending and Government Efficiency Commission (SAGE) report - which was published last week - at the St Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church Hall last night.
Deputy Mayor Donal Smith arriving at court yesterday

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Published November 28, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated November 28, 2013 at 8:07 am)

CoH hires New York PR firm

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