St. John's Coun. Art Puddister says mayor doesn’t need to go to cruise convention

Daniel MacEachern
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St. John’s doesn’t need to send the mayor to an annual Florida cruise industry convention anymore, says Coun. Art Puddister.

St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe

The councillor was the lone vote against sending Mayor Dennis O’Keefe to the Seatrade Cruise convention, where he attends marketing meetings with senior executives of cruise lines in Florida every year.

Puddister said with the city trimming staff and reviewing spending, that conference is one of the areas the city could save money.

“One of the policy changes that took place was that the city would no longer be the lead agency when it comes to cruise ships. It would defer to the St. John’s Port Corporation,” said Puddister. “If we’re cutting back, there’s no reason why the mayor should be going down to Miami every year. It was something I always had a bit of a difficulty with, but he is the mayor of the city and we were the lead agency, so I said fine.”

Last year, it cost $4,386.48 for the mayor to attend the convention, along with $6,371.01 for Deborah Cook of the city’s Community Services Department to attend. In 2014, O’Keefe’s presence at the convention cost taxpayers $5,819.29, plus $7,324.96 for Jill Brewer, then the city’s manager of community services, to attend as well.

But the city’s spending on cruise-industry related travel isn’t limited to the Seatrade convention. Some years include trips to various locations for the annual Cruise Canada New England Symposium or other cruise conferences, or for marketing meetings, as well as less-expensive trips within Newfoundland and Labrador for the meetings of the provincial cruise association. (See sidebar for total annual spending on cruise-related travel going back to 2005.)

O’Keefe says the city’s partnership with the port authority in developing the local cruise industry is the reason for his participation in the convention.

“The port looks after the technical issues involved in the cruise industry — providing ship services, docking facilities, the technical things that are involved in the actual servicing of the ships, and the kind of procedures that we have to put in place,” he said. “The city, we have always looked after the marketing of the city as a tourist destination for cruise visitors, and the promotion and the profile of the city.”

The city’s review of services and spending means it’s currently negotiating transferring some responsibilities and costs of promotion and hosting cruise industry officials in St. John’s, said the mayor, as a cost-saving measure.

“We’ll see where that goes, but the division, the partnership, hasn’t changed,” he said. “At these meetings, when they take place, the port authority is usually there to answer the technical questions, and I’m there as Cruise St. John’s, and normally there’d be somebody from our tourism department with me, and we’d look after the marketing and promotion and the organization that’s needed to be in place for when passengers come ashore.”

This year, said O’Keefe, the city will send him alone, without a staff member, partly because a lower Canadian dollar means the trip will likely be more expensive than in recent years.

“I’ll leave on a Sunday and I’ll be back on Friday, so it’ll be a very short trip involving meetings with the major cruise lines over that four-day period (Monday to Thursday) as well as the participation in the convention and the exposition side of things,” he said. “I’ll be carrying the full load myself this time, so that will be another cost-cutting measure.”

City spending on cruise industry-related travel

for Mayor Dennis O’Keefe and staff, 2005-2015:

2005: $17,651.19

2006: $13,880.47

2007: $11,475.18

2008: $15,771.09

2009: $13,281.93

2010: $14,652.56

2011: $3,023.18

2012: $9,810.14

2013: $12,983.65

2014: $16,182.60

2015: $18,246.77

Total: $146,958.76

Organizations: Port, Community Services Department, Cruise Canada New England Symposium

Geographic location: St. John's, Florida, Miami Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • TaxToo
    February 25, 2016 - 21:43

    And how many from the Port Corp head there.

  • Terry
    February 25, 2016 - 15:20

    How does someone get to spend $7300 of taxpayers money on a five day trip to Miami and not have to explain it to an auditor of some kind? $1400 a day!!! I would love to see the breakdown of this expense report.

  • Harley
    February 25, 2016 - 14:39

    Unbelievable. Time for the citizens of St. John's to revolt against this block head. And for starters, lets role out the unwelcome mat for these cruise ship tourists by bringing to their attention of what a bunch of bandits we have representing us. Let's welcome the docking of each one of these cruise ships with signs of protest as a way to let the rest of the world realize our distain towards our city leaders. This can easily be organized and accomplished as I believe most of the citizens of St. John's would support a chance to expose the contempt of our present leadership.

  • Tim
    February 25, 2016 - 13:21

    Come one come all to Detroit on the sea...

  • steve
    February 25, 2016 - 13:03

    Can we start an ONLINE petition and have this trip cancelled and ask the mayor to step down?And Telegram why don,t you make that your question of the day.. Should the mayor of St.Johns step down given recent events and backlash?

  • NL Hunter
    February 25, 2016 - 12:24

    Seems Doc is still struggling with getting priorities straight. Seems to me that if a Cruise Line comes to St. John's it's a decision they make based on available services and amenities. Modern era in technology: Send them an e-mai,l and invite them to have a video conference. But no, Dos is gonna physically travel there and spend the taxpayer's $'s on travel, hotels, and vehicle rentals. Well Mr Mayor, I'd much rather have Bulk Garbage pick up. Can't you stay here and work out of your office to ensure the citizens get their basic services, instead of allowing travel abroad so-as-to pay lip service to Cruise Lines.? Somehow, it just doesn't seem prudent when services to city residents are cut while city workers are hobnobbing on our tax dollars. ....And Mr. Mayor, you are a City Worker (You're the one who is at the top of the totem pole.) Again, this smacks of Poor Leadership.

  • EDfromRED
    February 25, 2016 - 12:11

    Maybe the NL media should send/hire a reporter to trail O'keefe at this event?

  • Sam
    February 25, 2016 - 11:35

    O'Keefe is taking the taxpayers for a ride and he will continue to mike the system because he doesn't give a hoot, plus he knows his time on council is over. If there is any benefit to the city is very questionable, but most importantly why pay for two people to attend the same session, especially going on a cruise. Is the main reason to assess the quality of the food or accommodations on board? Give me a break.

  • Taxpayer 2
    February 25, 2016 - 11:27

    If the city is sending a representative, that is quite enough. Dennis doesn't need to go on a paid vacation at taxpayer expense. Most cruise ships come here to take on water and dump their garbage. It is not a 'destination'. The shopping for a few trinkets and some booze is only incidental to the above. Time for Dennis to retire and stop spending taxpayer money for his own personal gain.

  • darby
    February 25, 2016 - 11:15

    from personal experience .... most of the bus tour profit actually goes to the cruise ship company.

  • Frank
    February 25, 2016 - 11:10

    As an observer from another municipality I am also appalled at the lack of concern by elected officials when it comes to spending taxpayers money. I think all municipalities should rein in their spending in an effort to give taxpayers some relief. Municipality Newfoundland & Labrador take notice.

  • 007
    February 25, 2016 - 11:09

    No matter how much Doc promotes the city, you won't see any return visitors who unfortunately booked the rock as a destination last July....single digit temps brrrrr. Bon voyage Doc. Think of us poor (increased to death) tax payers as you sip wine and eat fine caviar on our backs : (

  • David
    February 25, 2016 - 11:02

    I don't know how anyone from St. John's can fly to Miami and stay for 5 days and spend over $4000.00. What a waste of taxpayer money.

  • Big Jay
    February 25, 2016 - 10:40

    Typical of this current regime. Everyone else has to tighten their belts and spend less. but the mayor gets to go on a frivolous trip in the sun on the tax payers dime. What a joke, maybe next we should be paying to have his driveway plowed and his lawn mowed. In my opinion this is the worst mayor St John's has ever had.

  • cathy
    February 25, 2016 - 10:38

    he has been there more times than mickey mouse,..stay home doc and run the city ,,

  • Cher
    February 25, 2016 - 10:29

    O'Keefe is grabbing what he can now from the till before his time runs out at city hall...surely he would not have the kahunas to run gain?

  • james
    February 25, 2016 - 10:18

    This mayor is completely out of touch with reality

    • Sandra
      February 25, 2016 - 12:11

      I agree

  • been thinkin
    February 25, 2016 - 10:01

    Art is correct, he gets my vote

    February 25, 2016 - 09:53

    He is simply amazing. At a time when there will be a whole lot of council workers losing there jobs, including myself, that he can justify going on this trip. It is a slap in the face to all of workers for St. John's and also for the residents of the city. I can't wait until the next election when he will be replaced. And yes I bet he will have his spouse with him. The city may not pay for her but they will still have a mini vacation together....

  • Bob Hallett
    February 25, 2016 - 09:48

    Would it not make more sense to send one of the city's marketing professionals, who could speak with some expertise to touring opportunities, visitor amenities and accommodations? Cruise St. John's is an initiative of the city and the Port Authority, not some separate institution. This mayor's justifications are ridiculous.

  • cornergirl
    February 25, 2016 - 09:40

    There are many positive comments regarding St. John's made by cruise visitors on sites like Trip Advisor. Unfortunately, we miss many of these stops due to weather. Cruise lines will decide if a stop here is worth the hassle, not the mayor.

    • Sandra
      February 25, 2016 - 12:13

      I agree

  • Disgusted Taxpayer!
    February 25, 2016 - 09:28

    Make no wonder the tax's have increased so Doc can travel on the tax dollars. I sure hope he runs again in the next election and that the public will vote him out. When Andy was the Mayor at least he would do everything to try and avoid increasing property tax's. He worked for the people and not for his own selfish needs. I hope that Sheilagh O'Leary will keep Doc on his toes.

  • Chebucto
    February 25, 2016 - 09:25

    The insanity at City Hall never ends.

  • joe
    February 25, 2016 - 08:44

    The mayor is a saint ,,carrying the load himself,,,whats the problem.Our Doc Holiday flys again.

  • grandma
    February 25, 2016 - 08:41

    Why, in 2014 and 2015 did it cost approximately $2,000 more for staff travel than it did for the mayor's travel? Was their stay longer, if so, why? Surely it did not include spousal travel. May we have an explanation please?

  • Me
    February 25, 2016 - 08:32

    Doc, stay home.

  • Taxpayer
    February 25, 2016 - 08:19

    I think they are two main questions Council should consider: 1. Does the increase in local business activity as a result of the cruise ship visits exceed the City's promotion costs? 2. And even if it does, shouldn't these promotion costs be born by the businesses themselves rather than taxpayers?

  • Dec
    February 25, 2016 - 07:46

    The mayor should set an example at a time when everything else is being cut. Alternatively if the mayors attendance at the cruise conference is vital to the St John's economy he could publish details of his meeting schedule and other events he will be attending. That should help ease taxpayers concerns about the trip.

  • Brian
    February 25, 2016 - 07:38

    The cost of cruise ship conventions goes back to the 1980's and O'keefe is the only consistent attendee. I guess that he looks upon these conventions as his vacation time. These cruise ship visits don't bring much benefit to the city except for a few bus tours taken by the visitors. Mr. Okeefe's attendance shows contempt for the taxpayers and the cutbacks that the city has attempted to come to grips with. Dennis, show some leadership and some common sense. If someone has to go ,send a representative of your tourism department.

  • Kev
    February 25, 2016 - 07:34

    Talk about tone-deaf! I hope he runs again.

  • Jack
    February 25, 2016 - 07:13

    I am so glad that my 51% increase in property taxes is helping Doc pay for his annual vacation to Florida. If he feels that it is that important to be there perhaps he should pay his own way from the tax free portion of his annual $100,000 plus salary we pay him. It has not gone unnoticed that his property tax went up less than 10%... Enjoy the trip!

    • Me
      February 25, 2016 - 10:57

      I just checked that. Doc's assessment went up by 7.8%. I hear of 20-30-40% and more and Doc's goes up 7.8%!!!!!!! Anything else we should know?? Any other properties we should check??

  • maderighthere
    February 25, 2016 - 07:01

    Is that not the cost of doing business; generating more business for the local economy. When do you ever see meetings of top businesses sending anyone but the CEOs; or a meeting of Premiers and sending an MHA., etc.. If you want to showcase that St. John's is committed to these Cruise Line's, then who better to do that than the Mayor, regardless of who that is. I am not sure if Art Puddister has another agenda or not but I'd like to think his heart is in the right place by trying to have a transparent council and putting everything out there for the pubic to see and to cut costs there, but please lets not become a Galgay; this guy reeks of your typical politician ....(personal agenda).

  • bevin ledrew
    February 25, 2016 - 06:42

    Allow me to support Councillor Puddester in opposing a paid vacation for the Mayor. The whole concept of encouraging the cruise industry is based on false premises. Unless St. John's were to become a destination location where people transferred to/from vessels, there is little in the way of tourist dollars flowing from the all-too-brief visits by these vessels. As a tax payer - both residential and commercial, I continue to be incensed by the lack of awareness shown by Council, and especially the Mayor. City Hall is a business and should be run on that basis. In other words, the prime objective these days should be to find economies so that the business can be run in a more efficient manner. Maybe the Mayor needs some training in business administration; his background as an educator ill equips him to make sound and prudent decisions on the running of the city. A first sign of business acumen would be to cancel this frivolity.

  • justin case
    February 25, 2016 - 06:41

    Oh Oh! Seems the petals are falling from the rose of the recent Sunday city council closed door meeting. Need another "love fest" immediately to get things back on track for another couple of weeks. Hard to believe we just experienced 20% property tax increases and Doc is off to Miami. Would like to further comment but have to go shake my head : (

  • Bob Hallett
    February 25, 2016 - 06:36

    So, instead of sending a marketing person, with expertise in tourism, accommodations and transportation, the mayor has decided to send someone infinitely less qualified - himself. Plainly irony is lost on this man. Stay in Miami, Doc, we cannot afford your foolishness.

    • fitzy
      February 25, 2016 - 19:45

      hey bob..thank god for guys like you ..the current council is so spaced out on their up coming pensions and other perks , that nothing elese matters,,, I tell you ,... its time for a well educated guy like you to bust the bubble of the clownish and me ,,me,,,me ,, mee,,meeeeeee,,,only me please ,...please bob ,, run for mayor ,, you got my vote , at least a person like you who travelled the world appreciates the beauty of our city ,barry

  • Peter
    February 25, 2016 - 06:25

    My question if I was the auditor would be, why the big difference between Doc's expenses and Cooks and Brewers expenses. Should they not be around the same amount of money if everything is equal. Brewer spent an extra $2000 and Cook about $1500. How come?

    • Tweeter
      February 25, 2016 - 10:52

      I think part of DOK expenses are usually paid by CruiseNL as he is the Chair of their Board.

  • Bill
    February 25, 2016 - 06:20

    If the City is sending anyone, it should be a staff person rather than a politician. After all, the Mayor will not by there after 2017.

    • Sandra
      February 25, 2016 - 12:16

      Do we really have to wait until 2017. There will be no St. John's in another year with the way this is going.

  • Sam
    February 25, 2016 - 04:41

    O'Keefe could care less about what makes financial sense. There absolutely no justification for sending two representatives from the city. This is just one of his little perks that he plans on keeping because he knows he's finished as mayor.

  • Tax payer
    February 24, 2016 - 22:07

    I don't know how it cost so much,I have been on many cruises along with my husband and child and spent a week in Florida first,maybe only cost me $8000.00.Thats three of us now that's not including shopping.I really think it's time to bring in outside help to see why the city is spending so much money,I'm sure they will find someone is doing something wrong by paying themselves much more then they should.

  • Wil
    February 24, 2016 - 20:48

    What a crock! I would like to see the true figures to find out what financial benefit this is to our city. What is it really costing us to bring in these ships?

  • Political Watcher
    February 24, 2016 - 20:21

    This is total BS and Doc knows it! On these trips, politicians at the Municipal level mean nothing. The potential customers wan to meet decision makers in the industry, not some Mayor. From the City's perspective, staff are the important attendees, potential cruise lines know they tell what is and can be supplied unlike politicians who will say anything, the customer knows this. Doc's attendance is all fluff, his absence will not be missed; actually, with him there and no staff, anything he discuses or commits to will mean nothing until staff are consulted. Far too often in many of our Municipalities, our elected officials place too much value on their attendance at these events. Private business is fully aware that their main concern is the regulatory or supportive services communicant, not what some elected official is willing to tell them. I recall a certain municipality sending their Deputy mayor to Victoria B.C to attend a conference on road line painting and a new adhesive process for them. Turns out this Municipality bought into the new process and it cost them big time; not considering that for six months of the year there are snow plow blades running over them. (Guess this was overlooked at the BC Conference). Here is the stinger, the Capital City right next door had already done a test with this NEW procedure a couple of years earlier and determined it was not right for NL. That's what sending politicians over staff gets you!

  • Scotty
    February 24, 2016 - 20:16

    Another paid vacation for DOK under the pretense of city business. Raise taxes, cut services, cut the Grand Concourse but wasting money for 2 members of the city staff going to 1 conference, makes me wanna puke!