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

Daniel MacEachern dmaceachern@thetelegram.com
Published on February 24, 2016
St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe

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

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