The illusive Banner Public Affairs agency has recently been brought to the forefront and the Weekly has questions on what they are here to actually do.
The Weekly received documents and emails regarding Banner Public Affairs through a Public Records Act request and will refer to them throughout this story.
Where Did Banner Come From?
Earlier this year, the City decided that they wanted to hire external PR help for 49ers- and stadium-related communications.
Jennifer Yamaguma, the City’s Community Relations Manager, sent the Request for Proposals (RFP) on March 9. The RFP states: “The City of Santa Clara is interested in retaining a public relations consultant to provide a strategic and proactive approach for anticipated media and public relations challenges and opportunities within the City of Santa Clara.”
Banner was one of three PR firms to respond to the RFP and submitted their proposal on March 17.
Banner’s proposal highlights retaining public trust despite the 49ers’ “lack of transparency.” Additionally, the proposal states, “The intent is to build the City of Santa Clara ‘army’ that tells the 49ers they are in a fight about the public’s trust.” They call their campaign-style quest for public trust a “reputational battle” to be won.
Banner was interviewed by members of the City Marketing Committee on April 12 and began work on May 2, however, their contract was not in effect until July 17. In several emails obtained by the Weekly, City staff, including Director of Parks & Recreation Jim Teixeira, acknowledge they were communicating with a company that did not have an official contract yet.
When Banner finally did have a contract, they describe their scope of work as “To fulfill the City of Santa Clara’s stated need for communications support and support specifically for anticipated issues with the San Francisco 49ers through the Stadium Authority contract…”
Interestingly, one page of the contract is signed by Banner Partner Peter Hillan on May 8, but the bottom of that page states “Rev. 06/22/17” and the document was also notarized on May 8.
If Hillan sounds familiar, that’s because he is. In Banner’s March 17 proposal, they promote Hillan to the City because he was “one of the architects of the San Francisco 49ers stadium initiative… Peter Hillan served as the spokesperson for the 49ers throughout the campaign.” Additionally, he was an Executive Business Editor for the Mercury News.
How Much Does Banner Cost?
Invoices and timesheets from Banner reflect $44,430 worth of work done for the City and the Stadium Authority from May 2 to August 17—over $30,000 of it before the contract was effective. According to the contract, Hillan’s time is worth $450 an hour—certainly not the lowest proposal the City got, others ranged from $150-$250 an hour. The contract states that the amount cannot exceed $50,000—though the proposal was for $99,000, which is $1,000 under the limit that requires a public Council vote.
However, it’s clear that if Banner hasn’t already reached the $50,000 limit, they are probably about to—they are contracted through Dec. 31. There are emails from late September about the work Banner did regarding the Harmon v. Santa Clara settlement involving the Santa Clara Police Department. One email says Yamaguma and Hillan worked “all day” on the topic.
Not Just Stadium-Related Work
As stated in their contract, Banner was brought on board to develop communication strategies related to the 49ers. However, many familiar topics at the forefront of Santa Clarans’ minds have Banner’s fingerprints on them.
Banner is involved in the International Swim Center, the Measure J audit, various City lawsuits and the City Manager hiring and outreach. Additionally, Hillan has spent many hours on—and billed thousands of dollars for—talking with the media and prepping Mayor Lisa Gillmor for media appearances.
For the San Francisco Chronicle op-ed piece and Facebook Live interview with the Mayor, Hillan spent 9.15 hours setting up the interview, preparing for it (once with Related lobbyist Jude Barry), rehearsing with the Mayor and attending the meeting. That means that the City has been billed $4,117.50 for the Chronicle piece. A follow up call Hillan made to the Chronicle adds another $225 to that total.
A considerable amount of work also went into a July interview the Mayor had with KPIX. An email regarding the KPIX interview was the one and only email in the response to the Weekly’s PRA request that was from the Mayor to Hillan.
Surprisingly, only the Mayor’s actual visit with the Chronicle and the actual interview with KPIX are on her Council calendar. Her call with Jude Barry and Hillan on May 24, her rehearsal with Hillan on May 30 and any other preparations do not show up on her calendar. In fact, there is no mention of Banner Public Affairs or Peter Hillan on the Mayor’s calendar.
Even if she didn’t have to list their meetings since he is a contractor, he was not officially under contract until July 17. Therefore, all meetings with Hillan should have been on her calendar—at least until July 17. The Mayor’s calendar does list meetings with other City contractors like Fred Brousseau of Harvey Rose Associates, LLC—the firm that handled the Measure J audit.
Even if Hillan was listed on Council Members’ calendars, you wouldn’t see him on anyone else’s but the Mayor’s. As she is the identified spokesperson for Banner’s campaign, Hillan only seems to meet with her.
And when it comes to the International Swim Center (ISC), over $8,700 worth of time has been poured into it. Banner has been helping Project Financial Advisory, Limited (PFAL), which already has a $650,000 contract with the City for the ISC. In fact, Banner did a “significant rewrite” of a document called the ISC Case Statement. In a proposal addressed to PFAL and dated July 7, Banner estimates they would perform between $5,000 to $7,500 worth of work for the ISC.
This is not a recent add-on to Hillan’s portfolio of assignments. Banner’s time sheets show calls regarding the ISC as early as June 30 with the bulk of the work done after July 5.
What is also interesting is that a few key City press releases distributed over the last few months have in fact been authored by Banner. Emails show Hillan sending the post-Las Vegas attack press release and also giving the Mayor talking points to use with the media. The press release about the May U2 concert’s curfew violation is also by Banner and, most recently, the press release regarding the leak of the Harmon v. City of Santa Clara body cam footage.
City Manager Sends Memo
As a result of our PRA request, City Manager Deanna Santana sent a memo dated Oct. 26 to the City Council regarding Banner Public Affairs and the violations of City procedure that have been found so far.
The memo says that Banner has a City contract when they should actually have a contract with the Stadium Authority. Furthermore, the memo states that the “Administration should have requested that the Stadium Authority Board appropriate funding for the work related to the contract from the Stadium Authority before authorizing the signing of the contract. Instead, the wrong contracting agency was used.”
This could be related to emails from Yamaguma to Hillan. Yamaguma said all City work on Banner’s invoices were approved, but she had concerns on hours “not authorized through the City Manager’s Office”—noticeably, Stadium Authority-related work.
Additionally, the City Manager’s memo states that the “City authorized work before the contract was signed.” As stated above, work began in May although the contract wasn’t effective until July.
The memo also addresses Banner’s broad scope of work. Their contract was specifically for 49er-related communication strategies but the “Administration authorized use of this contract for non-Stadium Authority related work,” including the ISC and public meetings regarding the qualifications of the new City Manager.
Lastly, it turns out Banner might not get paid at all. Santana’s memo states that, although some of the work is within the contractually approved scope and/or was directed by the City, they have not yet approved any invoices for payment.
The City Manager proposes some steps to “remedy the situation,” including requesting funding from the Stadium Authority for communication work related to the 49ers. Santana states she will create a separate contract for “other as-needed commutation strategy work delivered.” Santana will also send out a new RFP and “address contract management, client control, and scope of work issues.”
The discovery of Banner Public Affairs’ contract and work raised many questions for the Weekly. Our biggest question: If Yamaguma hadn’t caught issues with Banner’s invoices, would Santa Clara have a Measure J violation on their hands? Are there more violations to be found?
Please refer to full documents linked below.
Exhibit E of Banner Contract With the City (with circled dates)
Banner’s May Time Sheet
Banner’s June Time Sheet
Banner’s July Time Sheet
Banner’s August Time Sheet