A truckload of alcohol removed from the legislature, excessive travel spending and inappropriate expense claims are among the concerns that B.C. Speaker Darryl Plecas has raised in a lengthy report on the alleged misconduct of two senior legislature officials.
Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz are currently on paid leave while they are the subjects of an RCMP investigation.
In a statement released late Monday, James and Lenz say that time will show the allegations against them “are completely false and untrue.”
“To be publicly accused of these things after months of secret investigation without being given a chance to respond is contrary to all principles of fairness and decent treatment,” the statement read.
In his report, Plecas wrote that after he became Speaker in fall 2017, he “learned of a number of allegations, and personally observed or was party to numerous conversations or activities, which made me deeply uncomfortable with the conduct of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly and the Sergeant-at-Arms, and with the impact it has had on the functioning and culture of the Legislative Assembly more generally.”
In November, members of the legislative assembly voted unanimously to suspend James, the top staff person in the $80-million-a-year legislature, and Lenz, the head of security.
The RCMP confirmed at the time that it was investigating and two special prosecutors were appointed to oversee the investigation and recommend whether charges would be appropriate, but little was said publicly about what had led Plecas to report his concerns to the police.
In his “preliminary” report to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee on Monday, Plecas said his concerns included:
* Flagrant overspending on luxurious trips overseas with questionable business rationales;
* Expensing of all manner of personal purchases to the Legislative Assembly, totalling tens of thousands of dollars over a period of less than two years;
* Inappropriate payouts of cash in lieu of vacation, which appear to total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars;
* Lack of oversight or appropriate protocols in the awarding of employment benefits, and evidence of attempts to obtain highly questionable further benefits, collectively representing actual or contingent liabilities to the Legislative Assembly totalling in the millions of dollars;
* Using working time to make day or overnight trips away from the Legislative Assembly, at the Legislative Assembly’s expense, for what appear to be other than legitimate work purposes;
* Instances where thousands of dollars of alcohol and equipment may have been misappropriated from the Legislative Assembly;
* Various concerns relating to management of employees, including potentially retributive or otherwise unjustified terminations;
* And taking steps to conceal information which could indicate improperly claimed expenditures.
In one incident described in the report, Plecas wrote that Lenz told him that James had “instructed three legislative employees to load his pick-up truck with more than $10,000 worth of liquor that had been purchased by the Legislative Assembly.
“Mr. Lenz said Mr. James subsequently returned for a second trip and loaded more liquor, along with a Legislative Chamber desk, chair and various personal items belonging to Bill Barisoff, whose term as Speaker had recently come to an end.”
Plecas quoted Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms Randy Ennis saying it amounted to a “theft” of property belonging to the legislature.
According to Plecas, Ennis also told him about James requesting that the legislature buy a wood splitter that never arrived at the legislature but “instead was taken directly to Mr. James’ personal residence where Mr. James and Mr. Lenz were using it to split firewood.”
There was “no legitimate rationale” for the legislature to have bought a wood splitter according to Ennis, Plecas wrote.
The report also includes details of expensive trips for questionable purposes to the United Kingdom, China and other destinations, at least some of which Plecas went on as well. In some cases James bought things such as a suit, cufflinks, luggage, and a woman’s broach as a gift for his wife and billed them to the legislature, the report said.
Along with the report, 31 exhibits were released.
“Based on what I had seen and heard, I believed that there was a real possibility that crimes may have been committed and I felt obligated to bring those matters to the attention of the RCMP,” Plecas wrote.
James and Lenz said they were shocked by the actions of the speaker and the committee.
“Prior to the release of these allegations this afternoon, no one shared them with us, no one told us what we are being accused of and no one gave us any chance to respond,” they said in an emailed statement.
They have never been told why they were escorted from the legislature by police in November, other than that they were under investigation, they said.
“The Speaker has now compounded the harm to us and our families by preparing a report in secret, without any input from us, and recommended that it be released to the public to further blacken our reputations.”
James and Lenz said that having now seen the allegations, “we are confident that time will show that they are completely false and untrue.”
They said that they have not been treated fairly or decently and that public institutions should treat people better.
“We are surprised that the Legislature Management Committee would have gone along with this,” they said. “To allow the release of unsubstantiated and hearsay allegations is simply wrong. We don’t understand why the members of that committee would not have required that we be given an opportunity to comment before these harmful allegations were published.”
They said they would provide a detailed response “in due course” once they’ve worked through the allegations.
Motion passed for audit
After receiving Plecas’s report and discussing it in a session closed to the public today, the Legislative Assembly Management Committee passed a motion to develop the scope and terms of a comprehensive financial audit.
Once the committee approves the scope and terms, an auditor general from another province will be invited to conduct the audit.
BC Liberal Opposition house leader Mary Polak said she’s pleased the speaker’s concerns have been made public and that the committee is working towards having an outside review.
“These are things we’ve been trying to get done since we began down this path and up until today we’ve been blocked at every turn,” she said.
She said she was concerned about the expenditures, but also concerned that in all instances expenses were approved, in many cases by the speaker. “Why are we only finding out about this now in this report?”
Polak said the suspensions of James and Lenz are appropriate given that they are under investigation and there are two special prosecutors. “That in and of itself, without any further evidence, to me says that they can not be retained on site acting in their positions.”
They’ve been given opportunity to provide written responses to the speaker’s report, she said.
Alan Mullen, a special adviser to Plecas, said he urges “every single British Columbian to read the report cover to cover.”
Since the suspensions, he said, Plecas and his motives have been questioned. “Our motive is simply this: to look after and protect the British Columbian taxpayer. B.C. deserves better than this.”
They remain committed to fixing the issues at the legislature and today’s meeting demonstrated the Legislative Assembly Management Committee does as well, Mullen said.
Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver said the motions the committee passed are “crucial first steps towards restoring integrity and faith in our provincial government.”