Plecas Report: The Sequel didn’t immediately result in the firing of suspended Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz on Feb. 21.
But it attacked their credibility after their error-filled Feb. 7 replies to Speaker Darryl Plecas’s first report about waste and corruption at the Legislature.
The Legislative Assembly Management Committee released the new report with more allegations of overspending after meeting for two-and-a-half-hours behind closed-doors. A retired B.C. Supreme Court judge will be hired to determine whether to keep James and Lenz on paid leave or fire them. Meanwhile, the RCMP and two special prosecutors continue to investigate. A visit from their lawyer, Fasken’s Mark Andrews, failed to convince the all-party committee to give James and Lenz a sneak peek and chance to reply to the new Plecas Report.
“The House Leaders need to decide whether confidence in these two officers has been undermined to the point that, regardless of the outcome of the further processes, audits and investigations, Mr. James and Mr. Lenz cannot realistically return to their positions as the senior executives of the Legislative Assembly,” Plecas wrote in the 32-page report.
James was paid $347,000 last year to be general manager of the Legislature, which ran on a $77 million budget. Lenz was paid $218,000 to be the director of operations and security. Their jobs were to operate and maintain B.C.’s seat of government and organize meetings among lawmakers. Deputy Kate Ryan-Lloyd is the acting clerk and Randy Ennis the acting sergeant-at-arms.
Five pages in the report deal with the August 2017 trip to Seattle and Olympia, Wash. Plecas cites theBreaker.news exclusive Feb. 10 story (“James and Lenz dinged B.C. taxpayers for big league baseball tickets and whale watching tour”) and brands James and Lenz’s explanations “demonstrably false.”
B.C. taxpayers paid at least $10,352.46 to host a conference for the Legislative Assemblies Business Continuity Network that included a whale watching expedition and trip to a Seattle Mariners’ baseball game.
“To be clear: Washington State is not a member of LABCoN,” Plecas wrote. “There was no prearranged ‘conference’ which required travel to Washington to attend,” Plecas wrote. “This was an initiative organized by Mr. James and almost entirely paid for by British Columbia taxpayers. It took place in Washington because Mr. James decided the group should visit Washington.”
Lawyers for James and Lenz, in letters that LAMC released Feb. 21, pleaded for them to be reinstated and said they did no wrong. There is no reason why the RCMP investigation cannot be completed with them back in their jobs, the lawyers, from the Fasken law firm, wrote to LAMC. They also called for a further investigation by an independent investigator with fair process afforded to their clients.
Meanwhile, another 10 gems from the newn report, in Plecas’s own words.
Booze for Bill Barisoff
Mr. James says that Mr. Barisoff paid for the liquor that was delivered to him by Mr. James. I asked Financial Services to locate the payment and they have provided me with a copy of a cheque from Mr. Barisoff dated June 26, 2013 for $370 with the memo reading “wine purchase”. That amount of money certainly does not accord with the accounts of two truckloads of alcohol that were loaded into Mr. James’ truck and which included beer and hard liquor – including a recent account I have received that, according to employees who were personally involved, the first load of alcohol included beer and a few wine boxes, and the second load of alcohol included wine and hard liquor.
Moreover, Mr. James has provided no reasonable explanation as to why it would have been appropriate for the most senior officer of the Legislature to drive up to Penticton to sell wine and deliver a desk and chair to the former Speaker, stay overnight at the Penticton Lakeside Inn, and drive back the next day, billing all of the expenses to the taxpayers along with his very high salary for two days of work – noting as well that the value of the alcohol Mr. Barisoff purchased from the Legislative Assembly was only a fraction of the cost of Mr. James making the trip. To my mind, both as Speaker and as a taxpayer, this is unacceptable.
Visits with Bill and Christy
Similarly, I cannot fathom what “business of the Legislature” would call for the Clerk to use work days to travel to Vancouver or Penticton to have lunch meetings with the former premier, Christy Clark and dinners with the former Speaker, Bill Barisoff. Mr. James’ explanation in relation to at least one of the trips to Penticton was that Mr. Barisoff – who had ceased to be Speaker and an MLA in 2013 – was continuing in 2017 to “attend to” Legislative Assembly business, four years and three Speakers later, which required an in-person visit from Mr. James to discuss it. That claim is farcical to me. I would like to know what Legislative Assembly business Mr. Barisoff is still, or was in 2017, involved in, if any. Even suspending disbelief and assuming these meetings were for legitimate work purposes, I do not see why they could not have been handled by phone or by email.
Gary threw Craig under the bus
Mr. Lenz simply does not address his many conversations with Mr. Mullen and me in which Mr. Lenz urged us to force Mr. James to resign by confronting him with his misconduct, or by asking the Premier to step in and tell Mr. James the government was “moving in a different direction.” He also does not address his statements, vehemently expressed to me on a number of occasions, that we did not want an audit or an outside investigation. In various instances, I first became aware of alleged misconduct by Mr. James because Mr. Lenz told me about it. In response, Mr. Lenz does not deny these conversations, but says he has not had the time, and does not “see the purpose” in “dealing with” my detailed recollections of conversations. He says my concerns should be dealt with on the basis of “facts, not hearsay.” But to put it bluntly: the fact of the conversations isn’t “hearsay.” The conversations were between me and Mr. Lenz. He was a party to them. To the extent the conversations included allegations about the Clerk, those allegations came from Mr. Lenz.
Mr. James’ explanation as to why the taxpayers should have purchased $500 Bose headphones is that he has an ear condition relating to sound and pressure.This is news to me, and is not noted on the claim form. Since my Preliminary Report, I have seen an expense claim Mr. James submitted on December 22, 2011, also for Bose noise cancelling headphones at a cost to taxpayers of $447.99. While noise cancelling headphones may address sound issues, I am unaware of them being effective for cabin pressure as they don’t create a seal of any kind on the ear that would alleviate pressure. In fact, an internet search offers a great many articles in which people complain that noise cancelling headphones cause ear pain. In any event, it is unclear to me how these two sets of expensive headphones are not a personal expense unless they are a form of medical accommodation for a disability, in which case they would be approved as such.
That woodsplitter again
Mr. James says he stored the wood splitter and trailer at his “strata”, which he adds is “not a rural property.” This implies he lives in a condominium and has no wood to split there. His property may technically be a strata-titled development, but it not a condominium. Instead it is a 3,600 square foot freestanding house on a 10,500 square foot lot with large trees behind the house.
Mr. James writes that he was frustrated storing the trailer at his property and arranged to have it stored at an RV facility. I note, however, that in front of Mr. James’ house is a recently constructed paved pad on which he had been storing the Legislature’s trailer until he apparently returned it. A photo of the storage location at his house from Google maps, and a more recent photo of the new pad with the Legislature’s trailer parked on it, are reproduced below.
Where the wood splitter was located on the property is not known to me, but Mr. Mullen viewed it after it was removed and he advises me that it showed obvious signs of use. That a committee on which Mr. Lenz and Mr. James sat approved the recommended expenditure as part of purported disaster planning is not, in my view, an answer. Committees generally place their trust in senior management that expenditures are appropriate and necessary, until that trust is brought into question, or broken.
In the executive summary and in paragraph 44 of his response, Mr. Lenz says that his practice and policy is to fly economy class. It has been brought to my attention that when Mr. Lenz travelled to London, England, from December 4 – 9, 2011, Mr. Lenz flew Executive First Class between YVR and Heathrow. Including the connecting flights to Victoria, the flights cost the taxpayers $8,074.94. Added to these were flight-related expenses for “Holiday House Travel” and “Intair Transit” which, together with travel insurance and a TASF charge brought the total cost of his flights for the trip to $11,103.94. Evidently, Mr. Lenz did not always fly economy class.
The boys and their baggage
Mr. James has said that his expensing of the $800 Victorinox “Maverick” watch from the Hong Kong airport was in error and that he instead meant to expense the $600 piece of luggage that he purchased. If it was an innocent mistake (despite the attention that appears to have been devoted to the receipt submitted), it still leaves open the question of how it was appropriate to be expensing luggage at all. For the limited period of my review of expenses (April 2017 – November 2018), it was not just the laptop backpack ($432.80) and the $645.00 carry-on piece of luggage ($645.04) purchased in Hong Kong; luggage was also purchased in Heathrow ($743.92) and in Edinburgh ($253.61) and expensed to taxpayers. No MLA that I have talked to was aware of any policy whereby the Clerk’s office was maintaining a set of “loaner luggage”.
Lastly, Mr. James has not addressed the obvious question of why, even if this was a legitimate or justifiable policy, luggage was not purchased by the Legislature’s staff directly as inventory and at reasonable prices. You can buy perfectly good luggage for $150 from the Bay in Victoria. No one who respects taxpayer money would purchase a $645 piece of carry-on luggage in an overseas airport boutique, whatever the purpose.
Everything but a snow globe
Mr. Lenz and Mr. James say that all the shopping that was done in the gift stores was to purchase “precedents or merchandise for display or sale” in BC’s Legislature” gift shop, gifts for other people or as “protocol gifts” does not make sense. Mr. James appears to suggest that he was purchasing items in England for future sale in British Columbia’s Legislative Assembly gift shop. Even if that or the other justifications given were true, why are the taxpayers of British Columbia paying the high salaries of these senior executives to go shopping all over the world for small gifts?
Who, for example, received the mustard, the “Quotable Churchill” book, the royal wedding memorabilia, the satirical books about Brexit, and the “Winter King” fantasy novel?
Mr. Lenz’s trip to London in December 2011… There he attended the House of Lords Gift Shop on two occasions on December 8, 2011 and purchased such items as a Christmas pudding, a spirit decanter, cufflinks, a towel, a guidebook, an umbrella, playing cards, mint tins, dictionaries, computer mouse mats, along with various other things. The total cost of these items expensed to the Legislature, and the taxpayers, was $1,084.01.
No satisfactory response has been provided regarding the purchase of the wide array of Apple devices by Mr. James and Mr. Lenz.
These expenses are embarrassing to the Legislature. Here is how one staff member explained the genesis of the program:
“Craig and Gary decided that they wanted an iPhone, and the legislative comptroller said no, and the Computer Services said, “No, we don’t support that. You have the BlackBerry and that’s what you get.” So, they created a special project and started just buying them outright on their credit card…
When it first started it was just Craig and Gary, and then it became Craig and Gary and Randy. And by the time I was fired, almost everybody had both an iPhone and an iPad. I was supporting all of them, setting them up, teaching how to use them. They were taking them all over the world racking up these huge roaming charges watching movies on these things because they refused to use wifi [on the basis that] it was too slow. So, we at one point had a bill for one of Craig’s trips that was thousands of dollars and had to try to dispute it with Rogers.”
Why not Buy B.C.?
Lastly, it seems to me that if the Clerk was buying a suit as a new uniform for the BC Legislature that BC taxpayers are going to pay for, it ought to be purchased in BC so that a BC men’s clothing store and its employees would benefit from the purchase.
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