Craig James’s counterpart in Washington State said he found it to be odd when the now-suspended clerk of the B.C. Legislature wanted another tour of the state capitol building.
James, sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and speaker Linda Reid had toured the Legislature in Olympia, Wash. on Dec. 6, 2013 to learn about its business continuity and earthquake preparedness plans. House of Representatives chief clerk Bernard Dean told theBreaker.news that James contacted the Washington Legislature in June 2017, asking for an August tour and a briefing on the same topic.
“We were actually surprised they wanted to do it again, but in this case it was with this larger delegation,” Dean said in an interview.
That delegation of about a dozen people was under the banner of the Legislative Assemblies Business Continuity Network (LABCON), a group that has met annually since 2015, according to James and Lenz in their Feb. 7 replies to Speaker Darryl Plecas’s Jan. 21 report on the duo, now under RCMP investigation. The Plecas Report found they spent at least $10,352.46 on meals, transportation, a whale watching tour and tickets to a Seattle Mariners’ baseball game.
“Neither the purpose of the conference, nor the reason why the British Columbia Legislative Assembly would be hosting a conference in Washington State, is evident from the documents, nor is the total amount spent on hosting the conference; however, many of the expenses are surprisingly large,” Plecas wrote.
A check of the minutes for the Nov. 29, 2017 Legislative Assembly Management Committee meeting, and its Nov. 9, 2017 finance and audit subcommittee, found no mention by James or Lenz about visiting Olympia or hosting LABCON. As for the earlier trip, Reid told the Dec. 12, 2013 LAMC meeting that she wanted an accelerometer to measure whether the B.C. Legislature’s dome had moved since 2006 (the Washington State capitol dome shifted slightly after the 2001, 6.8 magnitude earthquake). Reid vaguely referred to visiting capitols in Sacramento, Calif., Salem, Ore. and Olympia, but did not provide any details on costs or activities.
“As host of these meetings, as is customary practice in hosting parliamentary conferences, British Columbia incurred most of the expense,” James wrote. “As is also customary, there was a sightseeing portion of the agenda for visiting guests. Delegates paid for their own travel and accommodation, as is also customary.”
The meeting ran Aug. 13-18, 2017. The group took the Clipper ferry from Victoria to Seattle on Aug. 15. The passenger list included Lenz, his wife Karen, procedural clerk Artour Sogomonian and executive manager Jennifer Horvath, who were joined by House of Commons business resilience manager Jose Cadorette, Senate of Canada safety and planning chief Marc Desforges, Ontario Legislative Assembly administration director Nancy Marling, U.K. Cabinet Office assistant director Martin Fenlon, and Scottish Parliament assistant chief executive Michelle Hegarty and business continuity manager Tommy Lynch.
They stayed at the Westin hotel in Bellevue, dined at the McCormick and Schmick’s in Seattle on Aug. 16 for $1,089.17 and Daniel’s Boiler in Bellevue on Aug. 17 for $1,838.74. Thirteen tickets near third base for the Seattle Mariners’ game against the Baltimore Orioles on Aug. 16, which lasted three-hours and 13-minutes, cost $1,380.31. James hired Griffin Transportation of Vancouver to arrange a chauffeured van to take them from the hotel to Safeco Field and to Olympia for $3,250.63. The meeting also included an $899.70 Prince of Whales whale watching tour in Victoria. Lenz reimbursed $494.90 for his wife’s share of expenses.
James called it “standard practice” to take delegates to a sporting or cultural event. In James’s reply to the Plecas Report, he said LABCON met in Victoria and Bellevue and that the Safeco Field tour was with the head of security to discuss mass evacuations and protecting large-scale public venues. James’s reply is silent on whether there was any thought of staying in B.C. to attend a Victoria Harbourcats or Vancouver Canadians baseball game or tour B.C. Place Stadium or Rogers Arena instead.
Dean said the group spent three hours at the capitol on Aug. 17, 2017 for a tour and briefing about response, recovery and remediation from the 2001 Nisqually earthquake. He said they also talked about regulations for the carrying of licensed firearms on the capitol campus. He said he wasn’t familiar with the Commonwealth-centric LABCON. Washington is a member of the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries.
“I can’t say I recall any other business trips by a legislative clerk or secretary for an express purpose of issues like that, unless they’re visiting on vacation, they stop by and ask if they can receive a tour of the building,” Dean said. “We have public tours, but as a courtesy to other fellow clerks and secretaries, sometimes we’ll give them a more behind the scenes tour if we know who they are.”
Dean said he has not been invited for a reciprocal visit to the B.C. Legislature. He has visited as a tourist.
“We haven’t done that sort of thing,” he said, referring to the amount of international travel that B.C. Legislature officials conduct. “We don’t typically travel to other states to hear specifically about these issues.”
Dean also revealed that Lenz and his deputy, Randy Ennis, were planning another trip to the Washington State Legislature for last Dec. 14.
“Cancelled abruptly, and then we sort of found out that that Gary and Craig James were escorted off the capitol campus,” Dean said.
As for the scandal, Dean said many people in Olympia are watching. “We’re fascinated by some of what we’ve heard about and interested in seeing what the outcome is.”
Unlike B.C.’s legislature, financial documents at the one in Olympia are subject to public records disclosure laws. NDP house leader Mike Farnworth said last week that would eventually change in Victoria, when the freedom of information law is amended.
Unlike the Clerk’s office in Victoria, Dean’s office does not manage the Legislative campus. That is the job of the state’s Department of Enterprise Services, which is similar to B.C.’s Ministry of Citizens’ Services.
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