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Board chair calls for audit of spending at Thompson-Nicola Regional District

Thompson-Nicola Regional District chair Ken Gillis.
March 01, 2021 - 12:57 PM

Ken Gillis, on behalf of the Thompson Nicola Regional District board, is taking “full ownership and accountability” for the spending habits of former CAO Sukh Gill.

About $500,000 in credit card receipts that Gill racked up over the last five years of his tenure (he “retired" a year ago) have been documented by Kamloops This Week and sparked a community backlash as many of those expenses seem extravagant and often included copious amounts of alcohol.

READ MORE: SPENDING AT THE TNRD: Board chair calls it ‘distressing’ and’ excessive’

“We must not only be transparent, we must be seen to be transparent,” Gillis, chair of the regional district, said during a news briefing today, March 1. “That is why I’m strongly recommending that the TNRD engage a third party to do a fulsome independent review of past expenses and expenditures and the findings be made public.”

What that will cost, what spending it will examine and when the results will be made public are all questions that Gillis could not answer.

First of all, his recommendation will have to be supported by the rest of the board at its March 11 meeting. He fully expects the board to agree to the audit.

Secondly, because it’s likely to be expensive, it will probably have to go through a request for proposal process, which takes time.

When asked if the review will include spending by all staff members and directors, he said that will be a decision of the board. Later in the news conference he indicated he would expect it to include spending by all staff members.

A review of the regional district’s spending policies began in 2019 when about half the board members were newly appointed.

Gill left in February 2020 in what was officially portrayed as a retirement with a severance package of around $500,000.

“We began looking into the hospitality policy in 2019 but it was not until after his departure that we started to examine his expenses,” Gillis said. “His expenses had nothing to do with the reasons behind his retirement.”

Gillis was asked how it could be called a retirement when it carried such a large severance package and a written agreement.

“We can and, unfortunately, we did call it a retirement,” Gillis said. “We certainly are not characterizing it in any other way. If you wish me to agree with your suggestion that it’s highly unusually for a retirement to carry with it a package such as the one Mr. Gill got, I have no trouble agreeing with you that that is unusual.”

He said he was unable to comment any further on the reason for Gill's departure.

Since he left, changes have been made in meal and hospitality policies, such as limiting alcoholic beverages for board members to two per meal with only beer and wine allowed.

“At times, at TNRD functions for example, there were occasions when I thought that the wine flowed surprisingly freely,” Gillis said. “In fact, I raised the issue once and was pretty much told to mind my own business on an occasion when there were expensive hors d’oeuvres ordered at a dinner.”

The CAO’s expenses are now reviewed by the board chair or vice-chair and his credit card is limited to $5,000 versus the $30,000 limit Gill had.

Gillis also pointed out that there was not $500,000 in frivolous spending conducted by Gill, noting much of that spending was legitimate and for things like paying for hotel bills at conventions.

Other things, like Gill claiming expenses for his coffee from coffee shops and expensive staff dinners, the board did not know about, Gillis said.

He freely admitted that some of Gill’s expenses were excessive and that he (Gillis) was guilty of enjoying the benefits of that spending at times.

On the annual Statement of Financial Information that goes to the board every year, Gill’s average personal expenses during his last five years as CAO was about $19,580 per year, Gillis said.

The rest of his spending was charged to various regional district accounts and there were line items in each annual budget for things like accommodation and travel.

As far as Gillis knows, no director ever examined or questioned those line items in the budget.

And, while he insisted much of the $500,000 was legitimate spending, as far as Gillis knows, there’s no internal calculation being done of what charges were legitimate versus those that were questionable.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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