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Suspended B.C. officials deny allegations of overspending in Speaker's report

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February 10, 2019 - 7:00 AM

VICTORIA - The two top officials in British Columbia's legislature deny allegations of overspending and questionable expenses in written responses to a report by the Speaker.

A communications firm representing the two men confirmed documents posted to the Vancouver Sun website on Friday are the responses submitted to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee on Thursday. The committee has not yet decided whether to make the responses public and is scheduling a meeting next week to discuss the matter.

Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and clerk of the house Craig James say in separate and detailed responses that they have done nothing wrong and wish to return to work.

James says the report by Speaker Darryl Plecas is not only inaccurate but illogical, saying he cannot fathom why the Speaker would have approved his expenses if he harboured concerns about them.

He includes an email allegedly from Plecas confirming approval of James's expenses from a recent business trip to the United Kingdom. The email was sent after the Speaker reviewed his expenses in detail in his office and expressed no concerns, James says.

"The report goes out of its way to smear my character," James says in his 24-page response.

"It contains opinions and innuendo which are neither accurate, nor fair. It attributes statements to me which I never made, and conduct in which I never engaged."

The Speaker's report released Jan. 21 alleges the two officials claimed expenses for overseas trips and personal purchases, and that they received inappropriate payouts of cash in lieu of vacation in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Plecas said Friday he will provide a detailed reply to both officials' responses at the next committee meeting and declined further comment.

The two officials were placed on administrative leave in November after members of the legislature learned of an ongoing RCMP investigation.

Lenz says in his 62-page response that the expenses he charged were legitimate and reasonable. Every trip was for business purposes, he flew economy class and the legislature did not pay for his wife when she joined him, he says.

"The trips that I took were not boondoggles," Lenz says in the document posted on the Sun website. "They were for important business of the legislative assembly — part of an ongoing program to improve security and business continuity in face of threats like the shootings at Parliament in Ottawa ... and natural disasters."

The two men address an allegation in the report that a $3,200 wood splitter and a $10,000 trailer were bought by the legislature and delivered to James's home. The report says both men used the device to split wood and the Speaker was told it was purchased in case firewood was needed at the legislature in a crisis.

Lenz says at no time has he used or even seen the wood splitter and trailer. The purchase was a part of the legislature's emergency preparedness and business continuity program, he said.

James says it was no secret that the items were stored at his house as he was told that a concrete pad and path for the trailer would take a couple months to construct.

The officials also address allegations that thousands of dollars worth of liquor was misappropriated from the legislature.

Lenz says the Speaker, clerk and sergeant-at-arms maintain a supply of alcohol for use at official functions. An incident referred to in the report happened in 2013, he says, when the clerk loaded unopened boxes and bottles of alcohol into his truck on two occasions.

"This was done openly in the middle of the day," Lenz says in the response obtained by the Vancouver Sun. "I assumed at the time that the alcohol was unused and being returned."

James says he took some alcohol — not $10,000 worth, as alleged in the report — along with some personal effects to former Speaker Bill Barisoff's house where he was scheduled to meet with him on legislature-related matters. Barisoff provided him with a cheque addressed to the legislature to reimburse it for the alcohol, he says.

The Speaker's report also alleged that James asked Plecas to sign a document entitling him to a life insurance policy worth three times his annual salary. James denies any impropriety related to the request, adding if the Speaker thought it inappropriate he didn't have to sign it.

James also responds to an allegation that he purchased an expensive piece of luggage in Hong Kong and charged it to the legislature. He says the item was to be available for anyone at the legislative assembly who needed it for travel.

However, James does accept that some personal magazine subscriptions should not have been charged to the legislature and he promises to reimburse the money. The Speaker's report alleged the clerk expensed more than $5,000 in digital and print magazines, including "Arizona Highways" and "Electric Bike Action."

Both men say they had to respond to the Speaker's report in a short time and without access to records and their office staff.

James says he had no opportunity to explain why the concerns raised in the report are not well-founded before his reputation was demolished by a "one-sided and inaccurate" document.

— By Laura Kane in Vancouver

News from © The Canadian Press, 2019
The Canadian Press

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