B.C. house leaders review suspended officials’ responses to alleged overspending

B.C. house leaders review suspended officials' responses to alleged overspending

B.C. legislature sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and clerk of the legislature Craig James. File photo.

Suspended B.C. legislature sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and clerk of the legislature Craig James. File photo.

British Columbia’s house leaders in the legislature say they will thoroughly consider written responses by two officials to a report that alleged they had engaged in flagrant overspending and questionable expenses.

Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and clerk of the house Craig James submitted their responses to the report by Speaker Darryl Plecas on Thursday and denied any wrongdoing in statements to the media.

New Democrat House Leader Mike Farnworth, Liberal House Leader Mary Polak and Green House Leader Sonia Furstenau issued a brief joint statement on Friday confirming they had received the responses.

“The house leaders will review the written responses with thorough consideration of their contents,” they said.

“Any decisions with respect to their release or the status of the two permanent officers will be made after careful consideration of the information provided, and in accordance with legal advice received.”

The house leaders added they will not be making any further comment at this time.

The leaders all sit on the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, which is chaired by the Speaker.

The committee is responsible for the financial accounting of the legislature.

Plecas said Friday that the committee will decide whether to publicly release the two officials’ written responses to his report and members are working on scheduling a meeting next week.

Lenz and James have said they want the responses to be made public.

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

Two special prosecutors have been appointed to assist the RCMP in the investigation.

Plecas said he could not say how many people are the target of the police probe.

The RCMP said in a statement that details of the investigation are not shared outside of the police team and will be part of the findings provided to the special prosecutors for charge assessment.

Dawn Roberts, director in charge of B.C. RCMP communications, said police were not in the position to confirm any details in the active investigation.

“We have no timeline with respect to the conclusion of our investigation,” she added.

The B.C. Public Prosecution Service said it had no comment.

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

James said in his statement on Thursday he has not done anything wrong that justifies the actions taking against him, or the “unfair and prejudicial manner” in which the actions have been taken.

Lenz said he responded to each and every allegation contained in the report by Plecas.

“I have maintained from the day when I was publicly removed from my position and the legislative buildings under police escort that I have committed no wrongdoing,” he said in his statement.

“The negative impact this has had on me and my family is immeasurable.”

Lenz said he still hopes to resume his duties at the legislature and be “quickly exonerated.”

When the committee voted to release the Speaker’s report last month, it also agreed to launch an audit of legislature financial issues, conduct a workplace review and submit that report to an auditor from outside of B.C.

On Tuesday, the government said it will implement accountability reforms at the legislature after three independent watchdogs called for sweeping changes to restore public confidence.

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said the government will work with the information and privacy commissioner, merit commissioner and ombudsperson to ensure new rules to monitor the legislature and its officials are enacted.

Auditor general Carol Bellringer has also started an audit and said last week she has concerns about why a rigorous system already in place did not pick up on the alleged irregularities outlined by Plecas.

Story by Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

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