$370k ‘resignation benefit’ for now retired Legislature clerk should be investigated: McLachlin

The benefit was drafted by clerk Craig James but rescinded by Speaker Darryl Plecas. However, report finds administrative authority is unclear

Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of B.C. Craig James has retired and reached a “non-financial settlement” with the B.C. government following findings of misconduct, House Leader Mike Farnworth announced Thursday (May 16).

It’s unclear if that settlement addresses a one-year, or $370,315, “resignation benefit” James penned himself just over a year ago.

article continues below

The announcement inside the House came as the Legislative Assembly released an independent fact-finding report that found James had engaged in four counts of misconduct related to spending taxpayers’ money and property.

The report by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Beverley McLachlin cited significant concerns in how the Legislative Assembly functions and how its senior officials are accounted for.

James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz are subject to a police investigation following allegations last November from Speaker of the House Darryl Plecas that the two misused Legislative Assembly assets. Lenz remains under the RCMP probe but was informally cleared of any misconduct by McLachlin’s report, which made no legal conclusions.

McLachlin found some allegations had no merit, including alleged double dipping travel expenses by MLA Linda Reid and an alleged attempt by James to cover it up. In addition, McLachlin was critical of Plecas’ methods in bringing forward  the allegations, which led to the two men being escorted out of the Legislature building by police on Nov. 20, 2018.

Among the most significant findings against James is a series of benefits that James seemingly drew up on his own. These include a retirement benefit, a resignation benefit and a death benefit.

James was found by McLachlin to have engaged in misconduct by “directing the creation of three benefits to his personal advantage outside of established protocols.”

In April 2018, James drafted a resignation benefit by letter whereby four senior Legislature officials would be granted one year’s salary upon resignation. For James, this amounted to $370,315. Plecas – who initially signed James’ letter for evidence of misconduct – rescinded the benefit in June 2018.

James was found not to have consulted with anyone, including the Legislative Management Assembly Committee, and McLachlin concluded the letter violated Legislative Assembly policies and procedures and thus constitutes misconduct.

But despite it being rescinded, McLachlin said the Legislative Assembly “should investigate the financial consequences of the April 9, 2018, letter setting out the 2018 Resignation Benefit,” in part because of Plecas’ “failure to properly review or consult with Human Resources.”

McLachlin concluded MLAs should clarify a number of matters related to the way the Legislative Assembly operates.

“There is a lack of clarity regarding who has authority for administrative matters at the Legislative Assembly,” concluded McLachlin.

In a media scrum, Farnworth said James would be given a “standard employment release.”

Glacier Media has reached out to the Speaker’s office and James’ lawyer for comment.

However, another benefit appears to be off the table for James now that he is retired: that of a nearly $900,000 death benefit (while working), penned by James in another letter.

“Given there is no formal requirement for such benefits to be approved by specific departments or the LMAC, and given the Speaker possesses delegated approval authority for large expenditures, it is possible (I do not offer a legal opinion on this) that his signature suffices to establish liability for this amount.”

McLachlin stated it “behoves the Legislative Assembly” to determine what financial liabilities James has created.

James did receive a retirement benefit that he administered himself back in 2012.

Despite apparent red flags, James “turned a blind eye” to whether or not the $257,899 retirement bonus had any foundation to it, said McLachlin.

“He abdicated his responsibilities to make sure the payments were proper,” stated McLachlin.

The benefit was once given to employees but was rescinded in 1987, and employees, including James, were given a 10% pay increase in lieu. But James somehow determined in 2012 he was entitled to the benefit, in part due to an unclear legal opinion.

The clerk acts as the CEO of the Legislative precinct, whereas the Sergeant-at-Arms is responsible for its maintenance and security, as well as oversight of conduct by staff within the Legislature, McLachlin noted.

James also engaged in misconduct by charging travel expenses, such as two suits ($2,150), luggage ($2,135) and insurance premiums, to the Legislature, McLachlin found.

James had contended in interviews with McLachlin that he was trying to update the Legislature’s dress policy and establish a “luggage bank” for MLAs. McLachlin didn’t buy the arguments.

McLachlin did allow for James’ explanations to purchase over $5,000 in electronics between April 2017 and July 2018. She noted the line between personal and business use “may be difficult to track.”

Further misconduct was found when James removed alcohol belonging to the Legislative Assembly. No repayment slips had been produced by James, noted McLachlin.

As for a much talked about wood splitter that was purchased on the recommendation of Lenz and James, McLachlin found that the purchase itself was not misconduct, but James taking it home and using it for personal use was.

"It is hard to understand what was going through Mr. James' mind," she wrote.

McLachlin disagreed with concerns from Plecas that five international trips from August 2017 to August 2018 were excessive. And again she noted that some expenses that bordered on a personal nature could be justified.

And although James was cashing out one vacation day for every 2.5 he took (Lenz cashed out one for every seven days), McLachlin found no explicit wrong doing, including for taking time in lieu.

McLachlin found no wrongdoing by MLA Reid, as travel receipts appeared in line despite allegations from a former constituency staff member that they were not.

McLachlin was critical of Plecas for acting more like an investigator than the top administrator of the Legislative Assembly.

“It is not entirely clear why the Speaker did not bring his concerns to the attention of the Clerk and the Sergeant-at-Arms forthwith, as one would expect of a supervisory officer.”

Instead, Plecas admitted to initially going along with James’ spending sprees to build a case against him and Lenz. Plecas told McLachlin that he felt James was too powerful to first air his concerns to him directly. Witnesses corroborated this point to McLachlin.

gwood@glaciermedia.ca

Read Related Topics

© Copyright Bridge River Lillooet News

Read more from the Glacier Media

Question of the Week POLL

What do you think of Elizabeth May allowing her candidates to freely express their positions on abortion?

or  view results