Misconduct probe approved

Two suspended officials at British Columbia's legislature now face an independent misconduct review as well as an ongoing RCMP investigation.

Members of the all-party Legislative Assembly Management Committee voted unanimously Thursday to appoint a top legal official to determine whether clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz breached their administrative duties.

Lenz and James have been suspended with pay since November after members of the legislature learned of an RCMP investigation and the appointment of two special prosecutors.

A 76-page report last month by Speaker Darryl Plecas outlined allegations of spending abuses by James and Lenz that included lavish foreign trips, clothing perks and topped up retirement and vacation pay outs.

"I think we have a path forward," said Plecas after the committee meeting. "I'm extremely happy of the decision to have a jurist who will do an independent review. I'm assuming that's going to be a rather quick path and we'll have to see where it all lands."

James and Lenz have denied any wrongdoing and responded in writing earlier to the allegations.

The committee voted unanimously Thursday to publicly release a second report by Plecas that responds to James and Lenz.

"The responses from Mr. James and Mr. Lenz attempt to create a contest of evidence between me and them, but that is not what this is about," says the second Plecas report.

Plecas's report says his reports are supported by the accounts of more than a dozen witnesses who worked with Lenz and James at the legislature for years.

"Why are these positions so lacking in accountability and oversight compared to the conduct of employees and officials working elsewhere in government?" says the report. "Why are these officers travelling all over the world like dignitaries, spending enormous amounts of money and justifying it all by their bare assurances that the events were useful?"

Plecas is chairman of the eight-member, all-party committee that oversees management at the legislature, which has a budget of $83 million.

The legislature's three house leaders — New Democrat Mike Farnworth, Liberal Mary Polak and Green Sonia Furstenau — attended a joint news conference at the end of the committee meeting.

"All three parties around that table take this issue very seriously," said Farnworth. "We take the institution very seriously and we worked together to come up with a way forward."

The committee also voted to appoint auditor general Carol Bellringer to conduct a full audit of the legislature's finances. The committee voted late last year to assign that work to an outsider auditor, bypassing Bellringer.

Last November, the members of the legislature voted unanimously to put Lenz and James on administrative leave after learning of an RCMP investigation.

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