Speaker says the return of taxpayer money improperly claimed by former clerk Craig James wasn’t part of retirement settlement.
Speaker Darryl Plecas says B.C. taxpayers shouldn’t expect the legislature to recover money improperly claimed by its former clerk, who abruptly retired Thursday following the release of a report supporting allegations of misconduct against him.
Craig James announced his retirement after a report by former chief justice Beverley McLachlin found that James had committed misconduct with respect to four of eight allegations made by Plecas earlier this year.
The misconduct included making improper expense claims for personal purchases, directing the creation of three benefits for his own advantage outside established protocols and improperly removing legislative assembly property including a wood-splitter and a load of alcohol.
James received a $257,988 retirement benefit payout in 2012 and spent money on items for his personal use, including $2,250 worth of suits and $2,136 worth of luggage.
Plecas said Friday that a non-financial retirement settlement reached between the legislative assembly and James goes both ways, meaning that James doesn’t have to pay back the money for the retirement payout, suits and luggage.
“It’s my understanding the agreement that was struck, with regard to Mr. James’s retirement, was a non-monetary agreement, which meant that no money was paid to him and he wasn’t paying any back,” Plecas said Friday. “Why that’s the case, I have no idea, but that’s the way it is.”
Plecas, who wasn’t involved in negotiations for the settlement, said he learned that repayment of the retirement benefit had to be sought by a certain date and was not, which was the legislative assembly’s rationale for making the agreement non-monetary.
The house leaders for the three parties in the legislature could not be reached for comment on Friday.
“I think I made my position clear a long time ago, that any money that was taken when there was no legal reason to have it should be paid back,” Plecas said.
James could not be reached Friday. However, in a letter Thursday he called for the legislative assembly to publicly release letters and evidence he submitted in response to the allegations. He signed the settlement to spare himself and his family from any further pain and humiliation, he said.
NDP government house leader Mike Farnworth said the settlement will still entitle James to his public sector pension, under employment law.
Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, who also stood accused of wrongdoing, did not violate the terms of his employment., McLachlin ruled. He remains suspended with pay.
Meantime, Plecas said he awaits the outcomes of three more probes at the legislature, including an independent workplace review, a forensic audit by Auditor General Carol Bellringer, and an investigation by the RCMP.
An B.C. RCMP spokeswoman, Dawn Roberts, said the police investigation, which will conclude with findings being presented to a pair of special prosecutors, continues.
“We’re quite mindful of the expectations and timelines with regard to the legislature community and the public,” Roberts said.