Recognition of volunteers and politicians in the region may be scaled back in the future as the Thompson-Nicola Regional District’s new policy review committee looks at amendments.
The proposed policy revisions come in the wake of a KTW investigation into spending at the regional district between 2015 and 2020, which included about $4,200 spent on wine and cakes for a volunteer appreciation event and hundreds of dollars spent on a gold diamond necklace for a longtime director upon retirement.
On Thursday (June 17), the TNRD’s policy review committee met and discussed investigation by staff into policy gaps that exist at the regional district.
The TNRD’s director of legislative services, Deanna Campbell, said staff investigated policies at a dozen other regional districts. Policies suggested for change included volunteer and directors service recognition programs.
Meanwhile, the TNRD does not have policies for travel expenses and procurement, the latter of which was described to the committee as the “top priority,” but one that will not be addressed until the completion of a forensic audit now underway.
Currently, TNRD policy allows recognition of volunteers — individuals and those belonging to community groups and societies that benefit the community and board by participating in a program that provides a service within a municipal or TNRD boundary and is not paid.
That recognition is through an appreciation banquet and awards ceremony during an annual out of town meeting.
Campbell said the TNRD pays for volunteers and partners to attend the banquet, as well as gifts of various monetary amounts based on years per service, up to $200 for 35-plus years of service.
Other regional districts provide certificates of appreciation or recognition of service published during Volunteer Week in local media, Campbell said.
TNRD director Bill Kershaw said over the last few years, the volunteer banquet became “very expensive.” No stipulations on dinner cost is outlined in the policy. According to purchases charged to former CAO Sukh Gill’s credit card, prior to his departure in February 2020, one such volunteer appreciation event involved about $4,200 spent in 2018 on wine and cake. Gill’s credit card expenses show 240 bottles of wine purchased from Monte Creek Ranch Winery at a cost of about $2,800 and 91 cakes purchased from the North Shore Safeway at a cost of about $1,400.
Kershaw said he would like to continue recognizing volunteers, but noted recognition need not be elaborate.
“I think we really have to look at the cost of the banquets as such,” Kershaw said. “It became out of hand.”
Similarly, the board discussed revisions to policy outlining recognition for directors. Current policy stipulates: “The chair will recognize individual directors who leave their position as a director on the TNRD board following their term(s) of service with a gift based on the amount of $25 per year as a member of the board.”
Campbell said such policy was uncommon, found only at two other regional districts. One provided a certificate of appreciation to politicians for up to seven years of service and a gift valued at $200 for two terms or longer.
Gill’s expenses also showed former regional district director and Kamloops councillor Pat Wallace received a 18-karat white gold necklace with a 14-karat diamond, valued at $997, when she retired in 2018. She was required to pay $222 toward the cost. Retiring staff members over the years also received iPads, laptops and a Vitamix blender.
TNRD Area P (Rivers and the Peaks) director Mel Rothenburger suggested board directors not receive gifts because they are already compensated for their work.
“I don’t think they’re necessary and I think a ‘thank you and see you around’ is entirely sufficient,” Rothenburger said.
Kamloops Coun. Dale Bass and Area B (Thompson Headwaters) director Stephen Quinn agreed. Quinn said gifts don’t look good to the public, noting a framed certificate would suffice.
“I would say dump it,” he said of the TNRD’s practise of politician gift-giving.
Barriere Mayor Ward Stamer, however, argued he is not in his job for the money and, despite public perception, significant time and effort goes into the role. TNRD chair Ken Gillis said directors take time out of their lives to be devoted to public service. He said gifts do not have to be extravagant, but argued some sort of recognition is “appropriate.”
Policy review committee chair and Kamloops Coun. Kathy Sinclair said she thinks a dollar limit should be set between $150 to $200 in the future. Ashcroft Mayor Barbara Roden suggested the TNRD provide branded artisan gifts as a way to support local artisans and reflect the region.
The committee heard staff are considering a TNRD gift catalogue featuring logowear and art pieces as recognition for years of service, to be selected by individuals. TNRD CAO Scott Hildebrand said past practices lacked consistency, noting such a catalogue would be fair across all areas of the organization.