The Kamloops Voters Society and the Rural Rights Association of BC are calling on the provincial government to get involved in reviewing spending at the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.
In a letter to Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne, the groups ask that the minister become involved in reviewing timelines and how interactions and behaviour of the board contributed to spending irregularities, such as alcohol charges, gift cards, meal and appetizer expenditures and gifts.
The letter was submitted to the ministry at the end of March and comes as a result of a KTW investigation into spending at the regional district. It also comes after the TNRD in March asked the RCMP to investigate potential financial irregularities.
The letter suggests a review should go back 20 years, rather than the five years approved by the board, which is also the time span studied by KTW.
Kamloops Voters Society board member Randy Sunderman said the group wants the provincial ministry involved due to concerns over an inability for the regional district to remain at an arm’s length distance from a probe the board has initiated.
“I want the ministry to take responsibility for administering [the review],” Sunderman said, suggesting the TNRD give money to the ministry to hire a consultant for the review and leave the board and CAO out of the process.
“They [ministry] would be responsible for determining what information the consultant would have access to, so the data. And the third thing would be the ministry would be responsible for communications, so they would decide what is communicated out from the consultant’s findings.”
Sunderman said the TNRD’s CAO and board at least appear “tainted,” due to board members on the other end of spending via former CAO Sukh Gill’s credit card.
KTW previously detailed more than a half-million dollars of expenditures charged to Gill’s taxpayer-funded credit card between 2015 and 2020, including charges at high-end restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, liquor stores and wineries.
Sunderman provided one scenario of concern. He said the TNRD’s consultant could find wrongdoings of board members during its review of TNRD spending, with the information then reported through the CAO to the board and communicated by the TNRD.
The letter questions whether policy and organizational cultural issues will arise in a forensic audit, with implications on provincial and municipal taxpayers. It suggests that lessons learned in such a review by the province could “contribute to better fiscal practices for all municipal and regional district governments in British Columbia going forward.”
Another request by the groups is for the province to investigate $117,000 in overtime paid to Gill for work done during floods and fires in 2017, which came on top of his regular salary that year of $206,000.
“There was over 100 days between fire and floods and each of those days were probably 14-, 15-hour days, and it was seven days a week,” Gill told KTW in July 2018.
Sunderman said provincial government employees take time in lieu for such work and volunteers put in countless hours helping out in the city during the two emergencies.
“It seemed with the TNRD, they felt that they had the opportunity to really spend money on the province’s dime — and so they did,” Sunderman said.
KTW reached out to the province and asked for an interview with Osborne to discuss the spending, overtime pay and voter concerns, but the request was declined. An emailed statement said local governments operate independently and are responsible and accountable to their communities on fiscal matters, including expenses and accounting practices.
“It’s important that all elected officials and staff of any local government understand their codes of conduct and their obligations under the Financial Information Act and follow the law and these rules,” the statement reads.
The ministry directed questions to the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.
“We understand they are bringing in a third-party auditor to provide an independent assessment and look forward to seeing the report. We also know the RCMP are conducting their own investigation and we won’t comment until these investigations have been completed.”
Meanwhile, another group, dubbing itself Politics Kamloops, has drafted a motion calling on the City of Kamloops to update its conflict of interest rules, with monitoring via an independent anonymous tip line and ethics officer, independent from city staff and elected officials.