Suspended legislature officials planned another trip: documents
Published Friday, February 22, 2019 6:29PM PST
Last Updated Friday, February 22, 2019 7:13PM PST
The year after suspended legislature officials allegedly disguised a baseball game and a whale watching tour as "emergency planning" meetings in Washington state, they planned to head down again for the third time in five years, documents say.
Less than a month after Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were publicly walked out of government buildings in Victoria in an ongoing expense scandal, Lenz was scheduled to present in Olympia, a draft meeting agenda shows.
The subject of the meeting? Emergency planning – the same theme for two previous visits to Washington state, as well as visits as far away as Scotland, whose expenses were all billed to taxpayers.
"The same people going to the same conference in all different parts, talking about the same thing. Once you've learned to ride a bike why do you need to keep on learning? It doesn't make sense to me," said Alan Mullen, the Chief of Staff of B.C. Speaker Darryl Plecas.
Plecas has now authored two reports that make astounding allegations of Lenz and James living large on the public dime, pointing to thousands of dollars spent on suits, luxury dinners, gifts, magazine subscriptions and a wood splitter that was photographed outside James's home.
James and Lenz have both maintained they did nothing wrong, and they have not been charged with a crime. A special prosecutor is guiding an RCMP investigation.
Their first Washington state trip was in 2013, recalled Bernard Dean, Chief Clerk of the Washington state House of Representatives, based on learning about how the legislature responded to the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake.
The 6.8 magnitude quake damaged the capitol building, Dean said. Then in 2017, they wanted to come again, he said.
"Given their earlier visit they had expressed an interest in bringing down a delegation from LABCoN," Dean said, referring to a group called the "Legislative Assemblies Business Continuity Network.
"Apparently that has met frequently in Commonwealth countries. They had requested we provide a briefing."
Dean said no one from Washington state was on the rest of the trip, which has drawn fire from Plecas.
An agenda describes the LABCoN members going on a "Tsunami Watch" which Plecas said is actually a Whale watching tour that cost taxpayers $1024.
And a seminar entitled "Safe Passages: Large-Scale Evacuations" was set at SafeCo Field, where the government paid for 13 tickets to the Mariners game for attendees, which included the wives of Lenz and James. Those tickets cost $1,073.32, Plecas said.
And three "working dinners" cost $3,601.01, Plecas said, who has described the trips as "de facto vacations."
James has described the trips as "valuable fact-finding and collaborative visits" which helped officials learn about emergency techniques.
In the draft agenda for the Dec. 14, 2018 meeting, provided to CTV News through a Freedom of Information Act Request in Washington, Gary Lenz is presenting a structured discussion of threat assessments.
There was a lunch provided, and dinner is suggested as a social event – but Washington state officials were expected to foot the bill for their own dinner, Linda Kent of the state's Department of Enterprise Services said.
"The dinner would have been each individual paying their own way," she said.