FVRD director ordered to return funds to district

At least one director will have to reimburse the Fraser Valley Regional District for expenses he failed to support during an audit.

Directors at the Fraser Valley Regional District who failed to support some expenses during a recent audit must reimburse the district, the board of directors decided at the last meeting.

This ruling will concern at least Area B director Dennis Adamson. Adamson underwent an audit earlier this year of his 2011 and 2012 expenses after failing to provide supporting documents for claims of $28,545 incurred in 2011.

After the completion of the audit in July 2013, Adamson still had expenses of $1,545 that could not be explained.

The regional district paid out all expenses to Adamson during the year they were incurred.

At the FVRD board meeting on Sept. 25, Abbotsford municipal director John Smith moved that costs that couldn’t be justified through the audit be reimbursed back to FVRD.

“We have to be totally transparent. We have to be held up to scrutiny, public scrutiny, and it may not be a huge amount to the size of the budget of the FVRD, but it’s the principle of the thing,” said Smith.

Smith referred to the ongoing investigation of senator Pamela Wallin’s expenses. Wallin has already paid back over $140,000 to the government.

“The reality is, they paid it back anyway. Maybe under protest, but they paid it back. And I think that should be done,” said Smith.

The final amount to be returned to FVRD is still to be determined, as is the final list of directors concerned. Area C Director Wendy Bales was the other elected official who faced a stringent audit of 2011 and 2012 expenses after she didn’t provide supporting documents for 2011 expenses of $14,032 in due time. Bales passed the audit with no leftover balance.

FVRD staff are currently determining the final amount to be returned, are discussing with affected directors, and will report back to the board in a future meeting.

Directors were feeling the pressure of a public spotlight on spending by elected officials at the Sept. 25 meeting.

“The public perception nationwide – there’s a lot of skepticism, cynicism about politicians in general…I think it behooves us to really be vigilant and even more careful about it,” said Abbotsford municipal director Dave Loewen.

A heated discussion ignited about cost of travel.

Directors are reimbursed for travel at $0.52 per km for scheduled meetings. On top of that, they can claim up to 400 km per month for meetings with constituents.

The discretionary amount does not vary according to the size of the electoral district, a challenge for some directors.

“Area B is geographically a lot larger in size, and you pay extra so that the director can meet with his or her constituents. The only way that we can guarantee access is to top it up,” said Adamson.

Bales said that she has been using her personal savings to cover the cost of constituency travel.

On Sept. 29, 2013, the FVRD revoked a long-standing policy to top up Area B’s travel expenses by an additional $5,000 per year, and director David Lamson’s Area E by $350. Although Adamson used the full additional credit every year, Lamson has not claimed his in recent years.

Director Bill Dickey, overseeing a smaller Area D, said the discretionary 400 km per month is sufficient and generous.

“For someone such as myself, I never claim anything in this regard, and I shouldn’t, because I’ve got a very compact area,” said Dickey. “People such as director Adamson, obviously, are in a different situation. That’s why this (discretionary amount) was put in place.”

The board of directors resolved to adopt a new travel expense policy that laid out guidelines of distances between the regional office and electoral district offices, reaffirmed that supporting documents are needed for all claims, approved an electronic tracking sheet for mileage, and abolished the top-up credit of $5,000 for large areas.

Chair Sharon Gaetz was pleased with the results.

“It feels like today, the accountabilities are tightening,” she said.

Chief Administrative Officer Paul Gipps remains confident that these policy changes mark a new era in FVRD accountability.

“Their (the directors’) interpretation of what was allowed, and the board’s interpretation of what was allowed, was differing. I’d say that’s very clear now. It’s very clear to staff what we should accept and what we shouldn’t accept,” said Gipps. “I’m very comfortable in saying that the likelihood of this happening again is basically nil.”

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