Initial findings of a probe into payment claims by Strathcona Regional District directors have uncovered a “significant number” of claims by the Quadra Island director that still need to be verified.
In May the board received its annual Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) report, which outlines expenses and remuneration for elected officials and staff making over $75,000 per year. At the time, it moved to conduct an independent audit of the director remuneration and expenses after some directors expressed concern about the amount of variance in their amounts claimed.
Six directors made claims for meetings, all of which were verified by staff except for 80 claims by Area C (Discovery Island and Mainland Inlets) director Jim Abram. Abram made the most claims of any director with 119. Director Andy Adams claimed two meetings, Director Colleen Evans claimed six, Director Claire Moglove claimed three, Director Brad Unger claimed 12 and Director Gerald Whalley claimed one, each of which were verified by SRD staff.
“It was really easy to take five of the six directors and verify and validate their attendance,” chief administrator David Leitch said in the SRD board meeting on July 13. “With Director Abram there is a number of challenges we face.”
The director remuneration bylaw allows directors to claim $160 for meetings related to external agency appointments, meetings with either the chief administrative officer or senior management of government and other agencies, and town hall meetings.
Staff looked at a period between December, 2020 and March 31, 2022. They looked first at meetings that could be easily verified by staff, such as regional district meetings or meeting minutes that the regional district could access. Meetings that were more difficult to validate were flagged for more investigation in the report. The town hall meetings and meetings with senior levels of government were also left for further examination.
Leitch also said that without further information from the director, staff would be unable to come to any conclusions about the matter. Unger and vice chair Claire Moglove will be meeting with Abram to gather more information on his claims and will report on their findings to the board at the August 17 meeting.
The initial motion called for the audit to be independent. However, Unger said that staff would be involved in much of the process anyway and that “we decided to get some information, bring it back to the board for further direction.”
Abram provided the Mirror with documentation verifying 14 of the meetings. He did not send verification for other meetings due to the confidentiality of other participants, he said.
He said he would be providing that information to Unger and Moglove.
Despite much of the discussion at the meeting and the content of the report itself surrounding Abram, Unger said that the report was about all directors who made claims over the past two years.
“It wasn’t just director Abram. It was any director’s claims would be looked at from the SOFI report. Anybody who put claims in were looked at. Because it was on the SOFI report, it’s all in the open,” he said.
Abram acknowledged that he does attend “an excessive number of meetings compared to other directors,” but said that it was because his area has “more issues that are requiring attention.
“That’s just the way it is, I can’t help it,” he said. “You have no way of knowing how much work goes into this job. It’s a 24/7 job that never ends.”
“Yes, I do a lot of work. I am not begrudging others as to what they do. They do their own work however they want to do it. I shouldn’t be punished for how I do it. I’m doing it within the very specific wording of the bylaw,” he said.
“Every single one of those is following the bylaw, and that’s what I’m going to prove to our chair and vice chair.
“I’m not going to apologize to anybody for working hard. I know other directors work hard in their own right. I decide in my own mind that a meeting is a meeting is a meeting and it requires compensation, and I claim for it.”