A Fraser Valley Regional District director is under fire for claiming over $28,000 of public funds for travel expenses — double that of the next highest director — without a single receipt or other supporting document.
Dennis Adamson and Wendy Bales are the only two directors who have not yet provided supporting documents for their 2011 travel expenses, after the board concluded an audit last year.
“We weren’t told to keep receipts,” Adamson said outside of the board meeting last Tuesday.
The 2011 audit reviewed the travel expenses of 38 officials. Adamson’s were the highest at $28,546. Bales’ were second highest, at $14,032. Following them, two officials came in at around $12,000, and seven were between $6,500 and $1,000, 13 people below $1,000, and 14 people at $0. Most directors who did not claim any FVRD travel expenses for 2011 sit on city councils in addition to the FVRD board, and charge their expenses to the city, says Adamson.
As part of the audit, both Adamson and Bales received notices on Sept. 18, 2012 requesting details on the nature of their trips to Chilliwack, Vancouver, and other locations.
An official memo from Jan. 13, 2013 indicates that neither has provided the information, because Adamson “lost his 2011 calendar in which he logged all the details of his meetings,” and Bales was searching for her documents at home.
Chilliwack mayor Sharon Gaetz, who is also chair of the FVRD board of directors, is the driving force behind the audit. She says the undocumented expenses are a matter of transparency and responsibility to taxpayers.
“This has been an ongoing discussion within FVRD the last couple of years, where directors are fed up with what we see to be an abuse,” says Gaetz. She wants to find out whether Adamson and Bales will need to pay back the expense claims if they can’t find the supporting documents.
The two directors, on their part, insist that they tried to submit supporting documents several times in the last few months, but the FVRD head office cancelled the auditor meetings. Now they are being unfairly targeted.
“Wendy (Bales) and I usually vote total opposite to the rest of the board. We both ran for the NDP. This is politically motivated, and we’ve never walked away from (the audit). We’ve done nothing wrong, and all we’ve done is serve our people to the best of our ability, within the rules that they told us,” says Adamson.
Bales insists that she has her documents ready to submit.
“I almost welcome the auditor to go through all my paperwork, because sometimes the implied guilt will last forever on the agendas,” she told the FVRD board last Tuesday.
Adamson and Bales oversee the two largest FVRD areas. Adamson logged 35,740 km in 2011, the equivalent of driving from Vancouver to Halifax six times. Bales logged a comparatively modest 10,536 km. She lives 112 km from her office, she says, and the mileage is equivalent to 47 return trips.
“My area is a very big geographical area. I have seven communities, eight Indian bands, so there’s a lot of travel,” explains Adamson, who says he was elected because he is very responsive to community requests, and treats the under $16,000 per year position as a full-time job. Both directors were on the most number of committees, until the board removed them from most last month.
The FVRD board of directors has approved Gaetz’ request for an audit of only Adamson and Bales’ 2012 travel expenses.
The board is also reviewing the existing travel expense policy, according to which directors can claim accommodation, meals, per diems, and mileage of 52 cents per driven kilometre for the first 5,000 km, and 46 cents thereafter. Receipts are explicitly required only for meal expenses and “other” travel costs, such as parking.
Most reimbursements are done immediately that a director submits the one-page expense claim form. The Jan. 2013 memo notes that finance staff are in an “awkward” position when approving expense claims “due to the imbalance of power” between themselves and the elected director.