File photo.

File photo.

Concern over former Thompson-Nicola Regional District CAO’s spending leads to financial review

The review expected to take about three months to complete and cost between $50,000 and $75,000

  • Mar. 15, 2021 1:19 p.m.

-Kamloops This Week

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District board has approved an independent third-party financial review in expenditures over the past half-decade.

Staff will issue a request for proposals, with the review expected to take about three months to complete and cost between $50,000 and $75,000. The TNRD’s audit committee met this week and made recommendations, suggesting a review be conducted by an independent third party and encompass the expenses of all senior management and board directors from 2015 to 2020. If irregularities are found, it could go back farther in time, the board heard. The review will include examination of reporting, approval systems in place at the time and potential improvements to policies and processes.

Furthermore, the review is expected to be more thorough than a typical annual audit and “forensic” in nature.

The review comes in the wake of a KTW investigation into spending at the TNRD from 2015 to January 2020 via the regional district-issued credit card of then-CAO Sukh Gill. Receipts from that time period show numerous charges for parties and to coffee shops, high-end restaurants, wineries, luxury hotels and liquor stores.

Gill left the regional district suddenly in February 2020 with a $500,000-plus payout and a legal agreement mandating his exit be called a “retirement.”

TNRD CAO Scott Hildebrand, who joined the TNRD last September, said during Thursday’s (March 11) board meeting that questions have been raised about whether some past transactions by the TNRD should have been incurred on the taxpayers’ dime and whether they were appropriate. He said his expectation as CAO is to continue to do business in a “cost-effective” and “fully transparent” way, with oversights and safeguards. He said the review process would be led by himself and legislative services director Deanna Campbell with “full impartiality.”

“This will become our priority, with the goal to move this along as quickly as possible, while ensuring things are done right,” Hildebrand said.

The final terms of reference will be brought back to the board and the end result will be a report coming back to the board and public.

Kamloops Coun. Arjun Singh wondered if the money could be better spent on work not already done and reiterated he feels “quite strongly” that a lot of the expenses reported are legitimate.

“There’s obviously spending that nobody can really defend, but I mean the $500,000 top line number there is actually not the number that is salient, in my view, in terms of public concerns,” Singh said.

Hildebrand said given the awareness and media exposure in recent weeks, it needs to go a third party for that judgment.

“I just feel that would be an appropriate next step to be as fully transparent as possible,” he said.

Singh asked if the third party report would be released without “massaging” from the regional district. Hildebrand replied: “That is my understanding, but of course that would be the direction of the board.”

Sun Peaks Mayor Al Raine expressed support for a review. He said that while board members may feel comfortable with policy changes, an independent review could bring forward items the board may not be aware of and things that could have been done better.

“It think we owe that to the public to make sure they understand clearly that this is an open review and if they discover things that we’re not aware of, there are other changes that we will have to make,” he said. “I don’t think we should be comfortable by saying we knew that some changes had to be made, we made some changes and kind of everything’s all right. We’re doing this because we want to make sure that absolutely everything’s all right.”

Singh also said he did not wish to see a forensic audit occur annually. Chair Ken Gillis said he believes the forensic audit will show processes put in place since the expenses came to light and negate need for such an audit in the future. Coun. Mike O’Reilly said he hopes a third party review will give confidence to the public that the board is taking it “extremely seriously.”

“I think it’s very important to rebuild confidence and trust in the TNRD and how we move forward and I think it’s imperative that we do this now and, hopefully, we take these recommendations that we get from it to heart and we can chart a path forward,” he said.

Only one board director, Cache Creek Mayor Santo Talarico, opposed the review. He told KTW he is in favour of a financial review or audit in principle, but thinks the optics of the board setting out terms of the review will render the results unacceptable to the public. He said the goal should be instilling confidence in the regional district, arguing an independent outside group should put the review criteria together.

Directors push for increased transparency on spending

TNRD Area P (Rivers and the Peaks) director Mel Rothenburger suggested quarterly reporting on credit card expenses and other expenses submitted by directors and staff for reimbursement so it would be available freely to the media and public online at any time.

“As opposed to the current annual reports, which only give totals, and the amount of information is fairly basic in those,” he said. “I’m saying I think we would be better to provide a much more detailed report and not just on an annual basis, but quarterly or perhaps even monthly. That’s looking forward as opposed to looking back, which is the current conversation.”

Raine noted expenditures for federal MPs are listed on a government website. He said it is a requirement for the expenses to be made public, with precedent at the federal government level.

TNRD finance director Doug Rae said more reporting and detail should be provided to the board on expenses. He said in the past he has reported on all expenses and revenues for the entire organization and the feedback received was that it was “too much.” He suggested focusing in on areas on which the board wants to keep a closer eye. He said he is in support of that initiative, but cautioned it might result in additional finance staff.

“I’d like to provide more work, more reporting,” Rae said. “It may require some more resources in order to keep up with the workload.”

Rae agreed to bring back a plan on that matter.

READ MORE: Taxpayer-funded, two-drink maximum gets nod from Thompson-Nicola Regional Board

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Kamloops

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The RCMP were called to the Alchemy Studio on Thursday, April 8. (Contributed)
Revelstoke yoga class fined for defying COVID-19 orders

The RCMP were called to the Alchemy Studio on April 8

The Royal’s 1959 visit to Revelstoke. (Photo by Revelstoke Museum and Archives #17)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip visited Revelstoke – twice

The prince died April 9 at the age of 99

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

Bart and Tracey Larson enjoying a Begbie Cream Ale. The couple have been together for 40 years. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
The art of really good beer: Mt. Begbie Brewing celebrates 25 years

Owners Bart and Tracey Larson reflect on their company’s history

Three Lake Country men were fined a total of $11,000 in Kelowna Provincial Court April 8, 2021, for illegally hunting two bull moose in Vernon in 2017, and another two moose in Revelstoke in 2019. (Dave Rothwell Photography)
Three Lake Country men fined $11K total for poaching moose in Vernon, Revelstoke

Four bull moose in total were killed illegally in separate ‘party hunting’ incidents in 2017 and 2019

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.[CDC]
More COVID-19 exposures reported at schools in Kelowna

Interior Health added additional schools and dates to their list of exposures

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Sun Peaks is tracking rising COVID-19 cases. (Kamloops This Week Photo)
Sun Peaks sees spike in COVID-19 cases at end of ski season

On April 9, there were 15 positive cases confirmed.

Most Read