TNRD board debates the right to expense alcohol at events

·5 min read

There was extensive debate amongst the TNRD Board of Directors at the regular meeting on March 25 about whether or not taxpayers should be on the hook for the alcoholic beverages enjoyed by board members and staff at functions and events.

A new Hospitality Policy was approved by the board on Nov. 7, 2019. This Policy stated that for all TNRD hosted events, beer and wine would be provided in limited amounts and in limited circumstances at the discretion of the CAO and Board Chair.

An additional amendment was made at the July 16, 2020 board meeting which stipulated that costs for guests or partners of invitees at all TNRD hosted events would be the responsibility of the invitee; with the exception that the Chair and Vice-Chair be given the discretion to vary from the Policy for special guests, including VIP attendees or dignitaries and their guests. The Policy was also updated to state that alcohol referred to beer and wine, no hard liquor, and that only two drink tickets would be provided for all hosted events.

At the March 11, 2021 board meeting, it was once again requested that staff make changes to the Hospitality Policy, and then bring the revised Policy to the board for consideration.

The revised Policy states that at hospitality events where alcohol is offered, it will not be expensed by the TNRD. Directors, staff and guests will be required to purchase alcohol out of their own pocket.

Director Ward Stamer, mayor of Barriere, asked for clarification on whether or not this revision to the Hospitality Policy would include all functions which TNRD members and staff may attend, or only concern events hosted by the TNRD.

“My understanding is that this is events where the TNRD is the host,” confirmed Deanna Campbell, Corporate Officer and Director of Legislative Services.

Director Mel Rothenburger of Area P questioned this decision, explaining that his objective in putting forward the original motion had been to eliminate all alcohol expenses whether they were at events hosted by the TNRD or other organizations.

“The way I worded the original motion was that it not just be for TNRD events, that we would not be (expensing) alcohol at any event,” explained Rothenburger.

“I’m not sure that that’s what this policy covers because the application of this policy is TNRD hosted events, including the UBCM hosted dinner,” said Campbell.

Director of Finance Douglas Rae added that he was not aware of any current policy that would prevent alcohol expenses being covered by the TNRD outside of TNRD hosted events.

Arjun Singh, Director and Kamloops City Councillor, made mention of the per diem, which is used to compensate TNRD Directors when they travel for official duties, such as the UBCM convention. In the case of the per diem, Singh questioned, would it cover beverage purchases, and result in the taxpayer still paying for alcoholic drinks?

“The way I look at it is the per diem is intended to cover three meals, lunch, breakfast and dinner,” said Rae.

“And it includes an amount for incidentals, so if you’re attending a conference for example, and you’re staying overnight and you claim the overnight per diem, that’s the amount that you’re getting compensated for those things. If you happen to buy a drink it doesn’t increase the per diem you get paid, so it’s not necessarily covered by the per diem. It could be considered a personal expense.”

Director Rothenburger objected to this potential loophole, and suggested that if this were the case, the alcoholic purchases should be subtracted from the per diem so that they would be out of the director or staffer’s pocket and not the taxpayers.

“Once again, I thought my original motion was clear on this, because it quite clearly stated, I think, that the TNRD will not purchase alcohol for directors, staff, etc. at any event,” Rothenburger reiterated.

“It seems to me that this may be interpreted a little bit too narrowly as having to be captured within the Hospitality Policy itself. If that’s not the place to capture that intent, then we should go ahead and approve this one, but maybe if there’s a different policy that staff needs to come back with the rest of it on, then let’s do that. But I think the plan here, that I think everyone has agreed, to is that the TNRD is not buying booze for people.”

Director of Area J, Ronaye Elliott, objected to these suggestions quite heatedly.

“I kind of wonder if you guys came out of the ark or something, because the per diem that we have, doesn’t say that we have to buy food with it,” said Elliott.

“It’s a per diem for your expenses, and if you choose to go and drink your lunch alcoholically, then there is nothing anybody should say about it. You are on your own, you are not using anything but what is provided for you, and my good lord, we are in the 21st century. We don’t have to have our hands slapped because we had a drink on our own. So, I go along with this policy, but the rest of it is just stupid.”

Electoral Area B Director, Stephen Quinn, similarly agreed that the Policy referred to TNRD hosted events.

“Are we going to try to forbid us from drinking alcohol at, say, a UBCM function where someone else is hosting it, and hide it somewhere…?” said Quinn.

“This is supposed to be specific to us hosting a function where alcohol is not going to be paid for by the taxpayer.”

Deanna Campbell agreed with Director Rothenburger, that more work could be done to clarify these points in other policy documents, but that the tabled recommendation regarding the Hospitality Policy only covered events hosted by the TNRD.

The recommendation, as it was presented, was carried by the Board.

Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald