TNRD Chair Ken Gillis held a press conference over Zoom Monday morning to address the Regional District’s excessive spending, which has recently come to light, particularly regarding former CAO Sukh Gill.
According to information compiled by Kamloops This Week, Gill racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses, of which many were legitimate, but many were not, as Gillis admitted when questioned by members of the press.
“The very fact that we’re in the position we’re in answers your question, in the sense that some of those expenses, we do not believe, can be justified,” said Gillis.
Many of those expenses, however, included Gillis and other TNRD staff and Directors.
One such occasion was Aug. 29 of 2019, when Gill expensed $975.18 for dinner at Nandi’s Flavours of India restaurant in Kamloops for himself and a plus one, Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian and a plus one, Kamloops Councillor Dieter Dudy and a plus one as well as Chair Gillis and his wife, Merritt Mayor Linda Brown.
There was also the case of a ‘Staff Coffee Day’ on June 26, 2019, in which $493.25 was spent at Amplified Café in Kamloops.
Director of Corporate Services Debbie Sell as well as her husband and daughter were treated to an after-hours dinner at Nandi’s Flavours of India with Gill to the tune of $254.87 on Nov. 18, 2019.
This was in addition to a myriad of other expenses, such as $467.78 at Purdy’s Chocolates, $4,914.22 at Al Porto Ristorante in Vancouver for a board dinner for 44 people, and 32 unknown gifts purchased for a trip to Kamloops’ Sister City Uji, Japan in 2019, in which Gillis and Gill took part with travel expenses covered by the TNRD according to the meeting minutes of Thursday, July 11, 2019.
“We can assure you that with recent changes in our leadership, the management and administration of the TNRD is in excellent hands with the team of senior staff we now have in place, and that financial accountability is a priority for them,” said Gillis.
“We also know that the staff of the TNRD are second to none. This situation certainly does not directly reflect on them and the great work they do, and I would like to thank them for their continued support and dedication.”
Gillis indicated that these inappropriate expenditures were in the past and that being fiscally responsible was a top priority for the TNRD.
“On behalf of myself and the entire board of directors, I am here to say that we take full ownership and accountability for the lack of financial oversight on this matter,” said Gillis.
“Being responsible and accountable to the residents and taxpayers of the Thompson Nicola Regional District is our first priority.”
Gillis noted that several changes had been made, beginning in August of 2019, that would help reduce improper expenditures and head off any further questionable expense accounts.
Gillis is also proposing that a review of past expenses be undertaken.
“Our commitment, as we move forward, is transparency,” said Gillis.
“That is part of our responsibility to the residents of the TNRD. We must not only be transparent; we must be seen to be transparent. That is why I am strongly recommending that the TNRD engage a third party, to do a fulsome independent review of past expenses and expenditures and that the findings be made public.”
This recommendation will be brought to the Board at their next meeting on March 11.
When asked how long this might take or what the cost would be, Gillis said he was unsure as it would be uncharted territory for the Regional District. He did say that it would be done as “expeditiously” and “economically” as possible.
“There will be no delays, I can promise you that,” said Gillis.
The review will likely focus on Gill’s expenses and not current practices, as Gillis believes that the issue is now under control.
“I think that in terms of controlling spending, we have that completely under control at this point.”
However, on the topic of transparency surrounding Gill’s sudden and largely unexplained departure, Gillis remained tight lipped.
“You can’t call it a retirement, can you?” asked Chris Foulds, editor of Kamloops This Week.
“When you retire you normally don’t get a massive severance pay, and when you retire you normally don’t have to draw up a legal document calling it a retirement. So, would it be fair to say he was dismissed for reasons that you cannot explain?”
“Well, we can, and in my view, unfortunately did call it a retirement,” replied Gillis.
“So, that’s how it stands right now. We certainly are not characterizing it in any other way. If you wish me to agree with your suggestion that it’s highly unusual for a retirement to carry with it a package such as the one that Mr. Gill got, I have no trouble agreeing with you that it’s unusual. But I’m really restricted in what I can say about this.”
Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald