Jessica Wallace Kamloops This Week
A Thompson-Nicola Regional District director says a new policy guiding TNRD staff and board members about hospitality-related activities — including offering and consuming alcohol at events — does not go far enough.
At a meeting before the Christmas holidays, Wells Gray director Carol Schaffer voted against the policy, which applies to all board members and TNRD staff who incur hospitality expenses while conducting regional district business. Schaffer told KTW she wants the policy to be more specific, limiting the amount of alcohol that can be consumed or offered.
The policy, which was approved by the board (with only Schaffer opposed) restricts alcohol to beer and wine only. It prohibits offer or consumption of all other products, including cannabis, and dictates events at which it may be allowed.
The policy states most hospitality events will not include substances, but may be offered for reasons of “diplomacy, protocol, courtesy, business development, promotion or advocacy.”
It advises: “Board members and staff who choose to consume alcohol that is provided at a hospitality event are expected to do so responsibly and safely and act in a way that cares for the health and safety of themselves and their guests.”
The policy does not set out limits.
“I think it could be more refined,” Schaffer told KTW.
The idea for a policy was first discussed by the board during an out-of-town meeting in Chase in July 2019, where no media were present and no broadcast archive is available detailing discussion.
Minutes of the public meeting disclose only decisions, not discussion.
Discussion came in advance of the Union of BC Municipalities convention in September, when the TNRD annually holds a dinner for directors in lieu of attending the conference banquet, to give board members and MLAs the opportunity to get to know each other.
Sun Peaks Mayor Al Raine brought up the TNRD policy gap in July. He told KTW the audit committee had flagged the absence of an alcohol policy, something he said is routine in other communities. Asked if any problems had arisen as a result of that gap, Raine said nothing was flagged by the audit committee. TNRD chair Ken Gillis echoed that sentiment, telling KTW at the time: “There hasn’t been an issue.”
TNRD CAO Sukh Gill said the regional district’s remuneration bylaw — reviewed annually by the board — details expense rules.
However, though meals are mentioned myriad times in that bylaw, it makes no mention of alcohol. Asked how alcohol was handled in the past, Gill said: “Generally, directors are kind of on their own. Where we have provided wine or beer, potentially, is like at the UBCM gathering. That’s where it came up.”
In addition to concern over having no limits on alcohol, Schaffer wondered if the new policy puts too much power in the hands of the CAO and chair. The policy notes either one can approve events at which alcohol may be permitted, outside of ceremonies, hosting dignitaries and conferences.
The policy also states the chair and CAO are “responsible for using discretion to make decisions and choices about provision of hospitality [including alcohol] with some degree of flexibility …”
When exercising discretion, the policy notes the following factors must be considered: Can the hospitality expense stand up to scrutiny by auditors and members of the public? Can the hospitality expense be properly documented? Is the hospitality expense reasonable and appropriate?
Gillis said the new policy should reassure taxpayers that regional district dollars are not being spent frivolously, with rules now in place.
Asked if the policy goes far enough, he replied: “I hope so. It’s pretty hard for us as a board to try to regulate conduct and that’s not the intent at all. If people choose to misconduct themselves, I guess that’s a whole different issue. If they do that, it won’t be on the taxpayers’ nickel, put it that way.”
• Applies to TNRD board members and staff;
• Provides guidance on approved hospitality expenses;
• Defines hospitality as: hosting board members, representatives from other local, provincial or federal governments, first nations, staff, constituents and/or volunteers for gatherings, receptions, ceremonies, conferences, performances or other group functions that include expenses such as meals, beverages, room rental, serving staff, gifts, etc.;
• States hospitality may be offered when hosting dignitaries, engaging in official public matters with representatives with other governments, business/industry/labour leaders or other community leaders, sponsoring conferences, hosting ceremonies/recognition events, other authorized official functions, as approved by the chair or CAO.