$480,000 for advice that's rarely needed
Aug 29 2012
The domes of the legislature in Victoria.Photograph by: . , timescolonist.com
George MacMinn, retired clerk of the B.C. legislature, has a $480,000 contract to be a government consultant, but use of his services has been minimal, his successor said Tuesday.
New Democrat MLAs question the deal with MacMinn, saying it is a waste of taxpayers' money.
New legislature clerk Craig James said he does not consult with MacMinn often and does not see the need for the consultant when the legislature is not in session.
"In terms of utilizing the services of the consultant, I have to say that in reality it is minimal," James said. "Having the consultant present while the house is in session is useful - not so much for me, but for the members. When the house is not in session, there is little need for the consultant to be present."
MacMinn, who is in his 80s, retired in 2011 after working at the legislature for 54 years. He had been clerk, the most senior staff position, since 1993. He earned $252,000 in 2010-11 and has earned about $240,000 in his first year of a two-year consulting contract, which continues until 2013.
He was hired as a consultant for the six-member legislative assembly management committee, which is in charge of the B.C. legislature's $70-million annual budget.
In a scathing report last month, auditor general John Doyle criticized how the legislature was managed under MacMinn's watch. Doyle said legislature records were such a mess he could not determine whether any money was missing or misspent.
One of the responses to the report was the decision to open the legislative assembly management committee's meetings to the public.
On Tuesday, at the committee's first public meeting, NDP MLA John Horgan criticized the Liberal majority in the legislature for hiring MacMinn without details of the contract, including his benefits package, being available to the public. Horgan sought to have it cancelled.
"Everything that I do is going to be public and I have zero problem with that," Horgan said. "The challenge for me is that we have a member of the table that I don't believe is adding the value he has in the past, and that's [nearly] $500,000 we could use for other purposes." Horgan pointed out that the committee meets only four times a year.
The committee moved into a private session to discuss MacMinn's contract.
Horgan eventually rescinded his attempt to kill the contract and the committee agreed to find out what work MacMinn does and what his expenses are.
Both Horgan and his NDP colleague on the committee, Vancouver-Hastings MLA Shane Simpson, support making MacMinn's deal public, but they are outnumbered on the committee by the three Liberals, including Energy and Mines Minister Rich Coleman, the government house leader.
"I don't want to diminish the contribution of Mr.MacMinn," Horgan said after the committee meeting. "But I think we have an obligation as the legislature to take the pulse of our community and they would find it, I believe, unacceptable when someone retires from their job to get an additional two years of salary and benefits."
James, the new legislature clerk, has vowed to clean up the way legislature finances are managed.
But James found himself accused Tuesday of overspending public money while he was B.C. acting chief electoral officer. He spent more than $40,000 on travel over four months, including a trip to Africa with his wife.
He does not deny the spending and said it should have no influence on how he conducts himself as legislature clerk.
"I'm moving mountains and pushing people to get this problem solved," he said of his efforts to change how the legislature is managed.
MacMinn could not be reached for comment.
The clerk, the most senior member of the legislature staff, oversees operation of legislature facilities, including the Hansard service that records proceedings, the library, security, the gift shop, dining room and financial recordkeeping.
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