The board of the Greater Victoria Public Library will meet today at the Central Branch to discuss mounting public concern about how the library handles taxpayers' money.
"We want to be as transparent as we possibly can," said board chairman Karel Roessingh on Monday. "The board has every confidence that the finances are currently really well-managed. There may be public concern, but I have to say the board is not concerned about the way we manage money."
His comments follow revelations that a former CEO of the Greater Victoria Public Library, Barry Holmes, spent $131,606 on his corporate credit card over three and a half years on purchases such as groceries, music downloads from iTunes and HMV and $500 in hemp-based body cream.
Holmes was CEO from Sept. 5, 2006, to March 19, 2010, and received an annual salary of more than $144,000 plus expenses. His departure was by mutual agreement with the board, and he received $43,000 severance.
The library board members briefly discussed the story, published in Saturday's Times Colonist, during a one-day retreat at the Chateau Victoria Hotel.
The story, which contained details of Holmes's purchases, hit a nerve with readers - it was recommended more than 300 times on Facebook and drew angry comments from people critical of the board's fiscal management.
Roessingh said the timing of the retreat was coincidental, but no tax money was spent on the meeting.
Space at the hotel was donated; staff and board members donated their time.
It's vital that publicly funded bodies are careful about how tax money is spent, said Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin.
Hard times mean leaders of public bodies should tighten their belts, said Fortin.
"Clearly, as we head into an age of austerity, every body - whether it be municipal or police boards or library boards - [is] looking at ways that we can reduce and evaluate what we're doing," said Fortin.
"It does come home that we have a responsibility as civic leaders to keep that tight rein and check on the public purse."
Roessingh said Saturday's retreat, an annual event, is an example of how spending of public money is minimized. Last year's retreat was held in the board room of the Central Branch. But this year, that space was booked, so staff secured a venue at the hotel for free.
Such "off-site" meetings are not uncommon for the board.
Holmes billed a dozen outings to Victoria pubs to his corporate card, costing taxpayers more than $1,000. Former board chairman Paul Gerrard said in an earlier interview that board members sometimes gathered at Victoria pubs for meetings, with Holmes paying the bill with his library Mastercard.
Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation called Holmes's spending record "absolutely appalling" and said he plans to file a freedom of information request to obtain Holmes's receipts.
"These are tax dollars. If you don't pay your taxes, the government comes and puts you in jail and takes away your house. Bars, pubs and restaurants are not suitable locations for board meetings."
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