The retired clerk of the B.C. legislature says his two-year, $480,000 consulting contract is worth every penny, but his arrangement could be the last.
Critics this past week questioned why retired clerk George MacMinn was receiving such a large fee when his services are seldom used by his successor. In an interview Saturday, MacMinn said the longstanding practice of having a consultant on site offers security to the new staff.
"I appreciate that some members see this as a rich arrangement. I, however, feel they are getting good value for their money, but of course I'm biased," MacMinn said.
Politicians in charge of the legislature's finances say the practice of handing out lavish consulting contracts to retiring clerks is about to end. Since 1993, the Liberal and New Democrat parties have each awarded six-figure retirement deals - equivalent to about two years' salary - to retiring clerks.
The consultant's job is to advise all staff and MLAs on policies and procedures, but some question the value of having the clerk's salary extended for two years with full benefits when the house only sits for two or three months of the year.
"This is not a justifiable position," said NDP MLA Shane Simpson, also a member of the legislative assembly management committee that is in charge of a $70-million budget. "I think it has to be a decision of government that they're just not going to do this anymore."
MacMinn's contract came under scrutiny in the ongoing restructuring of the management committee, which was slammed by the auditor general last month for years of financial mismanagement.
His report forced the committee to open its previously closed meetings to the public.
MacMinn's contract drew attention at the first open meeting this week. Members asked staff for a report outlining MacMinn's terms of employment and what other benefits, such as a pension, he may be receiving.
MacMinn confirmed his contract is an extension of his salary with full benefits.
"We were skeptical of this [consulting] position when it was introduced in the legislature, but it was pushed through despite our opposition," said NDP MLA John Horgan, also on the management committee.
The Liberal government used its majority to push through a vote to hire MacMinn as a consultant in 2011 at the same time it voted to bring in his successor, Craig James.
Liberal MLA Gordon Hogg, who is also on the management committee, voted for the contract, saying the party based its decision partly on the precedent set at least once in 1993, when retiring clerk Ian Horne received about $240,000 for two years as a consultant.
"It's certainly always been done during my 55 years there," MacMinn said. "When you have a new team coming in, it's always wise and cautious to have an old hand available to discuss issues as they arise."
Determining how long these contracts have been handed to retired clerks is difficult because of the lack of records.
"I don't even know who to ask," James said. The new clerk said he suspects the practice of awarding such contracts will stop.
Hansard records show house clerk Edwin DeBeck was kept on as a consultant when he retired in 1973, but it is unclear what he was paid. Even though the NDP awarded Horne his contract in 1993 when he retired, politicians from both sides of the house say it may be time to stop handing out these expensive contracts.
Hogg expects future governments will be much more hesitant. He said Friday that his party may have been better off to offer a shorter, less expensive term.
"I think it would have been prudent to do it in six-month increments and then determine how much longer [the consultant] was needed," Hogg said Friday.
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