Considering how much time and money goes into picking obscure officers of the legislature, it's strange what a mess was made when it came to replacing the most important figure of all.
The process followed in elevating assistant clerk Craig James to replace George MacMinn as clerk of the legislature is a lesson in how not to do it.
It was a clumsy transfer of power with zero in the way of transition planning.
James was installed by way of an arbitrary government motion rushed in last year. It became obvious last summer that no one gave much thought to how important it is that this kind of hand-off go smoothly.
The potential for things to get very ugly was averted this week. But the tale up to that point showed how badly the task of overseeing the handover was being handled.
The eminent MacMinn is the longest-serving clerk in the Commonwealth and has all the honours you'd expect. He was apparently allowed to serve at his own pleasure and did so past his 80th birthday before deciding to retire.
When MLAs are looking to replace auditors general, ombudspersons or the like, they spend hundreds of thou-sands of dollars worth of time and money following a set process. It all leads to a unanimous vote in the legislature to welcome the new person to the job.
But when it came time to replace the key person who is supposed to keep the legislature running smoothly, there wasn't much thought given. It's like everyone was caught off guard at the idea that an octogenarian would some day want to step down.
After MacMinn opted to retire, the B.C. Liberals made a half-hearted try to make the appointment of next-inline James unanimous. The NDP balked, preferring to go through the traditional route described above. So the government just forced it through on a standing vote.
What no one considered was how it was actually all going to work, because the historical precedent calls for the departing clerk to get a two-year sinecure on full pay as "clerk consultant," where he is available as needed.
After his retirement, that absurd remnant of the good old days and many other problems surfaced, by way of a scathing auditor general's report from John Doyle. He looked at the legislature's $70-million budget and found the books to be a mess.
The blame all goes to the secret management committee of ranking MLAs from each side, chaired by the Speaker, that has been running the place as a private club for years. They met casually and rarely released the results of their deliberations. It set up an excellent potential for the administration of the legislature to drift into the kind of sloppy practices that Doyle exposed.
It also paved the way for the golden-parachute arrangement, where retired clerks collect two years' full pay - more than $500,000 in MacMinn's case - plus assorted benefits, for minimal work.
James does not consult with MacMinn. And the legislature has sat for only 71 days of his consultancy, so MLAs scarcely need his advice.
There was an obvious case for clawing back the kiss-off after this newspaper highlighted it last summer.
But MacMinn dug in his heels. To their credit, MLAs have vowed to clean up their act when it comes to running the legislature. So they met in public this week for only the second time and people got to see how the crisis was eased.
MacMinn wrote a letter to Speaker Bill Barisoff this week acknowledging the controversy and the "impasse" and pointedly dropped the name of his solicitor, Joe Arvay.
Arvay has won more high-profile cases against the government than he's lost.
MacMinn said any move to countermand the arrangement "would be subject to scrutiny by the courts - a situation that no one who cares about the institution of parliament would welcome."
You don't see a world-ranked parliamentary figure allude to suing his own legislature very often.
Then he offered an ingenious way out.
He'll change his will and make a bequest of the money - minus the income tax paid - to the legislative library.
MLAs ducked back in camera for 23 minutes and accepted the out - unanimously and thankfully.
You don't watch politicians manoeuvre in the legislature for more than 50 years without learning a few tricks yourself.
© Copyright 2013