Legislature workers fired for flagging expenses, adviser told

Over the last several months, “an alarming number” of former legislature employees have contacted Speaker Darryl Plecas to say they were improperly fired after voicing concerns about how taxpayers’ money is being spent, says the Speaker’s chief of staff.

“They have described corruption, they have also described being terminated for what is alleged to be asking questions,” Alan Mullen said in an interview.

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“They allege and quote being instructed: ‘Don’t ask questions. If you do, you’re gone.’ Questions about financial records, expenses, trips. … [They were] told to delete documents.”

After conducting a year-long investigation, Plecas on Monday released a report that accused legislature clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz of “flagrant overspending” that included expense claims, lavish foreign trips, and questionable retirement and pay benefits. The allegations have not been proven in court, and James and Lenz deny any wrongdoing. Both men were suspended with pay on Nov. 20.

During the summer, Mullen said, former employees started contacting the Speaker after hearing that he was investigating legislature spending.

Close to 20 people have come forward, claiming they were fired without cause, most of them within the last five years, and then given severance and forced to sign non-disclosure agreements, he said.

“Some of these employees were in the building for 10 years, 15 years, 28 years, and at some pretty high-level positions in a number of different departments,” he said.

“I’ve talked to people who contemplated suicide because of the way they were treated at the legislature. That’s not OK,” said Mullen, a corrections manager before becoming chief of staff for Plecas.

“These people need to be made whole, whether they come back to their jobs or get some sort of compensation or they are given some sort of apology.”

After reviewing Plecas’s report, MLAs from all parties voted unanimously for a “workplace review,” which Mullen said could include looking at installing anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies.

Plecas and Mullen were criticized for the spectacle of James and Lenz being escorted out of the legislature by police in front of media cameras, which was dubbed a “perp walk.”

Mullen said the two permanently appointed officers of the legislature could not be placed on leave without a vote from the legislative assembly, and once that happened, they were offered an option to leave the building quietly.

“Both Mr. Lenz and Mr. James were offered [the opportunity] to go out a side door, go out a back door,” Mullen said. “They said: ‘We will go down the very public Speaker’s corridor.’ That was their choice. We were not interested in any way, shape or form in a public shaming, or ridiculing, or a perp walk.”

Mullen said he and Plecas have been the target of threats from people who felt they had treated James and Lenz too harshly. “We have received some threats since Nov. 20. The police are aware of them. They are usually from an anonymous source. They can’t really be tracked or traced.”

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