Les Leyne: Portland Hotel Society expenditures mind-boggling

Les Leyne mugshot genericAt first glance, the spending scandal at Vancouver’s main social service agency is incomprehensible.

How could so many do-gooders who have been devoted to helping unfortunates for so long run so far out of bounds when it comes to spending money on themselves?

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But the story of the now-notorious Portland Hotel Society is a classic tale of how zealots can develop an uncontrollable sense of entitlement. The limousine rides, the four-star hotels, the free-and-easy, charge-card lifestyles are so far removed from what they were supposed to be doing that it’s staggering.

But the spending scandal revealed in audits released this week suggest a close-knit band of crusaders who developed an us-against-the-world mentality. They took on any number of causes over the years and won a lot more arguments than they lost. It looks as if each win added to their self-righteousness. And that air of self-regard eventually turned into the casual sense of entitlement from which most of the spending scandals stemmed.

“No one cares more than us. We are making more of a difference than anyone. So everything we do is justified.”

For all the remarkable findings in the audits, it’s worth keeping in mind that it’s probably just a sampling.

The external auditors were denied access to a lot of receipts and many documents were not made available. “In numerous instances interviewees seemed unwilling to provide details regarding expenses… .”

Even with minimal co-operation, the audits expose enough misuse to leave most people shaking their heads.

The salaries for ex-boss Mark Townsend and the other executives were tens of thousands higher than stipulated in their contracts, due to ludicrous add-ons for sick pay and vacation pay.

Townsend also collected $1,400 a month for leasing his basement to the society, as a workplace, with associated costs.

One of them managed a $28,000 overtime bonus without even asking for it. The lapdog board of directors approved just about everything waved in front of them, including contracts to hire themselves.

One audit turned up a $678 limousine ride from the Fairmont Pacific Rim to Grouse Mountain and on to a director’s house. That was part of the $8,657 limo bill run up in 2013.

A business trip to Britain included spa, alcohol and floral bills. Another visit to Britain involved $8,900 in minibus and driver expenses.

They spent $5,950 on Transat Holidays with no receipts or documentation.

An employee was reimbursed $5,832 for the cost of a “Danube cruise,” with a note on the file that it was a gift for one of the directors.

But NDP MLA Jenny Kwan’s involvement is the most fascinating angle. Her ex-husband, Robert Dan Small, was a director of the society. And she accompanied him on the questionable trips to Disneyland and Europe.

She held a tearful news conference Friday to announce she will pay back nearly $35,000 in improper expenses and is taking a leave of absence.

The two are divorced, or are divorcing. Her ex has some health issues. The question is how much she knew about the origin of the funds that paid for the trips.

But who knows how different couples handle their finances? Is it expected that MLAs query their spouses at the start of a trip as to where the money is coming from to pay for it?

Kwan could be forgiven for assuming her partner was handling things properly. Paying the money back is one thing. But she also needs to offer full details of her understanding of the financial aspects of the trip.

She’s one of the least-liked MLAs in the legislature. Liberals despise her self-righteous, angry lectures. Her own colleagues haven’t forgotten the arrogant way she brought down former leader Carole James. She doesn’t have a stock of goodwill from which to draw on at this point.

But that’s not enough of a reason to condemn her for taking family holidays she could be entitled to expect were properly funded.

If people are doing so anyway, it’s because they know she would be furiously calling for Liberals’ heads if the tables were turned.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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