Is There Really a “Witch Hunt” on Strathcona Regional Directors?

Is claiming extra pay for Zoom meetings gaming the system?

It’s important that board members get paid, but when some claim way more than others we need to pay attention

Tensions were high in Strathcona’s Regional Board meeting last week. A new report shows that some directors are being paid more than others. So now, the SRD board has approved an independent audit to figure out just how their public funds got spent.

Every director gets paid a basic amount. They are paid through the SRD’s public funds. But directors can also claim extra money to cover “supplemental meetings” for things like public hearings and other SRD work. Directors can claim these meetings under By-Law 167.

What these extra meetings could cover or who they can involve is not specific, and they can happen online or in person.

Some directors are claiming extra money to cover online meetings. And others wouldn’t dream of doing that.

That’s where the tension came from.

Director Charlie Cornfield started the conversation off. He said he wanted to make it clear to the public that “there’s no way” he would have supported By-Law 167. He wanted folks to know that the electoral areas had passed it, not the regional board.

“We’ve never been paid for a meeting? …Going off to conventions… where you actually get paid to attend already. There’s something just not right with that. I look at every virtual meeting we’ve attended… I’ve never once thought about claiming for one of those,” he said.

While the report didn’t list the names of each of the directors, it was pretty clear who was under fire.

Area C Director Jim Abram claimed $8,160 for his board, committee, and public hearing meetings, $4,800 for his external agency work, and $9,120 for 57 “supplemental meetings.”

But in the SRD meeting, he said he got extra money because he did more work. “I welcome the interest in why I receive more than other members,” he said. “There’s a disproportionate amount of work I have to do… The amount of meetings I’ve had has been phenomenal.” 

He added that any director has access to the same funding. “The By-law is there; you [also] have the ability to make the claims.”

While all directors have access to the By-Law, not all directors agree that it’s right to use it for every meeting.

Campbell River Director Claire Moglove “recalled concern” about the open interpretation of By-Law 167 when it first came up.

But Director Brenda Leigh, who claimed no extra meetings, thought that the timing of this discussion was “nothing but political.” She thinks it’s political because it happened right before an election. She said the whole thing sounded like a “witch hunt.”

All but two directors voted to hire an independent auditor to look through director pay in the coming weeks.