VANCOUVER — The two top officials in British Columbia’s legislature say they’re humiliated after being placed on administrative leave and don’t know what they’ve done to provoke a police investigation, but they want their jobs and their reputations back.
Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and clerk of the house Craig James denied any wrongdoing at a news conference Monday and repeated a demand made by their lawyer Friday to be reinstated to their positions.
Lenz paused and his voice cracked with emotion as he spoke about the support he has received from family and friends since police escorted him out of the legislature last Tuesday after the house voted unanimously to place both men on paid leave.
He described how he was “shocked” when he learned he was being investigated and has had trouble sleeping and eating.
“Although it is impossible to deny what you do not know, I firmly say that I have done nothing wrong and that I am confident that the independent investigation now underway with the RCMP will clear me of any alleged wrongdoing,” Lenz said as he and James sat beside their lawyer, Gavin Cameron.
Lenz became emotional as he said his daughter received a text from someone saying “Sorry about your father” and offering prayers but then she couldn’t get hold of him.
James said no one has informed him of what he is alleged to have done or asked for his side of the story.
“The damage to my reputation is irreparable. The healing can only begin with my return to work,” he said, reading from a statement.
“I cannot imagine what concern there is about how I have acted in the administration of the legislative assembly that would warrant my being removed from my office,” he said, adding he has worked in the legislature for 30 years.
Both men said they will co-operate with the RCMP investigation, and James outlined steps he has taken since he became clerk in 2011 to improve the administration of the legislature, including assuring the auditor general that problems identified in a report would be fixed.
“I have established processes in the legislative assembly that are essentially bulletproof.”
The speaker of the legislature released a letter Monday saying it is up to the assembly to decide whether it wants to rescind the motion to suspend the men.
In the letter to the three party house leaders, Speaker Darryl Plecas says the motion provides for a periodic review of the decision taken last Tuesday.
Plecas says all three party leaders supported the position that “it would not be appropriate for these permanent officers to continue to be at the assembly in the face of an active criminal investigation regarding their actions related to the assembly.”
The RCMP has said it is investigating staff at the legislature, but it has not said who is the subject of the probe or described the investigation as criminal in nature.
The Liberals have asked for an emergency meeting to question Plecas about how and why he hired a special adviser to investigate his concerns about Lenz and James.
On Saturday, Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said his caucus still has a lot of questions about the Speaker’s decision to hire his friend Alan Mullen in January to look into the administrative duties of the two officials
The speaker’s office forwarded information to the RCMP in August and the Mounties are investigating with the help of two special prosecutors, who have declined comment on the case.
Wilkinson said he’s asking questions now in part because it came as a surprise to him when Mullen revealed Wednesday that he had led the investigation before handing it off to the RCMP. Before Wednesday, the Liberals thought Mullen was a clerical worker and driver for the Speaker, he said.
But Plecas says in his letter that the Liberals did not raise any objections at a meeting before the motion was presented to the house.
“Official Opposition house leader Mary Polak specifically stated that she did not want or need any further information about the allegations beyond knowing that there was an active RCMP investigation,” he wrote.
Plecas says the work done by Lenz and James is “central to the operations and deliberations of the legislative assembly.”
“They must have the unqualified trust and confidence of the house. They are entitled to the presumption of innocence in any criminal process, but the reality of an active criminal investigation concerning their activities as permanent officers of the house cannot be ignored by the house.”