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Fired society bosses get severance pay

Housing Minister Rich Coleman - Black Press
Housing Minister Rich Coleman
— image credit: Black Press

Four Vancouver anti-poverty charity executives fired for a tax-funded spending spree that included luxury foreign trips, limousines, restaurant meals and booze will receive severance pay of up to eight weeks plus accumulated vacation pay.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman said Monday the severance is required under B.C. labour law for four top executives of the Portland Hotel Society, which operates low-income housing, addiction services and a string of non-profit businesses in Vancouver's downtown east side.

Directors of the society resigned after terminating the four executives, Mark Townsend, his wife Liz Evans, Dan Small and Kersten Stuerzbecher. Coleman said a new "professional" board will continue to examine society expenses, and if any potential fraud is discovered, information will be sent to Vancouver Police.

An audit by KPMG Forensic Inc. covered three years of expenses, 2010 through 2012. It found managers and directors expensed nearly $70,000 over three years on restaurants and more than $300,000 on travel.

Trips were to Vienna, Paris, Bristol, Istanbul, New York City, Los Angeles, Banff and Ottawa. In addition to hotel rooms, some costing more than $800 a night, there were charges for spa services, alcohol, fresh flowers, a cruise for a society manager and other questionable expenditures.

NDP leader Adrian Dix said Monday he has requested an unpaid leave of absence for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA Jenny Kwan, who repaid $35,000 in travel expenses to the society on Friday. In a tearful news conference, Kwan said she had been told by her husband Dan Small that he was personally paying expenses that were actually billed to the society.

Kwan accompanied Small and their two children on a trip to Disneyland, and on another trip to Vienna and Bristol, England.

The Portland Hotel Society operates the supervised injection site for street drug users and a network of businesses including a coffee shop and a pest control service, in addition to managing multiple single-room occupancy hotels in the downtown east side.

The society receives more than $28 million a year from the B.C. government, the vast majority of its revenues.

 

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