2018 In Its Own Words

January 2: When it is revealed that CAO Tracy Samra had (the very questionable) use of a City vehicle while she was on leave for much of 2017, Councillor Bill Bestwick responds that the issue is “out of my pay grade” even though he is Chair of the Finance and Audit Committee, and, as a Councillor, one of Samra’s employers.

January 8: At a capacity-crowd Committee of the Whole meeting, Councillor Gord Fuller claims a respectful delegation is “threaten[ing] me’, begins yelling at the audience, and threatens to “censure” Mayor Bill McKay. CAO Tracy Samra then unilaterally shuts down the city video feed without informing Council, for almost five minutes. The video is withheld from the public for almost two days.

At the same meeting, Samra admits she has provided a “legal opinion” to Council on at least some members of the Public Engagement Task Force. There is no explanation provided as to why the City is apparently investigating and secretly discussing some residents.

Week of January 8: In a series of in-camera meetings, City Council censures Mayor McKay and Councillor Diane Brennan on various spurious charges, including their refusal to apologize to Tracy Samra over unproven allegations of harassment. In a shocking twist, non-aligned Councillors Ian Thorpe and Sheryl Armstrong vote in support of the Bestwick-led majority on this one motion. UVIC professor Dr. Michael Prince compares it to a “star chamber”, after the secretive and arbitrary courts of medieval England that were used to punish political enemies. The BC Ministry of Municipal Affairs states that the Council has no authority to make “a legal ruling.”

January 11: A month after Tracy Samra recommends the City’s Chief Operating Officer Brad McRae – who she hand-picked – should be fired, the Bestwick-led Council majority supports Samra’s wishes. In an interview with the Nanaimo News-Bulletin, Councillor Jerry Hong admits that he and other Bestwick supporters never challenge Samra’s regular firings of City managers: “If Ms. Samra’s recommendation is to terminate, we…will support that.”

January 15: During a Council meeting Question and Answer session, questions on why the CAO and CFO’s third quarter (Q3) expenses have still not been released are met with silence and deflection by all Councillors. This is on top of a still-unsuccessful months-long battle by the BC Information Commissioner to have the pair’s detailed expenses and corporate credit card receipts from Q1 and Q2 released.

At the same meeting, Tracy Samra admits that the City failed to ensure a contract with anyone to process the kitchen and yard waste now being collected under the expensive new “Sort Toss Roll” waste management program. This is after the city admitted the program was $450,000 over budget, and that garbage taxes were going up between 35 and 66%.

January 16: The City of Nanaimo puts out a news release and video on “Decorum During Council Meetings”, the video heavily featuring Tracy Samra. These state “The City is not required to video record, broadcast or live-stream Council meetings”, and “The City has not redacted any video with the exception of a redaction in 2014”, while not mentioning Samra’s personally turning off the Council video feed for five minutes only the week before. Samra also discusses “when the Chair is unable to maintain decorum,” but fails to mention she has personally been the one violating decorum at a number of Council meetings in recent months.

January 19: Journalist Dominic Jones uncovers that Integrity Group (IG) is suing the City for $52K in unpaid bills. IG, hired in 2015 in an early, failed attempt to resolve the dysfunction within Council, has had invoices ignored for years, apparently because Tracy Samra had blocked payment with the verbal support of Councillors Jerry Hong and Gord Fuller.

January 21: Journalist Dominic Jones uncovers that City CFO Victor Mema has been using the designation “Chartered Public Accountant” since 2015, even though he is not legally allowed to do so as a non-member of the Chartered Professional Accountants of BC. Jones also finds that Nanaimo taxpayers spent over $1100 in 2017 for Mema’s membership in CPA Alberta. City management and Council refuse to comment. Bill Bestwick, Chair of the City Finance and Audit Committee, dismisses the issue as “three initials after Mr. Mema’s name.”

January 23: Just three months after the City announces the third “corporate restructuring” in 15 months is complete, it puts out a news release announcing that the fourth restructuring is now complete – this time called a “Phased Reorganization”. Commenting on this in an interview with Nanaimo News Now, renowned municipal expert George Cuff says that the City administration is a “confused organization led by people who haven’t quite figured out their own agenda.” Samra responds that she would like to “educate and inform” the former President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (who has also published 7 books and 400 articles on municipal governance over his 42-year career.)

January 29: Tracy Samra accepts a CAO job with the Shishalh First Nation, to begin in mid-February, but does not inform Council, or offer her resignation. City staff are ecstatic, with one telling journalist Dominic Jones, “A lot of staff will be having celebratory drinks tonight!”

Shishalh First Nations announces the move in a news release on January 31, but at least some of Council have still not been informed even as Samra begins packing up her office at City Hall.

January 31: In front of multiple City staff, an irate Tracy Samra allegedly makes serious threats against some members of Council, City staff, local journalist Dominic Jones, and others, is then arrested by the RCMP, and spends the night in jail. She is released on February 1 with conditions, after having her City email account shut down and building pass cancelled, and being banned from entering all city buildings. RCMP officers are later seen removing boxes of records from City Hall. Jerry Hong initially claims the officers are there for a “public safety committee meeting.”

By February 2, Shishalh First Nation has removed Tracy Samra’s name from the public portion of their website.

February 3: While no official statements or comments have been made publicly regarding the shocking news of the last few days, the City of Nanaimo instead puts out a news release claiming that “the City has, in practice, permitted elected officials and staff to incur…personal expenses on City-issued purchase cards and credit cards.” Within minutes on social media, journalist Dominic Jones posts screen shots of a City document that contradicts this. The document states, “Using the card for personal charges could be considered misappropriation of funds and could result in corrective action up to and including termination of employment.” With Samra gone, many question who was behind this highly questionable news release.

Early February: Without Tracy Samra to control them, Councillors Kipp and Fuller lose any final restraint in their dealings with the public. Over a two-week period on social media, Fuller repeatedly accuses a local resident of being connected to a “mercenary killing machine”, while Kipp responds to a media query with a long rant that appears to discuss African water shortages, US racism, and other indecipherable issues, including: “Yes there are causal links to the mess of power drunken dumb-mock-crazy, you just ether can not see the linkage or chose not to accept. [sic]” The outbursts lead to extensive media coverage.

February 5: Five days after Samra’s arrest, the City finally releases a statement announcing it, but without mentioning her name. Later, at the City’s weekly Council meeting, there is no mention made of recent events, who is the City’s Acting CAO, or whether other security or personnel changes have been made in response to these recent events.

February 7: The BC Prosecution Service announces that Michael Klein, QC, has been appointed as special prosecutor for the Samra case. Samra’s official employment status with the City of Nanaimo remains unknown.

February 9: The Shishalh First Nation states that it “regrets to announce that contrary to its notice dated Jan. 31, 2018, Tracy Samra will not be the new chief administrative officer…”

February 19: After voting in January in favour of a fully provincially-funded $7M supportive housing project in Chase River, Council flip-flops and votes against it, in the face of neighbourhood pressure. Gord Fuller claims it is “no fault of Council”, even though it is Council’s failure to vote on alternative acceptable locations that dooms the project.

Later in the same meeting, when discussing funding for a security patrol, Bill Bestwick states, “I support it, but I don’t know what I am supporting to be honest.”

February 26: A Freedom of Information request to the City of Nanaimo reveals that the 2017 Hometown Hockey weekend did not cost $320,000 – 23 times the national average – but rather cost $470,000 – 36 times the national average. When asked to explain this by NanaimoNewsNow, Bestwick blames City staff: “At no time was I provided a concern or cost over runs by staff.” City records later show that the original budget for Hometown Hockey had been $5,000 before Bestwick took over as Chair of the organizing committee.

Later the same day, when criticized at a public Council meeting by the regional Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Paul Hasselback, for the city’s “inaction” on the opioid crisis, Bestwick claims the City cannot afford to deal with the issue.

March 1: In an interview with CBC Radio, Dr. Hasselback again criticizes Council’s “inaction” on the opioid crisis and points out that “Nanaimo’s overdose death rate…is 50% higher than the rest of the province.” On social media, Jerry Hong blames “the BC government”, “our MLA”, and “the last Council”.

March 2: Chief Financial Officer and Acting Chief Administrative Officer Victor Mema is suspended pending an investigation into unknown allegations. The City responds with an untitled news release that only mentions “some key members of staff”, and does not mention Mema’s name, position, or who is Acting CFO or Acting CAO in his absence.