November 2015 – 2016 In Its Own Words

2015

November 17, 2015: In a secretive, non-competitive process, lawyer Tracy Samra is hired as the City’s Interim CAO for a six-month term. Samra had already served seven months as the City’s Manager of Legislative Services section in 2013 – her only municipal management experience anywhere – before leaving with a $75K severance package and the details of her departure sealed. This highly irregular rehiring is done at the insistence of Councillors Bill Yoachim and Bill Bestwick, who ignore the applications of 22 other qualified candidates in favor of the only candidate with no CAO experience.

Late November: Without informing Council, Tracy Samra fires the City’s contracted law firm and hires a new law firm, Valkyrie Law, a member of which begins attending some in-camera meetings at public expense.

November 30: The Bestwick-led Council majority votes to censure Councillor Diane Brennan for leaking details of Tracy Samra’s hiring, even though Council had agreed two weeks previously to publicly “rise and report” those details.

December 7: At an in-camera meeting, Diane Brennan advises Council and the CAO that she will be seeking a legal opinion regarding her recent censure. In response, Tracy Samra threatens to sue Brennan for defamation and then leaves the meeting “in a rage”.

December 14: At her own expense, Diane Brennan receives a legal opinion, which contains a written demand that Tracy Samra “cease issuing…inappropriate threats”, and which asks Mayor Bill McKay to suspend Samra “pursuant to Section 151 of the Community Charter”, and to retain legal counsel to review Samra’s extremely questionable hiring. Both Samra and McKay ignore this legal advice.

On the same day, the City issues a news release where Tracy Samra announces she will begin firing managers to “achieve administrative savings through executive downsizing.” Three managers are terminated within weeks, including respected manager Tom Hickey, who had already publicly signalled his forthcoming retirement in three months. His 3-month early termination by Samra costs the taxpayer an extra $225,000 in severance.

2016

February 4, 2016: The City of Nanaimo announces in a news release that it is shutting down 8 of 13 City committees. The rationale provided is the Core Services Review.

March 7: Tracy Samra is confirmed as the City’s permanent CAO.

March 15: Seven of eight Councillors ask for Mayor McKay to resign, but Bill Bestwick claims to CTV that ongoing internal conflicts will not negatively affect the work of City government: “We’ve all decided to work together and collaborate.”

April: The City of Nanaimo’s lawyer sends a threatening legal letter to local Facebook groups over “personal attacks…of identifiable City staff.” A search of the Facebook groups shows the only City staff member mentioned is CAO Tracy Samra. Prominent media lawyer David Sutherland decries this “muzzling of citizens” and states “civil servants are not immune from criticism…this [is a] wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

May: Tracy Samra hires failed federal Conservative candidate and newspaper publisher Mark McDonald – best known for allowing a racist letter to be printed in the now defunct Nanaimo Daily News – as a City of Nanaimo communications consultant.

Spring-Summer 2016: Tracy Samra and Councillor Gord Fuller, along with a number of supporters, launch a coordinated smear campaign against local journalist Dominic Jones after Jones uncovers extremely troubling behaviour by Samra, some of it involving public funds. On July 19, Fuller is finally forced to issue a lengthy apology to Jones.

July: The Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) releases records that show Councillor Bill Yoachim has a 50% absenteeism rate, which means his pay for attending RDN meetings works out to $521.03 per hour. Yoachim offers no explanation.

Summer 2016: During a closed retreat at VIU, the Bestwick-led Council majority decide that their top priority for Nanaimo will be a 100% taxpayer-funded professional sport stadium (later dubbed an “Event Centre”). Not one councillor ever mentioned this massive infrastructure project during the 2014 election campaign. Councillor Jerry Hong later admits that the decision was made by sticking coloured dots on a board.

August 8: Tracy Samra restructures City Committees without a Council vote, and then claims that the BC Inspector of Municipalities provided a legal opinion that these changes “aren’t non-compliant with the Community Charter”. The Inspector issues a public statement refuting Samra’s claim and indicates that they never made a legal ruling.

August 11: Undeterred, Samra then claims that the BC Ministry of Communities also “did not find fault” with her City Committee restructuring. The Ministry also issues a public statement refuting Samra’s claims, which is widely discussed on social media. In response, the City of Nanaimo releases a statement saying, “mayor and council” wanted to “clarify … misstatements and errors [about this issue] which have been published on social media and news websites,” only to later remove the statement entirely from the City website.

October 18: Journalist Dominic Jones reveals that Tracy Samra, while on a taxpayer-funded trip to Vancouver in February 2016, attended a political fundraising event for BC Liberal Minister of Communities, Peter Fassbender, in blatant violation of universally-accepted ethics rules for public servants. Samra then threatens Jones with legal action prior to his publication of her actions. The City subsequently refuses to release the relevant receipts under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

October 25: In the face of widespread opposition, the Bestwick-led Council majority votes to end gender-specific guarding at the Nanaimo jail. The City claims it could save $360,000 a year with this Core Service Review-recommended cut, but a year later admits there have been no cost savings.

October 26: At a public Council meeting, Councillor Gord Fuller tells Mayor McKay to “shut up” and to “bite me” three times, describes the meeting as “bullshit”, and refuses to leave when ordered to by the Chair. The incident gains widespread national media coverage.

October 26: John Hankins, CEO of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, is fired after publicly criticizing Council’s unexplained, in-camera decision to remove Tourism Nanaimo from NEDC and set it up as a separate body. Hankins refuses the City’s severance package, saving the taxpayer $33,000. (Council shuts down both NEDC and Tourism Nanaimo entirely within three months.)

Week of November 1: In the only formal polling done during this Council mandate on resident satisfaction of Nanaimo’s elected leadership, a Victoria Times-Colonist/Oraclepoll Research survey finds Mayor McKay has a 38% approval rating, while Council receives a 30% approval rating. These are the lowest approval ratings on any Vancouver Island municipality polled.

November 8: After Tracy Samra drives much-loved 42-year City employee Marilyn Smith into retirement, the city launches a lawsuit against Mayor McKay for allegedly providing Ms. Smith records for her constructive dismissal lawsuit against the City. Council also complains to the RCMP. In violation of a March 2016 policy that the city will cover these types of legal fees for Council members, the Bestwick-led majority refuses to pay McKay’s fees. (Both the lawsuit and police investigation are dropped in 2017.)

November 21: At a Council meeting, Gord Fuller ally and serial Council meeting disrupter Tim McGrath hands out copies of a March 2015 email from Mayor McKay to the Integrity Group that contain negative remarks about other members of Council, including calling one a “bully,” one “mentally ill,” and a third “a follower.” McGrath claims he found the document “on my windshield of my truck”, but speculation quickly turns to who really leaked the email. One of the four people who had access to it prior to the leak is Tracy Samra.

Later in the meeting, an agitated Councillor Jim Kipp says to Councillor Wendy Pratt, “The man’s harmed and you don’t give a shit, Woman!” (Despite repeated calls to apologize for his misogynistic statement, Kipp never does.) Finally, Robert Fuller, brother to Councillor Fuller, goes on a minutes-long epithet-filled rant at the podium, as the meeting degenerates even further. Ms. Samra does not intervene to ‘assist the Mayor in restoring decorum’ while McGrath and Robert Fuller disrupt the Council meeting.

November 28: Council votes to shut down Tourism Nanaimo and lay off all its staff by January 2017.

Early December: In an official survey of residents done for the City of Nanaimo by Calder Bateman Communications, 91% of respondents say they do not support a taxpayer funded Event Centre.

December 2016: The Bestwick-led Council majority agrees to double Tracy Samra’s severance package to one year’s salary (at that time, almost $200K). Samra had already received a $75K severance after only seven months employment in 2013. Details of her earlier departure remain sealed but continue to be the subject of many questions.

December 15: In an in-camera meeting, Council votes to shut down the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation. A City news release announcing the closure is later removed from the City website.

December 29: The close alliance between Councillors Kipp, Fuller, and CAO Tracy Samra temporarily breaks down after the two Councillors set up a safe-injection site in the City Hall parking lot and Samra subsequently shuts down City Hall over what she claims are “safety concerns”.