The censure panel’s decision is wrong. Not only that, it is wrong for the wrong reasons.
This censure was never about breaching council’s rules on when a member can speak their mind as constitutionally guaranteed. It was about five members of council and their appointee being fearful of what Ms. Brennan was saying. The action was to shut her up, not set her straight.
Everything in this unjust decision points to it. If Ms. Brennan is guilty, then so is the rest of council. They, too, breached the same confidentiality provisions their ultra vires ruling convicts Ms. Brennan of violating. The only difference is that while they were applauding Ms. Samra’s hiring in a news release, Ms. Brennan was desperately trying to raise concerns about the irregular hiring process with journalists and others.
The censure hearing heard evidence that while the hiring committee unanimously approved a rise and report motion on the hiring process, there was no subsequent rise and report minuted at an in-camera council meeting on November 16, 2015. This is a technicality. It’s plainly obvious from the public record that it was council’s earnest intention to rise and report after the Nov. 16 meeting.
Consider first video evidence of mayor Bill McKay’s public announcement 30 minutes after the in-camera meeting ended. He said council had selected a candidate and would report on the process once the candidate had accepted the offer. There was ample time for any member of council to object to his announcement. None did because they intended to report, which they did the next day.
At 3:43 pm on November 17, councillor Gord Fuller, Ms. Samra and Mr. McKay were quoted in a news release on the city’s website announcing the interim city manager appointment. If there was no agreement to rise and report as has been argued, then the three in that news release, and all of council who likely saw it prior to publication, had just breached council confidentiality. No action was ever taken against them.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 16. Ms. Brennan began making plans to inform the media of her concerns. Two other concerned councillors met with the city’s former communications manager on Nov. 17 to ask about issuing their own news release. They were advised against doing so. Indeed the first evidence there is of anyone actually talking about the unusual process was when councillor Ian Thorpe spoke with Grants Advisory Committee member Don Bonner on the afternoon of Nov. 18. It was only the next day, Nov 19 — two days after the news release — that Mr. Bonner reported what he knew on the A Better Nanaimo Facebook group.
At her first in-camera meeting with the council, the newly installed Ms. Samra and her council backers accused Ms. Brennan and Mr. Thorpe of breaching confidentiality. They were threatened with censure. At a later meeting, Mr. Bonner was thrown off the grants committee without explanation or a chance to state his case. Mr. Thorpe made a public apology, even though he had done nothing wrong.
But Ms. Brennan refused. She stood her ground and hired a lawyer to defend her. She had the courage of her conviction that the hiring process had been irregular and it was her duty to speak out about it. She was right. When five councillors, told to select three from a list of 22, walk into a room and 27 minutes later have chosen a candidate who has no prior CAO experience and isn’t interviewed, something is most certainly wrong. It has haunted council and the city ever since.
Two years passed. Censure on the issue was scheduled and rescheduled. Ms. Brennan dug into her own savings to pay a legal bill estimated at around $20,000. She asked to be reimbursed, her accusers refused — and voted themselves and Ms. Samra money from the public purse to pay their own lawyers. Finally, last week they held a political grudge court and censured Ms. Brennan, demanding an apology they will never get, and don’t deserve.
Diane Brennan was set upon not because she did anything wrong, but because she dared to challenge the council majority and Ms. Samra by speaking out about a wrong she saw. Steely determination and public support have steered her through the roughest period in her four terms serving Nanaimo. She is a credit to the city. She is an example to us all.