Chief financial officer Victor Mema instructed city staff to go against prior practice and not include the fees in the city manager’s published expense reports, city officials confirmed.
Ms. Samra is on unspecified paid leave and expected to appear in court April 10 related to allegations of threats being uttered during an incident on Jan. 31 at City Hall.
By failing to include the legal expenses in published expense reports the true scale of Ms. Samra’s spending was grossly under-reported and local media published inaccurate reports.
At the time that Mr. Mema issued his instructions not to report the legal expenses both he and Ms. Samra were under pressure over their spending on travel, meals and other expenses.
On Feb. 2, the city finally published the expense report for the period from January to the end of September last year but the disclosed amounts excluded Ms. Samra’s legal expenses.
The published report showed that Ms. Samra had no legal bills and total expenses of just $5,947, which one local news outlet said was “well under her $19,530 budget” for the year.
However, with her legal expenses included Ms. Samra’s expenses would actually have been closer to $36,800, or more than 88% over her total expense budget for the year.
Ms. Samra is believed to be the only senior manager at the city to ever be granted an allowance for a personal lawyer.
Payments shown to nonexistent firm
The city disclosed Ms. Samra’s legal expenses in response to a freedom of information request by News Nanaimo.
The information the city provided shows that Vancouver-based Boughton Law., the law firm of Ms. Samra’s personal lawyer George Cadman, was paid $27,847.02 in 2017.
A separate entry showed that a “Broughton Law Corporation” received $3,009.55 last year.
However, News Nanaimo has established that there is no law firm of that name in Canada.
Payments to the nonexistent “Broughton Law Corporation” first appeared in the city’s report on Ms. Samra’s expenses for the first six months of 2017. In that report, published last September, $760.77 was shown as having been paid.
When the subsequent third-quarter expense report was published in February, that payment had been removed.
Asked about the apparent creation of a vendor profile for a nonexistent company in the city’s accounting system, the city said there was an “error” and that “Broughton Law Corporation” and Boughton Law were the same entity.
The city further confirmed that the $3,009.55 had been paid to the real Boughton Law, bringing the total received by the firm of Ms. Samra’s personal lawyer to $30,856.57 in 2017.
The amounts were paid on Ms. Samra’s behalf and would have been reflected on Ms. Samra’s expenses statement if not for Mr. Mema’s instructions, city officials said.
Approved by council majority
It’s understood that some or all of Ms. Samra’s legal expenses were approved at closed-door meetings by the five-man council majority of Bill Bestwick, Jim Kipp, Jerry Hong, Gord Fuller and Bill Yoachim.
At least part of the fees are believed to have been for legal advice related to Ms. Samra’s complaint and potential claim against the city for alleged breaches of the respectful workplace policy by mayor Bill McKay, councillor Diane Brennan and former councillor Wendy Pratt.
An investigation into those allegations by labour lawyer Roslyn Goldner, who reportedly found there was no bullying or harassment of Ms. Samra, cost taxpayers at least $26,150.
Ms. Samra first hired Mr. Cadman to represent her when the legality of her hiring as interim city manager in November 2015 was questioned by a lawyer acting for Ms. Brennan. The lawyer asked the mayor to suspend Ms. Samra pending an independent investigation.
At an in-camera meeting in December 2015, councillors voted to give themselves and Ms. Samra $5,000 each for “independent legal advice” in response to Ms. Brennan’s legal letters. At some point Ms. Samra’s allowance was raised to $10,000.
Ms. Samra hired Mr. Cadman while councillors Bestwick, Kipp, Hong, Fuller and Yoachim hired Victoria law firm Cook Roberts at a cost to taxpayers of $18,334, according to expense reports.
In 2016, the city disclosed Ms. Samra’s legal expenses to Boughton Law in a published expense report (PDF). It showed that she spent $8,454.28 with Mr. Cadman’s firm that year.
In total, taxpayers have paid Mr. Cadman’s firm $39,310.85 over two years on the city manager’s behalf.
The five councillors have never disclosed why they needed personal legal advice related to the circumstances of Ms. Samra’s hiring.
After receiving the letter from Ms. Brennan’s lawyer Mr. McKay sought advice from the provincial ministry responsible for municipalities, which was headed at the time by former Liberal minister Peter Fassbender.
In February 2016, Ms. Samra accompanied Mr. Cadman to Mr. Fassbender’s annual campaign fundraiser during a trip that she expensed to taxpayers.
Both Mr. Fassbender and Ms. Samra have previously said they never discussed the controversy over her hiring when they met.