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City blocks access to details of Samra and Mema’s spending on city credit cards

After provincial watchdog intervenes, city discloses records for three senior employees but withholds records for CAO and CFO

The City of Nanaimo has refused to disclose documents that detail corporate credit card spending by its two most senior bureaucrats.

The move to block access was made after provincial officials told the city it could not delay providing access to the records.

On Friday, the city provided records for three senior officials but withheld those of city manager Tracy Samra and chief financial officer Victor Mema.

Published records show that the two top managers have racked up more than $50,000 in expenses in the past 18 months.

Bills taxpayers have paid for include a $6,360 Florida junket, lunches in Nanaimo, and a trip during which Ms. Samra attended a former Liberal cabinet minister’s campaign fundraiser.

Mr. Mema is being sued by his former employer for allegedly using their credit card to pay for personal expenses of almost $10,000.

He has not formally responded to the suit by the District of Sechelt, which also spent $46,000 on his education before he resigned to take the senior finance job in Nanaimo.

Ms. Samra and Mr. Mema’s spending is almost four times the $13,000 their predecessors spent in their final two years at the city.

Employees can be fired for personal use of cards

News Nanaimo requested access to the card statements because some purchases are not reported on managers’ published quarterly expenses.

Managers use city credit or purchase cards to pay for everything from stationary and equipment to seminars, meals and hotel stays. 

The card agreements bar officials from using the cards for personal expenses and warn that employees face being fired if they do so.

Nanaimo purchase card agreement
Cardholders are prohibited from using the cards for personal expenses.

Provincial watchdog intervenes

News Nanaimo asked for the credit card statements of the city’s five corporate officers on Oct. 13 in a freedom of information request. The city had 30 business days to respond.

However, on Thursday Nov. 23, with two business days left in the response period, the city notified News Nanaimo that it was delaying its response to as late as January 9, 2018.

The city claimed it needed to consult an unnamed third party before releasing the information.  

News Nanaimo objected to the delay in a complaint to the provincial Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC), which asked the city to provide more details about the delay.

The city failed to provide answers to the OIPC’s inquiries. On Wednesday, the information commissioner reinstated the original Monday Nov. 27 deadline.

Letter from OIPC reinstating the original deadline
Letter from the OIPC reinstating the original response deadline

On Friday afternoon, the city finally provided News Nanaimo with credit card statements for the city’s chief operating officer, city clerk and director of human resources.

But in a letter, city clerk Sheila Gurrie said the city was “withholding the statements of the CFO and CAO in their entirety.”

She said the denial was based on the information being harmful to personal privacy, subject to lawyer client privilege and harmful to the city’s financial or economic interests.

There was no mention this time of needing to consult with a third party, and no explanation about how the information is personal when the card agreements prohibit them from being used for personal expenses.

News Nanaimo intends to appeal the city’s decision to block access to the CAO and CFO’s statements. However, it may take up to a year for the OIPC to rule on the matter.

Letter denying access to Ms. Samra and Mr. Mema's credit card statements
Letter from Sheila Gurrie denying access to Ms. Samra and Mr. Mema’s statements

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  • You have to wonder if these two have an exit strategy that will kick in before the January deadline. Time for these two to come clean.

  • Keep up the good work, Dominic Jones. It is much appreciated by a great many of us. The loss of so many senior staff and the culture of secrecy are eroding democracy and accountability. Thank you for what you are doing.

  • This City Council regularly gives the finger to good governance. Why should this latest move come as a surprise? Keep up the pressure Dominic.

  • Council members should intervene immediately and direct these two officials to disclose what is required of them — and that includes, especially, a show of leadership by the mayor, who promised transparency in city operations during the last election campaign and should deliver on that commitment. The need to inform a third party is merely an unacceptable ruse.

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