News

City broke trade laws buying management coaching program without open bids

One instructor runs $500 per night “sexual empowerment retreat” with wife, while details of city training program by tiny firm still being finalized
City officials were this week trying to keep a lid on information that the purchase of a controversial management training program from a Vancouver Island University (VIU) business professor was made in violation of trade laws, News Nanaimo can reveal.

The contract for the new program for about 50 of the city’s management staff is valued at more than $75,000, sources have confirmed.

That’s the threshold where municipalities must invite competitive bids under the 2010 NewWest Partnership trade agreement between BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Bill Bestwick
Council finance and audit committee chair Bill Bestwick failed to respond to questions

City manager Tracy Samra negotiated the contract with home-based business Coach Associates International (CAI), which is owned by VIU business professor Steven Purse.

Ms. Samra was until last year a part-time lecturer at VIU.

Approved at closed-door meeting, total cost not disclosed

City council approved the training proposal at a closed-door meeting on Monday. The city news release on Wednesday failed to disclose the contract value.

CAI’s name and those of Dr. Purse and his associate Barry Switnicki were deleted from the news release after initially being included.

Mr. Switnicki is a business and personal coach who runs a couples sex retreat on Nanaimo’s waterfront with his wife.

City coaches: Steven Purse and Brad Switnicki
City coaches: Steven Purse (left) and Brad Switnicki

In response to questions emailed by News Nanaimo, Ms. Samra declined to provide the total budget for the program but said it would cost about $1,200 for each of 50 managers (about $60,000) “with additional funds available to use to adjust the program.”

When we compared the open-ended contract to the controversial Integrity Group one and asked her to provide the program’s total budget, Ms. Samra accused this reporter of violating the city’s respectful workplace policy and again failed to provide the total budget. (see addendum below)

However, two sources speaking on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to discuss the matter said the fee in CAI’s proposal was for more than $75,000, a fact they said Ms. Samra was aware of.

Councillor Bill Bestwick, who is chair of the city’s finance and audit committee, failed to respond to questions about the contract amount or the city’s failure to comply with competitive purchasing requirements.

Other providers denied opportunity to bid

By sole sourcing the training contract, the city denied other qualified providers an opportunity to pitch for the city’s taxpayer-funded business.

City manager Tracy Samra at Monday’s council meeting.

Nicolle Nattrass is one local provider who said she would have liked the opportunity to offer her company’s services to the city. She offers a workshop to help professionals manage stress that she believes would benefit city staff.

“I question the reasons for (sole sourcing) and wonder why it wasn’t an open pitch,” said Ms. Nattrass. “From the little I do know, I think that the help needed is not just business management but also a need for self analysis.”

Training program details sketchy

Few details have been provided about the training program that Ms. Samra is requiring her managers to take.

In an email to media, Ms. Samra admitted that the city had “yet to finalize the program” but said it was meant to “to transform the existing ‘toxic’ culture into a more positive, supportive one.”

She blamed the current dysfunction on “conflicts between senior management and Council over successive regimes.”

However, it’s unclear how CAI’s program will address the toxic culture at the city. The company’s website says it doesn’t offer services that deal with “healing and dysfunction, rooted in the past.”

Services the company says it does not provide
It’s unclear how CAI’s training will address the toxic workplace, which Ms. Samra says go back over a decade, when the firm expressly says it doesn’t provide services to address dysfunction rooted in the past.

VIU supposed to review

CAI’s owner Dr. Purse, a professor in VIU’s faculty of management, did not respond to emailed questions about the training program, including which other organizations had used similar programs from his company.

It’s understood the university will play no part in the training contract. However, VIU’s administration is meant to approve all business and external employment contracts of staff. It is not known if Dr. Purse obtained approval.

City records show that CAI obtained a business license in July 2016 and has its address at Mr. Purse’s home in the city’s north-end. The company describes its business as “executive and business coaching conducted via telephone or in-person meetings.”

In an email, Ms. Samra disclosed that Dr. Purse’s company had previously provided coaching services to “senior management” in 2016. Ms. Samra’s expenses show she met Dr. Purse on May 13, 2016 at the Vault Cafe and charged taxpayers $3.05.

The cost of the previous coaching is believed to be less than $25,000.

Switnicki runs “sexual empowerment retreat”

Mr. Switnicki is involved in a wide-range of business and personal consulting services. An Airbnb listing shows that he and his wife run a “sexual empowerment retreat” at a two-bedroom condo on the city’s waterfront.

Airbnb listing: Mr. Switnicki and his wife Kim run a couples “sexual empowerment retreat” in a waterfront condo complex

The listing for the $499 per night pad says: “Whether you come as a couple who simply want to try something new, a couple who want a safe space to explore their Fifty Shades of Grey or for a couple who truly wish to deepen their intimate commitment to each other, you will not regret your choice for this sexually empowering retreat adventure!”

The fee includes a variety of extras, such as “delectable lubricant, sexy slave kit (to unleash your Fifty Shades of Grey fantasies), sexy toy, whipped cream and other sexy treats.”

The four-week stay also includes “your choice of two different role-play outfits or sexy accessories.”

View from the master bedroom at the Switnickis’ sex retreat

The listing adds that Mr. Switnicki and his wife Kim are “experts in sexual intimacy and couples’ communication” and they provide weekly in-person sessions.

A $3,000 security deposit is required.

——–

Addendum (Sunday, October 8, 2017 at 2:37pm):

Several readers have asked what precipitated Ms. Samra to accuse me of violating the city’s respectful workplace policy. I am providing an explanation and the text of the relevant emails below.

On Oct. 4 and 5, News Nanaimo sent questions via email concerning the city’s new management training program to city manager Tracy Samra, human resources director John Van Horne, council finance committee chair Bill Bestwick and Steven Purse, owner of Coach Associates International. The total cost of the program was a common question in all these emails.

At 5:28 pm on Thursday Oct. 5, I received an email from Ms. Samra copied to Dominic Abassi of Nanaimo News Now that addressed a few questions submitted by me and him in the same email, which is not proper practice in media relations and contrary to privacy law. The email also shared my personal  email address with Abassi.  I am highlighting the relevant portions on costs only in the abstracts from the email below. :

“Jones/Abassi Questions: We are allocating a portion of the human resource training and education budget for this important initiate which represents an investment of about $1,200 per employee with additional funds available to use to adjust the program as it rolls out based on the feedback and needs of the participants.”

“Email to Abassi: Council has approved an investment in the resiliency of about 50 management people over the next year.  We have yet to finalize the program; the City will report out on training expenditures as part of the quarterly reporting cycle.”

On Friday Oct. 6 at 7:19am, I sent the following email to Ms. Samra and Mr. Bestwick as a follow up to Ms. Samra’s email the previous day:

“Thanks.

What is the total budget council authorized for this, or is this like the Integrity Group contract where there’s no cap?

$60K to start and then any amount you want or …?”

On Friday Oct. 6 at 9:16am, I received the following email from Tracy Samra, which was copied to Mayor & Council, and which again did not answer the question about the total budget:

“Mr. Jones,

Your comments are unprofessional and violate our Respectful Workplace Policy.  City staff regularly engage with journalists who maintain the professional standards of their profession.  At times, City staff engage with local bloggers like yourself. We expect the same professionalism as we enjoy with local media.

Regards,

Tracy Samra, LL.B., LL.M.
City Manager & Chief Administrative Officer
City of Nanaimo
Tel: 250-755-4410″

News Nanaimo maintains that Ms. Samra’s allegation is unfounded and is designed to discourage us from asking legitimate questions and pursuing information that is in the public interest.

 

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