Expense records for Nanaimo’s two highest ranking managers show that taxpayers paid for everything from the most expensive item on a Florida resort’s room service menu to a $2 coffee at a bagel shop.
The spending by city manager Tracy Samra and chief financial officer Victor Mema is evidenced in 85 pages of receipts and other records obtained by News Nanaimo through a freedom of information request.
Spending four times as much as prior managers
In the past 18 months, the two top managers have incurred expenses totaling $50,425. That is almost four times the $12,966 their predecessors spent in their final two years at the city.
Most of Ms. Samra’s and Mr. Mema’s expenses are for travel, meals and conferences totaling $35,041. That includes stays at luxury hotels, room service meals, restaurant breakfasts and lunches, fast food and coffees.
Taxpayers also paid $9,215 for Ms. Samra’s legal bills related to the controversy over the legality of her hiring in late-2015.
The expense records News Nanaimo obtained substantiate about $16,000 in expenses incurred during the first six months of this year. Last year, the city refused to provide similar records for the two managers’ 2016 expenses.
Mr. Mema’s spending makes up the bulk of the expenses so far this year. In six months, he has broken his $7,500 annual budget, spending almost $12,000.
$6,360 junket to Orlando, Florida
More than half of the finance chief’s expenses are for a junket to Orlando, Florida to attend software company SAP’s annual conference from May 14 to 18. That trip cost taxpayers a total of $6,360.
Mr. Mema stayed at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress resort, which boasts “sunshine, seclusion and serenity” just minutes away from Orlando’s famed theme parks.
However, the hotel is more than 19 km away from the Orange County Convention Center where the conference was being held. That resulted in Mr. Mema taking daily limo rides to and from the conference, which added about $400 to his bill.
Mr. Mema’s hotel bill included four room service dinners for himself ranging in price from $80 to $128. On his last night, the finance boss appears to have ordered the most expensive item on the menu — an 8oz tenderloin steak for $56 (US$42).
It was Mr. Mema’s second trip to Orlando in less than a year. In October 2016, taxpayers paid $4,778.69 to send him to a finance conference at the same venue as the SAP conference. However, on that occasion he stayed at a Hyatt hotel across the street from the convention.
Back in Nanaimo, Mr. Mema charged taxpayers for five restaurant meals — two at the Coast Bastion, two at Astera Taverna and one at the Fire House Grill.
One of those meals is mislabeled on his expenses as a lunch related to the failed event centre initiative. It is actually a $44 breakfast that he paid on a city credit card at 8:56 am on Feb. 15. There is no mention of who Mr. Mema was having breakfast with.
In September, Mr. Mema was sued in small claims court by his former employer the District of Sechelt for allegedly using their credit card for $9,700 in “obviously personal unapproved charges.” During his two and half years in Sechelt, he ran up expenses totalling more than $67,000.
Samra’s expenses often lack full receipts
While Mr. Mema’s expenses are well organized and substantiated by receipts, Ms. Samra’s are disorganized and poorly documented.
In many cases, Ms. Samra’s expenses are charged to a city purchasing card but are not evidenced by full receipts, making it impossible for accounting staff to review what items were purchased.
On Feb. 28, Ms. Samra charged $107.18 to her city purchasing card for a “working lunch” at Nanaimo’s Fire House Grill. There is no receipt or explanation of who attended. A note attached to the credit card chit says “no alcohol was purchased!”
In another instance, the city’s top bureaucrat repaid the city for $110.21 for undocumented purchases at Prestons Restaurant at the Coast Coal Harbour Hotel in Vancouver. She stayed there on April 5 for an unspecified business meeting.
On April 10, taxpayers paid $202.23 for one night at the Coast Coal Harbour that Ms. Samra never used. The booking was canceled too late for a refund.
And while the city’s finance chief enjoys fine dining, Ms. Samra is more inclined to grab a bite at fast food joints or vending machines. She billed taxpayers for food purchased at McDonalds, A&W and The Bagel Stop.
Ms. Sarma spent a total of $3,864.91 in the first six months of the year. She was on leave from the city for about half of that time.
The expense records for both managers are embedded below: