City manager Tracy Samra tightens grip on key functions

Direct oversight of communications, freedom of information and council agendas raises transparency fears
Nanaimo city manager Tracy Samra has introduced her second administrative reorganization in six months with moves that give her more control over key functions that could impact transparency at the city.

The actions follow a flood of senior management departures since Ms. Samra was first appointed on an interim basis last November and then given the permanent job in March.City of Nanaimo organizatin chart

Announced in a press release on the city’s website, the organizational rejigger tightens Ms. Samra’s control over the information that flows to the public and to council with the creation of a new “CAO’s Office.”

She will now directly manage communications, freedom of information, and the city clerk or legislative services department, which controls the agendas of council.

At the same time, several vacant senior management positions are being replaced by more junior positions.

Control over information and communications

Ms. Samra’s arrival at the city has coincided with a marked reduction in the amount of council information that is provided to the public and a heavy-handed response to public criticism on social media.

The release of in-camera council information that was approved by the previous council in 2013 has slowed and been reduced under her watch.

Tracy Samra
City Manager Tracy Samra

And in April, Ms. Samra authorized lawyers to send letters to Facebook group administrators telling them to act against criticism of her and other city staff.

By increasing her control over information flows, the fear is that the public will now have even less access to information about the city going forward — and what they do get will be influenced by public relations goals.

Ms. Samra was heavily criticized in May for hiring former Nanaimo Daily News managing editor Mark McDonald to provide PR advice to the city and councillors. McDonald was at the Daily News when a controversial letter about First Nations people was published.

The reorganization puts Ms. Samra in direct command of the city’s communications department under manager Philip Cooper, and will enable her to better control the content of news and publications the city distributes to residents.

Victor Mema made CFO

Finance director Victor Mema, who joined the city in September 2015, has quickly become Ms. Samra’s right-hand man and is being elevated to Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

Victor Mema
CFO Victor Mema

In addition to his accounting and finance roles, Mr. Mema will now oversee the odd pairing of information technology and police support services, as well as enterprise risk management.

A city statement said police services were being put under the CFO because “RCMP support services represents the largest contract costs for the city.”

Also given an expanded role is community development director Dale Lindsay, who will now have added responsibility for environment, culture and heritage, and social and multicultural planning.

The city’s news release about the organizational changes did not explain how the new structure would fit with the council portfolio system that was implemented two months ago. Under that system, council members are assigned to one of nine city departments on a quarterly basis.

In the city’s release, Ms. Samra attributed the reorganization to being “in preparation of supporting Council with the implementation of any recommendations contained in the city’s recently completed core services review.”