City pauses search for in-house lawyer

Tracy Samra had fast-tracked hiring of staff lawyer in the weeks before she secretly planned to leave the city

Council room

The City of Nanaimo has put a hold on plans to hire an in-house lawyer following the arrest of city manager Tracy Samra, it has been confirmed.

“We’ve put that position on hold and we’ve contacted all the candidates to say we’re just pausing for right now,” said John Van Horne, the city’s director of human resources.

Ms. Samra had fast-tracked the hiring of a new internal city solicitor in the weeks immediately prior to her accepting a new job, which she subsequently agreed to give up after her arrest.

RCMP arrested Ms. Samra on the night of Jan. 31 on allegations of uttering threats during an incident earlier in the day at City Hall. She has not been formally charged.

Independent officers have been assigned to investigate and report their findings to a senior lawyer in private practice known as a special prosecutor.

An internal workplace investigation is also underway that will inform council’s decision on Ms. Samra’s future with the city.

She is currently prevented from going to work under the terms of an RCMP release undertaking that prohibits her from being within 100 meters of City Hall.

John Van Horne
HR Director John Van Horne

Kept from residents

Ms. Samra’s decision to hire a staff lawyer was made without council approval or the public seeing a business case.

Information about the new $200,000-per-year role was kept from residents until after the consultation period on the budget had closed.

The public first learned about it from three words in a late agenda item for council’s final meeting of 2017 on Dec. 18.

By that time Ms. Samra was already being short-listed by the shíshálh Nation in Sechelt to be their new chief administrative officer.

At the Dec. 18 meeting, finance and audit committee chair Bill Bestwick said he expected that staff would “not action” the new role until it had been “responsibly discussed with the public” ahead of final budget approval.

However, Ms. Samra ignored Mr. Bestwick’s remarks by posting an advertisement for the job on Jan. 5. At the time, council had not formally authorized the budget for the position.

When council approved the 2018-2022 financial plan bylaw on Jan. 15, only councillor Diane Brennan voted against it.

In job talks at the time

Applications for the city solicitor position closed on Friday Jan. 26. On Monday Jan. 29, News Nanaimo broke the news that Ms. Samra had been offered the job in Sechelt.

On the evening of Jan. 30, Ms. Samra signed the shíshálh Nation’s letter of offer and was scheduled to begin working there this month.

But the following night, police arrested the city manager at her home. She was released the next morning on conditions that include having no contact with this reporter and at least seven other people, including members of council and staff.

Tracy Samra
Tracy Samra

However, following her arrest the Nation announced on Feb. 9 that, with Ms. Samra’s agreement, they would no longer hire her.

The city currently uses a number of outside specialist law firms for its legal needs.

In-house lawyers are typically hired by richer cities like Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey and Victoria on claims it’s cheaper than using only outside law firms.

But public records show that cities with in-house lawyers continue to spend huge sums on outside legal services.



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  • Can’t wait to watch the clowncilors make a mess of this. A fired Samra at whatever cost is cheaper then keeping her. Good hire Bill. I hope you’re better at scouting hockey players or you’ll be out of two jobs soon. Fire Samra and skip the in-house lawyer. It would be nice to have council run the city instead of continuing with this tragic comedy.

  • While it is good to hear that the city is halting this unnecessary position….this news certainly reinforces my opinion there has been seriously disconnected leadership at city hall the last couple of years…. Largely at the hands of the majority council controlling these decisions.

    I sure hope our next election brings on a group that can clean up the mess left in the wake of this council.