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.
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.
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.