Nanaimo’s divided city council will meet tomorrow to discuss how to unravel the tangled web of legal issues created by Tracy Samra’s dramatic exit.
The critical meeting will be the second time this week that council has come together to discuss how to move forward after a series of events that ended with the top bureaucrat’s arrest and release.
While Monday’s public council meeting seemed surprisingly orderly, beneath the surface and behind closed doors tensions are high over Ms. Samra’s chaotic departure.
The five-man majority, who first appointed the outgoing city manager in unusual circumstances in 2015, have been left reeling by their chief administrator’s exit for a new job amid an arrest for allegedly uttering threats against at least seven people.
Shambolic Monday closed session
Sources close to council described a shambolic in-camera meeting prior to Monday’s placid public session that was televised to residents.
The closed session was marked by long rants and finger pointing, while one member of staff was seen leaving the meeting room visibly upset.
Majority leader Bill Bestwick attended the meeting by phone from a business trip but chose to disconnect before the public meeting.
His old friend and ally councillor Jim Kipp left after the closed session, telling News Nanaimo yesterday that he had felt ill.
Sources said the majority portrayed Ms. Samra as a victim of a toxic workplace. They blamed mayor Bill McKay and councillor Diane Brennan for failing to apologize to Ms. Samra for alleged breaches of the city’s respectful workplace policy by Jan. 30, as recommended by a council censure panel last month.
But their claims are undermined by the fact that Ms. Samra had for weeks been negotiating to take a new job with the shíshálh Nation in Sechelt starting this month.
She accepted the new job on Jan. 30, with her appointment announced the next day by Chief Warren Paull in a news release that included a quote from Ms. Samra.
On medical leave from city
Meanwhile, Ms. Samra’s employment status with the city is said to be a legal minefield.
She has not tendered her resignation in writing and council is hampered in the actions it can take since she took paid medical leave following her arrest.
The city’s human resources lawyers have been working to unravel the city’s legal options and were understood to have formulated a strategy yesterday for the city to move ahead.
Mr. McKay has called a special meeting of council for tomorrow at 10:00am where it is expected Ms. Samra will be the focus of discussion.
Sources close to council say its members will be asked to make a decision that could lay the groundwork for finally dealing with Ms. Samra’s future relationship with the city.
However, it remains unclear if the five-man majority are willing to sever ties with Ms. Samra. It is also unclear if they want to pay her severance or what they need to accept that she has taken a new position.
Some are said to favour waiting for the outcome of an internal investigation into the events at City Hall last Wednesday that resulted in RCMP later arresting Ms. Samra at her home.
Others appear unwilling to move ahead without clarity from Ms. Samra herself on whether she has taken the job in Sechelt.
Majority member Bill Yoachim said he doesn’t have “formal info” about Ms. Samra having taken a job in Sechelt, but added: “If anyone leaves on their terms I don’t believe there should be severance.”
He would not say yesterday what information he needed to enable him to accept that Ms. Samra had left the city to take another job.
“Too much going on right now and have to respectfully give you the ‘ no comment’,” he said.
Councillor Jerry Hong said he had not made up his mind and wanted clarity from Ms. Samra.
“Until I see a letter from Ms. Samra, everything is just speculation,” said Mr. Hong.
Special prosecutor appointed
Police yesterday continued to interview witnesses and others in their investigation of Ms. Samra allegedly uttering threats against council members, current and former staff members and this reporter (see disclosure below).
CHEK television news reported that Ms. Samra has hired Victoria-based criminal defense lawyer Robert Mulligan, QC, to represent her. The city is not paying his fees.
The investigation is being led by a team of investigators separate from the local RCMP detachment, as is usual when allegations involve politicians and senior city officials.
A special prosecutor was appointed last Friday to assist in the case, the BC Prosecution Service said in a statement today.
Vancouver lawyer Michael Klein will advise RCMP investigators, conduct related charge assessment and “assume conduct of the prosecution if charges are approved,” the statement said.
“The appointment of a special prosecutor is intended to avoid any potential for real or perceived improper influence in the administration of justice in light of the nature of the allegations and the identity of some of the complainants as elected municipal officials,” the statement said.
Disclosure: News Nanaimo is unable to obtain comment from Ms. Samra because she is currently prohibited from contacting this reporter directly or through a third-party under the terms of an arrest release undertaking. See more
Correction: An earlier version of this article said that Mr. Bestwick attended the Feb. 5 in-camera meeting by phone from his condominium in Hawaii. That was incorrect. He was away on business and called into the meeting. We regret the error and apologize to Mr. Bestwick.