Council split on Samra as key decision looms

Closed-door meeting tomorrow may decide how city will move forward after dramatic developments involving city manager

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.

News release
News release issued by shíshálh Nation quoting Ms. Samra as its new chief administrative officer

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 meeting notice
The notice of a special meeting called by mayor Bill McKay for tomorrow

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.


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  • We can be sure that Chief Paul reads the news too. I wonder if he is still “excited” about working with Ms. Samra now?

      • Perhaps Anon works for the City. Whatever. This unfortunate confrontation has gone on for three years. It should have been resolved by a resignation on January 31, 2018. My money says that if Ms.Samra were to resign, in writing, that the special prosecutor would be asked to stand own. I doubt that anyone wants another lawsuit. Ms.Samra is trying to score her severance pay by having her employer fire her. Instead, she may be charged with a criminal offence and that would haunt her for the rest of her career. She has accepted another job, so what is the problem? It looks like the problem has been Ms. Samra all along. One can only imagine what her supporter on council are thinking if they advise her otherwise. I hope she still has a job in Sechelt.

      • charles – thanks… fair enough on your first comment… and, i agree with your conclusions in the rest of your post too… it is hard to see it any other way at this point..

  • These are not policy but legal decisions. The only responsible thing to do would be for council to get a lawyer to assist with this detangling process. Please do not dig yourself in deeper, people.

  • I am hoping this will be “the beginning of the end” of THE NOT SO FAB 5 . If there is any common sense amongst Nanaimo’s Mayor and Council, Tracy Samra will ultimately be fired. I predict it may take a few weeks, but common sense will prevail and she will get the constructive dismissal that she covets in the next few weeks.

  • She will be remembered for turning the City of Nanaimo into an organizational train wreck. She was made possible by the Gang of Five (Bestwick, Fuller, Kipp, Hong and Yoachim), who will be remembered for having hired her without a competition and for supporting everything she did no matter how stupid or ethically challenging. Responsibility for this debacle falls strictly on he shoulders of Bestwick, Fuller, Kipp, Hong and Yoachim whose reward is a public humiliation today, followed by a crushing electoral defeat this fall. When you see them on the street – point and laugh.

  • Dominic: I noticed that your report includes descriptions of some of what purportedly took place in the closed meeting of Monday, Feb. 5th. For example, you advised that: “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 ….. ”

    So, as closed meetings are attended by the mayor and councillors, and usually a member(s) of staff, am I to presume that a person in attendance, leaked information from an in camera meeting? Thanks!

    • No, because the prohibition only applies to “information considered” in the incamera meeting, and rants, fingerpointing, people leaving visibly upset does not constitute “information considered.” If a record or the substance of a motion of something like that were divulged then perhaps you might have a breach. However, my job is to ferret out information for you and others and publish when it is in the public interest.