NEWS

Ex-manager’s Facebook posts become a thorn in Nanaimo council’s side

Tom Weinreich’s revelations about CAO paying severance "for nothing" and using city vehicle while on leave have provoked terse reactions
Tom Weinreich
Tom Weinreich
A recently retired manager at the City of Nanaimo has become a thorn in the side of the ruling council majority and the city manager by publishing hard-hitting revelations on Facebook.

Former building inspections manager Tom Weinreich, who retired from the city last April after 25 years, started posting regularly in the A Better Nanaimo Facebook group about a month ago.

While his posts have been welcomed by hundreds of residents, they have provoked irritable responses from city manager Tracy Samra and councillor Bill Bestwick, who controls council with a five-man majority.

“Money for nothing”

In a post titled “Money for Nothing” on Dec. 20, Mr. Weinreich disclosed that Ms. Samra paid former general manager Tom Hickey 17 months severance — worth about $275,000 — even though he planned to retire in three months.

That revelation prompted councillor Diane Brennan to declare that she was not given details about Mr. Hickey’s payout and was told it was Ms. Samra’s jurisdiction.

“I never imagined a severance package so valuable,” she said.

But Ms. Samra hit back angrily in a terse email to News Nanaimo and all of council, saying: “Councillor Brennan’s statement is false and misleading. Our corporate record do (sic) not support her misleading and unsubstantiated statements. Council has been briefed on same.”

News Nanaimo has been unable to find a public record of Mr. Hickey’s severance being discussed with council. A city news release on Dec. 14, 2015, the only public record of the issue, seems to support Ms. Brennan’s account. It said Mr. Hickey’s severance was still to be negotiated.

The post about Tom Hickey's severance
Mr. Weinreich’s post on Facebook about Tom Hickey’s big severance payout three months ahead of his planned retirement.

City vehicle while on leave

Another post by Mr. Weinreich, saying that Ms. Samra had use of a city vehicle while she was on leave last March, also sparked an angry response.

In an email, Ms. Samra said, “Mr. Weinreich’s allegations of personal use are false and unfounded.”

She said the City’s chief operating officer Brad McRae had allocated a vehicle to her “for city business” and there “was no contravention of city policies.”

News Nanaimo independently verified Mr. Weinreich’s account that Ms. Samra had the city vehicle, a Dodge Journey, at her home while she was on leave.

This issue also drew in councillor Bestwick, who emphasized in an unusually detailed response that he had “absolutely zero oversight of who a) receives a vehicle allowance, b) who signs vehicles in or out for business or personal use and c) how many staff Exempt and Union receive vehicles or an allowance for same.”

He said he has been trying unsuccessfully for “well over a decade” to make changes to who receives car allowances and how they work.

With the “massive fleet of vehicles” at the city, he said it was “hard to imagine” that there were no other vehicles available for Mr. Weinreich.

As for the suggestion that someone on council must have approved Ms. Samra’s use of a city car, Mr. Bestwick said: “Not me, out of my pay grade and in 13 years on council under four CAO’s and three mayors, nobody has ever asked me for permission to use a car.”

Mr. Weinreich's post about Ms. Samra's use of a city vehicle
Mr. Weinreich’s post about Ms. Samra’s use of a city vehicle

Mr. Bestwick also wanted to make it clear that as chair of the city’s finance and audit committee, which oversees the city’s $200m annual budget, he has “no more authority” than any other member.

“I get the agenda the same time as all councillors and mayor. I show up to the meetings and chair them. Speakers list cop. Call the meeting to order. Approve the agenda. Amend. Adopt. Approve the minutes. Then introduce the agenda items for discussion, motion, next. Adjourn.”

Mr. Bestwick’s response did not say what he thought of Ms. Samra having a city vehicle while she was on leave.

Mayor “highly respected and liked”

In other recent posts, Mr. Weinreich has revealed that:

  • Mayor Bill McKay is “highly liked and respected by staff” but Ms. Samra has instructed them not to talk to him;
  • Staff have not seen any examples of Mr. McKay being disrespectful to the CAO despite allegations to the contrary;
  • Staff are afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs;
  • There is a lack of trust between staff and the current council that didn’t exist before;
  • The city is having trouble attracting new staff while council is ignoring the ongoing brain drain from the city; and,
  • Staff are choosing to retire rather than extend their careers because they’re unhappy.

As a city retiree, Mr. Weinreich is not prevented from speaking out about his experiences at the city. Employees who have been let go with severance typically sign non-disclosure agreements with the city.

“I have received a lot of positive reaction from current employees at the city regarding my posts. I have yet to receive a response that refutes any of my observations. It’s tough to compete with the truth,” said Mr. Weinreich.

The former manager said the firing of Charlotte Davis, the city’s sanitation and public works administration manager, was the impetus for him to begin spilling the beans on what he knows. Combined with the axing of Mr. McRae, the COO, it also contributed to a union boycott of the city’s annual staff lunch.

“That’s when I publicly thanked Blaine Gurrie, President of CUPE 401, for stepping up to the plate to defend managers throughout the organization — truly an unprecedented action by a union president,” said Mr. Weinreich.

Ms. Davis was rehired three weeks after being let go.

Said Mr. Weinreich: “My hope is that the community shows up en masse on October 20th (election day) and finally puts an end to what is described as a national embarrassment. It’s time to end this charade.”

He said he will continue to post new information periodically in the A Better Nanaimo group on Facebook.

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  • If Tom Hickey was overpaid on his severance, good for him. We can only imagine the nonsense he had to put up with in the last couple of years of employment. For the love of God, I hope the voters of Nanaimo wake up to the dangers of apathy. Dominic Jones is doing the people of Nanaimo a service. Nanaimo should go down in history as the place where municipal politics drove a change in the laws that now make councillors immune from recall. Bill Bestwick is acting against the interests of his community. He should resign. Likewise Jim Kipp. He is too old and has been in office for too long. He has not made sense since he protested in Colliery Dam Park, where he abused a City manager in public. That was absolutely disgusting to watch on Facebook. They are a disgrace to the city.

  • I am also a retired City employee. I keep in touch with many retirees and members of City staff, and from what I can tell they are disappointed and dismayed by the direction the City administrator has taken since her somewhat suspect hiring . I believe she has divided Council, and has destroyed the morale of City staff. So sad for the City – once a great place to work!

  • Just checking facts – The city still lists Brad McRae as the COO, and his phone is in service. Tha article says he was axed. Please clarify, if you can, thank you for your reporting, good job.

    • Mr. McRae has been told by the administration that his employment has been terminated. However, he is on leave until he is provided with his legislated hearing with council as an officer of the corporation. This is set out in Section 152 of the Community Charter. http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/consol17/consol17/03026_05#section152

      Strictly speaking, he is still employed until council renders its decision. However, to the administration he was fired.

      • Now I comprehend perfectly. I feel very sorry for the Brad McRae.

        But it seems to me that the Bestwick gang is once again trapped in a box canyon of their own making. They have shown very poor judgement putting Samara in the CAO role and worse, continuing to support her along with a massive pay increase even as Nanaimo spins further and further out of control.

        When Samera goes down (and all CAOs go sooner or later), she will likely take this gang with her, a just and fitting outcome they all sorely deserve. Or they will back her into the upcoming election, and the voters will have the pleasure of doing the job themselves, just like they did on the 80/20 vote against the Bestwick gang’s ill-conceived and unwanted hockey stadium.

  • Truly an unbelievable situation. However, please note that circumstances under the old regime were far from problem-free. In fact the arrogance on display by a too long-entrenched senior administration, and, for most of that period, a multi-term but always minority-of-voters-supported mayor, was truly breathtaking — the “corporate” notion of municipal government a la Gordon Campbell run amok. During that decades-long period, council and senior administration too often exhibited an extraordinary degree of insensitivity to the city’s official plan and to its by-laws — especially when they got in the way of the wishes of favoured developers.

    And when it came to taking proper stock of the public interest, what properly operating city, for example, would try to blow off a cherished park without properly involving the public at the outset to see if the idea should even be floated — or, to cite another example, construct a multi-million dollar civic building without open tendering.

    A change was definitely needed but not to the toxic atmosphere we now have.

    Thanks for the good reporting but please bear in mind that a return to the antediluvian habits of previous councils is not what a modern, forward-looking city needs.

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