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.
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. 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.