Inspector of Municipalities corrects Samra’s claims on legality of committees

City mum as expert says senior provincial official’s action is a “serious indictment” for a city manager
A senior provincial government official has corrected public statements Nanaimo’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Tracy Samra made about the legality of the city’s controversial new committees.

Article on News Nanaimo sparked ministry’s letter

BC’s Inspector of Municipalities Tara Faganello sent a letter to Ms. Samra last month in response to comments she made to News Nanaimo claiming she had received “confirmation” from Ms. Faganello’s office that the city’s new committees “aren’t non-compliant with the Community Charter.”

However, in a written statement to News Nanaimo, Ms. Faganello said her letter pointed out that “there was no ruling by the Inspector of Municipalities or staff on the legalities of the City of Nanaimo committee structure.”

She said it was not the role of the ministry or her office to provide legal advice or decide questions best left to the courts. Ms. Samra had been advised that she might want to seek specific legal advice on the city’s committees, she said.

Unusual for Ministry to publicly correct CAO statements

A consultant with more than 30 years experience in municipal administration, who did not want to be named, said it was highly unusual for ministry officials to publicly correct statements by a CAO.

“If the Ministry is making it known the CAO’s statement was not correct, that would be a serious indictment for any city manager,” said the consultant, who added that he would expect Ms. Samra to immediately set the record straight.

media statement
Statement from Inspector of Municipalities Tara Faganello

The city has not publicly acknowledged receiving the letter, and did not respond to questions from News Nanaimo.

The provincial action came after Ms. Samra found herself at the centre of a snafu over the legality of a controversial new six-committee structure supported by the council majority led by Councillor Bill Bestwick. The new committee structure is seen as a means for the Bestwick group to cement control over all city policy and administrative functions at the city.

The legal doubts stem from a vote against the new committees by Mayor Bill McKay, who maintains only a mayor has authority under provincial law to create the new committees as they are ongoing standing committees rather than limited select committees, which council can create.

Ms. Samra insisted the mayor was wrong and the new committees were legal. When questions persisted, Ms. Samra told councillors that she had consulted with the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development on the matter and she trusted the issue was closed.

But when word got out that News Nanaimo was going to publish an article quoting two senior municipal law experts on the committees’ legality, Ms. Samra sent two emails the Friday night before we were due to publish the article. In both of those emails, one of which was copied to all members of council, she suggested that the province had ruled the committees were legal.

Not so, said Ms. Faganello. “Only the courts can determine if legislative requirements are being met or if a public body is acting outside its statutory authority in any particular situation,” she said.

Ms. Faganello’s letter to Nanaimo’s CAO clarified that Ministry staff provide local governments and the public with information and advice on the legislation and its general intent, but “neither the Inspector of Municipalities nor Ministry staff provide legal advice.”

Email to me from Ms. Samra
Email to me from Ms. Samra at 9:23 pm on Friday July 15, 2016.
Email from Ms. Samra to me and Mayor & Council
Email from Ms. Samra to me and Mayor & Council at 9:29 pm.

No response to questions

Legal uncertainty is not the only problem facing the proposed new committees. Sources said the city appears to be backtracking on its plans after prominent committee members indicated they would not serve on the new committees.

Tracy Samra
City manager Tracy Samra

It’s understood that the city may be planning to reconvene all of its old committees and have them provide input on a new committee structure for roll-out in October, but this could not be confirmed.

News Nanaimo sent a list of questions to Ms. Samra and city communications manager Philip Cooper last Thursday at noon asking for comment by 10:00 am on Friday.

After receiving no response, we contacted Mr. Cooper at 2:00 pm on Friday to see when we should expect a response. He said he would check with Ms. Samra, but did not get back to us.

Meanwhile, Mayor McKay said none of the new committees have been struck yet and he will continue to vote against them.