MLA calls for transparency over Samra fundraiser scandal as councillors dodge questions

Council needs to deal with issue transparently, quickly and firmly says Krog as council majority remains mum about their knowledge of Liberal Party fundraiser
Nanaimo NDP MLA Leonard Krog has called on city council to clear the air over chief administrative officer Tracy Samra’s taxpayer-funded trip where she attended a BC Liberal Party fundraiser.

Nanaimo NDP MLA Leonard Krog

Meanwhile, attention shifted to which city councillors had prior knowledge or approved of Ms. Samra attending community, sport and cultural development Minister Peter Fassbender’s annual campaign fundraiser.

“Nanaimo City Council hired Ms. Samra and they need to deal with this promptly, transparently, and if the allegations are accurate, firmly,” said Mr. Krog.

The MLA spoke out after News Nanaimo reported Tuesday that Ms. Samra flew to Vancouver last Feb. 4 and that night attended the minister’s up to $625-a-ticket event in Surrey with her lawyer, George Cadman, QC.

An expense report shows that Ms. Samra charged her return airfare and a stay at the Coast Coal Harbour hotel to taxpayers, but no explanation was given for the expenses.

Ms. Samra also has not provided details of her legal expenses. In-camera meeting minutes show that council granted Ms. Samra $5,000 for independent legal advice last December.

Samra subject of mayor’s complaint to province at the time

At the time of Ms. Samra attending the political fundraising event, the minister had received a complaint from Mayor Bill Mckay about the unusual hiring of Ms. Samra as interim CAO.

Mayor Bill McKay
Mayor Bill McKay complained to minister

The truncated hiring process had also sparked a legal wrangle between Councillor Diane Brennan and five councillors after they and Ms. Samra accused her of leaking confidential information.

Ms. Brennan’s lawyer had asked the mayor to use his powers to suspend Ms. Samra pending a legal review of her hiring and the legality of council’s censure action against his client.

Released in-camera council minutes show that after mayor McKay told council of his contact with the minister, council moved against him in a January 25 in-camera meeting that he was absent from.

Councillors passed a motion expressing a loss of confidence in the mayor, asking that he immediately withdraw legal actions to remove Ms. Samra. They also asked him to share all legal and other correspondence in and out of his office, tell them in advance about any media interviews he planned to do, and only meet Ms. Samra with a councillor present.

That was just 10 days before Ms. Samra flew to Vancouver via Harbour Air and then attended Mr. Fassbender’s fundraiser at the Aria Banquet and Convention Centre.

Mr. Fassbender told News Nanaimo that he had no forewarning that Ms. Samra would be at his fundraiser and did not discuss the situation in Nanaimo with her as it would have been inappropriate.

Ms. Samra has also said she didn’t have any “substantive” discussions with the minister and only spoke with him for two to three minutes.

Tracy Samra was subject of complaint but attended minister’s fundraiser with her lawyer

Mayor and Brennan did not know

Why Ms. Samra chose to attend the fundraiser and who on council knew or approved of it has become the focus of questions since the news broke on Tuesday.

Seven of the nine council members have declined to answer emailed questions to them about the issue, including whether they had prior knowledge that Ms. Samra planned to attend the fundraiser.

Only Mayor McKay and Ms. Brennan said they had no prior knowledge. Councillors Bill Bestwick, Jim Kipp, Gord Fuller, Bill Yoachim, Jerry Hong, Ian Thorpe and Wendy Pratt failed to respond to emailed questions on the issue.

Bill Bestwick
Bill Bestwick, Finance Chair

Mr. Bestwick, who is chair of the city’s Finance and Audit Committee, also failed to respond to questions about whether he had asked about the unexplained expenses in Ms. Samra’s half-year expense report that was published Sept. 9.

Meanwhile, the wisdom of Ms. Samra going to a fundraiser for a provincial minister who had received a complaint about her hiring raised eyebrows among municipal governance experts.

They pointed to the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators’ (CAMA) code of conduct. It states that CAOs are expected to “refrain from participation in political activities which would impair his/her performance as a professional municipal manager.”

Another issue is the city’s refusal to release receipts for Ms. Samra’s expenses in response to an Aug. 29 freedom of information request from News Nanaimo, and her threat to sue if we published details of her attending the minister’s event.

Integrity BC executive director Dermod Travis strongly criticized the city withholding receipts.

“Other public bodies release receipts, including BC MLAs, and it has never been a problem,” said Mr. Travis. “The city is completely offside on this.”

Council critic Don Bonner said the unexplained expenses, the refusal to provide receipts, threats of legal action and lack of comment from councillors led him to conclude that “the whole incident sounds like a cover up from the beginning.”