Missed deadline on staff expenses adds to mounting unease

Finance chair Bill Bestwick seeks to distance himself from late filing, which comes after city blocked access to credit card statements
Bill Bestwick
Finance & audit chairman Bill Bestwick
City officials have failed to publish a scheduled update on senior managers’ spending amid growing unease over their expenses, News Nanaimo can reveal.

The latest quarterly report on management expenses was meant to be made public in November or early December. No explanation has been provided for why the accounts have not been published.

While no report on staff expenses has been made available, on Dec. 7 the city released an updated report on council members’ expenses for the third quarter.

Councillor Bill Bestwick, who chairs the important finance and audit committee, said he did “not know” why the staff expenses report for the third quarter of 2017 hasn’t been made public.

He sought to distance himself saying that while he is chair of the committee that oversees the city’s finances, he does “not possess special authorities or entitlements.”

Chief Financial Officer Victor Mema did not respond to two emails asking why the report hasn’t been published.

High expenses

The disclosure failure comes on the heels of the city’s refusal to release credit card statements for city manager Tracy Samra and Mr. Mema.

It also follows publication of 85 pages of receipts and other records revealing costs for meals, hotels and other expenses incurred by the city’s two most senior bureaucrats.

In the 18 months to the end of June 2017 — the most recent available figures — Nanaimo’s top two managers spent $50,425. That’s almost four times as much as their predecessors spent in their final two years at the city.


Nanaimo CFO Victor Mema
Victor Mema

The city’s CFO is being sued in small claims court by his former employer, the District of Sechelt, for allegedly using their credit card for $9,700 in “obviously personal unapproved charges.” The allegations have not been proven in court.

During his two and a half years in Sechelt, Mr. Mema ran up expenses totalling more than $67,000.

Samra says city is “more transparent”

Tracy Samra UBCM award
Tracy Samra at the UBCM awards breakfast in Septmeber 2017. Photo: UBCM

As recently as Dec. 8, Ms. Samra was still taking credit for publishing staff expenses quarterly instead of yearly as required by law.

In a media statement (PDF) on that day she sought to dispel public concerns about staff spending, saying Mr. Mema had made the city’s expense reporting “more transparent” by exceeding provincial rules.

“Our decision to report city staff expenses quarterly instead of annually means that the public has an opportunity to scrutinize more closely and demand answers,” the statement quoted Ms. Samra as saying.

The statement also announced an overhaul of expense policies for staff that will include spending caps.

“Allegations that city staff have overspent or charged taxpayers for non-eligible expenses are unfounded,” said Ms. Samra in the statement.

Last September, the city won an award for financial reporting from the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) in part because of its expense reporting.

In its award submission the city said: “Starting in 2016, the City of Nanaimo has been posting detailed expense account listings on the website for Mayor & Council, Management, and Staff making over $75,000. These reports are posted on a quarterly basis and are reported on the Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) on an annual basis.”

Last month, News Nanaimo reported that the city had refused to hand over corporate credit card statements for Ms. Samra and Mr. Mema even though they provided the statements for three other senior officers.

The move to block access was made after provincial officials told the city it could not delay providing access to the records.

News Nanaimo appealed the city’s denial of the credit card statements to the provincial information watchdog on Dec. 5. The matter may take a year or more to be decided.


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  • Dominic, you are a fantastic reporter! I notice that you often write ” the staff have”. Staff is a singular noun agreeing with the verb “has”, not have.

    • This often comes up in arguments between those writing in the British vs. US tradition. If I am thinking of the city administration comprised of all staff as a single entity, then I should write staff has or is. However, if I am thinking of individual staff members rather than the institution, I am correct to say staff have or are. But staff has or is doesn’t come naturally to me having been taught the Queen’s English. I think.

    • By the way, this is the only instance of that in this story:
      “Allegations that city staff have overspent or charged taxpayers for non-eligible expenses are unfounded,” said Ms. Samra in the statement.