Multiple sources confirmed that Mr. Mema was relieved of his duties pending an internal investigation into unspecified allegations after an in-camera meeting on Thursday morning.
In a statement at 4:15pm on Friday, council said it had learned about “an allegation of significant concern” and had asked for “a thorough and independent investigation which will be undertaken immediately to help the city move toward effective resolution.”
The move leaves the two most senior positions at the city vacant and will add to public concerns about the city’s governance amid ongoing infighting and dysfunction on city council.
“We take these concerns very seriously and share Nanaimo residents’ commitment to prudent and thoughtful governance and processes,” said council’s statement.
Interim city manager sought
Mr. Mema’s suspension comes on the heels of the arrest and release of city manager Tracy Samra in January on allegations of uttering threats.
She is currently on an undefined leave of absence and prohibited from going to work under conditions of a RCMP release order.
Mr. Mema had been acting as city manager in Ms. Samra’s absence under a bylaw adopted last March before Ms. Samra took an extended leave of absence for health reasons.
He attended Monday’s committee of the whole meeting in his capacity as deputy city manager.
At this stage, council has not appointed anyone to act in the city manger role, which is not a required position under provincial law.
The city is known to be currently searching for an interim city manager from outside of the organization and may have already identified suitable candidates who are available at short notice.
Unclear who is now financial officer
Mr. Mema’s absence comes at a particularly busy time for the city’s finance department as it prepares for its year-end financial audit and various mandatory annual reports.
It is unclear who is performing Mr. Mema’s duties as financial officer, a position that all municipalities are required to have.
That position is usually filled in the CFO’s absence by the city’s deputy director of financial services. The city’s website shows that position is vacant following the early retirement of Deborah Duncan last year.
However, in January, a report to council showed that Nick Mloyi, about whom little is known, was filling Ms. Duncan’s role.
News Nanaimo has learned that Mr. Mema hired Mr. Mloyi ostensibly on a temporary basis late last year.
Both men previously worked for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in Fort McMurray, AB.
Mr. Mloyi is not a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA), which is listed as a requirement for the deputy director role.
It is unlikely that council will want a temporary employee without a CPA filling the role of chief financial officer.
It is expected that council will appoint a new financial officer on Monday from among the city’s finance staff or possibly from an outside accounting firm.
Mema’s credit card statements blocked
Mr. Mema joined the city on September 8, 2015 as director of finance. He was promoted to Chief Financial Officer in June 2016 by Ms. Samra, and made her deputy in March 2017.
In January this year, News Nanaimo revealed that Mr. Mema had been flouting provincial law by using the CPA designation without being registered with BC’s accounting watchdog.
Mr. Mema has come under scrutiny for his expenses while in Nanaimo. Most recent records have disclosed that he spent $28,425.83 in the 21 months between January 2016 and the end of September last year.
That is almost six times more than his predecessor Brian Clemens, who retired from the city in June 2015, spent in his final three years at the city.
Last December, News Nanimo revealed that the city had blocked access to corporate credit card statements for Mr. Mema and Ms. Samra even though it provided statements for three other senior managers.
The denial of access, which followed publication of an article based on receipts for $16,000 in expenses incurred during the first six months of last year, is currently under appeal to BC’s information authority.
Last month, the city issued a rare Saturday news release acknowledging for the first time that auditors KPMG had reviewed purchasing card records. The release, however, claimed that staff had previously been allowed to incur “personal expenses on City-issued purchase cards and credit cards.”
That claim has been disputed by several former staff and is not supported by city policy documents obtained by News Nanaimo. The documents clearly state that no personal expenses are permitted on city cards and abuse can lead to termination.
The unusual release also said there had been “no defalcation, fraud or misappropriation of City funds” through the use of city cards.
Last September, Mr. Mema’s previous employer, the District of Sechelt, filed suit against Mr. Mema seeking repayment of almost $10,000 related to allegedly personal expenses he charged to a corporate credit card.
In a statement to local media after the lawsuit became public, Ms. Samra said Mr. Mema was “an exceptional CFO” whose work had been recognized with an award from the Union of BC Municipalities.
In October 2016, News Nanaimo revealed Mr. Mema had left Sechelt after running up expenses totalling $67,185.54.
Mr. Mema, who lives in North Vancouver, could not be reached for comment.
In its statement, city council said it would provide “periodic updates within legal and privacy constraints.”