Conflict expert takes Nanaimo to court over unpaid bills

The Integrity Group tried to help feuding councillors get along but is now suing the city for $52,000 in unpaid invoices
Integrity group
The Integrity Group provides workplace conflict resolution services and worked with council members for eight months
A company that tried to help Nanaimo’s fractious council get along is suing the city for its unpaid bills, court records show.

The Integrity Group was hired by the city in 2015 as a facilitator to improve relationships between council members and end bad behaviour that was negatively impacting staff.

However, councillors cancelled the contract and refused to pay the firm’s invoices. A couple councillors claimed it was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and a “change agent” hired by the mayor in a plot to break up the council majority.

The company is seeking more than $52,000 plus interest that it claims is owed for work done between May and December 2015 under an agreement with mayor Bill McKay.

Dispute over documentation

In early 2016, a dispute arose when city manager Tracy Samra said there was no documentation to support invoices Integrity had submitted.

The mayor said there was a proposal he had agreed to and urged council to approve payment of Integrity’s invoices otherwise the Vancouver-based firm could sue.

That has now happened with Integrity filing a claim in BC Supreme Court in Vancouver last Friday.

Integrity lawsuit
The Integrity Group filed its notice of civil claim in BC Supreme Court last Friday

Integrity says a principle of the firm, Heather McKenzie, submitted a proposal to the city in April 2015 and met with Mr. McKay to discuss it a week later.

At that meeting the mayor advised that he had authority to have the city engage Integrity and pay its bills, the claim states.

It was agreed that the city would pay Ms. McKenzie $295 per hour and reimburse for direct expenses.

That same day Ms. McKenzie met with council members at a council meeting and began work on the facilitation program the next day. She worked with councillors, the mayor and staff until December 18, 2015.

On January 13, 2016, Integrity submitted two invoices — one for $51,418.50 for work done, and the other for $1,155.02 in expenses, such as travel costs.

Bill McKay
Bill McKay hired Integrity to improve council relations

“Despite later confirmations from the Mayor that these invoices were acceptable … the (city) has refused to pay the sums due and owing in debt, in whole or in part,” says the claim.

Integrity is seeking payment of the invoices plus court ordered interest on the outstanding total since January 2016.

The allegations have not been proven in court. Ms. Samra did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.


Integrity’s work with city council was at the centre of one of the most infamous council meetings when a confidential email by Mr. McKay to Ms. McKenzie was made public by resident Tim McGrath.

The email, which Mr. McGrath claimed to have found on his windshield, contained the mayor’s personal views on each of his council colleagues and set out the scope of work required of Ms. MacKenzie.

Recently released in-camera minutes show that the council majority had been trying to get a copy of the mayor’s email for eight months prior to Mr. McGrath stepping up to the council podium.

Gord Fuller
Gord Fuller believes Integrity Group was a “change agent”

Some councillors were evidently led to believe the mayor’s email to Ms. MacKenzie would reveal that the facilitation exercise was a conspiracy against them.

Eight months before Mr. McGrath leaked the email, councillor Jerry Hong said he suspected the facilitation program was a “sham” and a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

After Mr. McGrath made the email public, councillor Gord Fuller wrote that “this was not about bringing in a mediator but a change agent. Shameful in many ways including what in my opinion was collusion on part of our senior staff of the time and the integrity group. (sic)”

However, an objective of review of the scope of work outlined in the email shows that the goal was merely to have council members be civil, professional and not put the city in legal jeopardy.

The leak of the mayor’s email is currently part of an ongoing investigation being conducted by the BC Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

The Integrity Group’s notice of civil claim is embedded below.

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  • In my opinion Council should sue Integrity Group. They are not trained, professional psychotherapists and they tried to wade into deep waters of conflict, animosity, and a gravely mistrustful, threatening, and toxic culture. There are men on city council who are quite prepared to destroy permanently the reputations and careers of people they do not like, or who threaten their total domination of council. They have NO MERCY. I don’t think Heather MacKenzie gave sufficient, or maybe any direction for Mayor McKay’s writing assignment. He did not want to hurt people with it. The thief, or thieves who stole that private document, and Tim McGrath, who made it public, did NOT CARE that people were hurt by that private confidential document.

    I think that’s why councillors Fuller and Kipp and Tim McGrath made such a big ballyhoo about Ms. Pratt’s phone slap incident. That incident lasted 2 seconds, whereas their public pummelling of Mayor Mckay, Wendy Pratt, and Diane Brennen has gone on for years now but they are determined to make those 3 look bad, to harm them with legal actions and public sneering and make themselves look good by comparison.

    By and large, I don’t think that is working.

    • Madeline, no matter who went in there, I thnk it would have been a disaster. None of those councillors would have ever agreed to a pshchotherapist, anyway – not that some of them don’t need it. And the tax payers would have gone crazy. I share your frustration. But the lawsuits have to stop. Best to pay the bill, I think. The vendors and business prospects will dry up if we don’t honour our contracts. The entire affair is deplorabe. Looking forward to the election.