News

Nanaimo council gives Samra surprise bonus & salary increase despite fixed-pay contract

City manager gets 14% retroactive raise to $205K, but city failed to provide updated pay info when finally disclosing Samra's contract
Bill Bestwick
Bill Bestwick arranged bonus and upped Samra’s salary despite four-year fixed pay deal
Nanaimo councillor Bill Bestwick arranged to give city manager Tracy Samra a $24,500 bonus and the same amount in increased salary despite her accepting the job for lower pay and no salary hikes for four years.

Seven days later, the city released outdated information to the public in response to a freedom of information request showing Ms. Samra’s old salary. The city made no attempt to correct the information after it was published last December.

Ms. Samra was given the city’s top management post last March when other candidates withdrew their names because the city’s salary offer was below market rates, reliable sources say.

Mr. Bestwick had insisted that the city offer candidates a maximum salary of $180,000 per year over a four-year contract, which is far below the rate for city managers of similar sized cities. Only Ms. Samra was willing to accept the sub-par package.

However, just eight months later Ms. Samra’s new $204,500 salary plus $24,500 bonus, which amounts to a retroactive salary hike, put her on a more competitive footing with her peers. Her counterpart at the Regional District of Nanaimo, Phyllis Carlyle, was appointed in October with a salary of $206,000.

Tracy Samra at Aug. 8 2016 council meeting
Tracy Samra

Samra supports five who hired her without interview

Four months prior to accepting the permanent job, Ms. Samra had been hired as interim city manager without an interview in a controversial truncated hiring process following the departure of former city manager Ted Swabey.

Mayor Bill McKay

Five councillors — Mr. Bestwick, Jim Kipp, Gord Fuller, Bill Yoachim and Jerry Hong — voted to hire her over the protests of Mayor Bill McKay and councillors Diane Brennan, Wendy Pratt and Ian Thorpe.

Since her very first in-camera council meeting on November 23, 2015, where she falsely accused councillors Brennan and Thorpe of leaking information about her unusual hiring, Ms. Samra has been a divisive figure. She has spearheaded actions in support of the five councillors who hired her while going on the offensive against their council adversaries.

Mayor McKay, who fell out with Mr. Bestwick when both men announced they would run for mayor in 2014 (Mr. Bestwick later withdrew citing a new job), has endured an ongoing campaign designed to embarrass, sideline and ultimately force him from office.

The Bestwick-led majority has cut Mr. McKay’s budget, forced him to get prior approval for travel, reduced his office support to half days, falsely accused him of bullying, and most recently approved an RCMP complaint and civil suit against him. Other councillors and staff at the city and its subsidiaries have also come under fire.

Pay raised on day mayor’s private email leaked

Coincidentally, Ms. Samra’s pay increase was approved on November 21, the same day that Mr. McKay was ambushed in a public meeting when resident Tim McGrath, a staunch ally of Ms. Samra, disclosed a confidential email the mayor had written to a conflict mediator giving frank profiles of his council colleagues.

Tim McGrath
Tim McGrath with leaked email. Source: CHEK

Disclosure of the email’s contents led to demands for the mayor to resign, including by Mr. Bestwick who said it validated an earlier vote of non-confidence in the mayor.

How the March 31, 2015 email ended up on Mr. McGrath’s “windshield,” as he has claimed, is still the subject of an active investigation by BC’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. An RCMP probe of the leak found insufficient evidence to recommend charges. Previous internal investigations of leaks have gone nowhere.

Sources close to Mr. Fuller told News Nanaimo that the councillor had prior knowledge that something significant would happen at the Nov. 21 public meeting. The public record shows that councillor Kipp asked that Mr. Grath be allowed to speak earlier than scheduled on that evening’s agenda.

After the chaotic Nov. 21 council meeting, Ms. Samra seemed ebullient when she went on Facebook.

But rather than being concerned with the leak of confidential city information, Ms. Samra’s first statement, at 10.11pm, was to ask why councillor Brennan had left the dramatic meeting early.

Facebook comment Nov. 21, 2016

Later she also made several unusual comments on her Facebook profile. One comment said: “Kind of feel free to speak out to ethnic and other tyranny.”

Another singled out News Nanaimo for publishing “total nonsense” and saying she was trying to “correct the records but lines are closed down!!!!!” News Nanaimo has never received a correction request from Ms. Samra.

It was only the following day that Ms. Samra voiced any concern about confidential city documents being leaked to the public.

Facebook comments Ms. Samra made on the night she got her bonus and pay raise

Outdated pay information released to public

News Nanaimo first requested details of Ms. Samra’s employment contract on August 30, 2016 in a freedom of information request to the city. Usually, such requests are responded to within 30 business days.

However, in this case the city went to extreme lengths to delay providing the information. Last September, the city applied to provincial authorities to be allowed to strip News Nanaimo of access rights under a rarely used provision in BC’s freedom of information (FOI) laws. The city backed down when we demanded to see a copy of the application.

Part of the section 43 notice from BC's Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner
The City sought to block News Nanaimo‘s freedom of information request under a rarely used section of the law.

The city then said it needed an additional 30 days to consult with a “third party” before it could release the information.

Finally, a week after Ms. Samra received her bonus and increase, the city sent us Ms. Samra’s original employment contract containing her outdated pay information.

At no time since releasing the information or after publication has the city or any member of council attempted to provide us with the correct information about Ms. Samra’s current pay.

“Please file an FOI”

When asked yesterday what her current salary is and why the city did not correct the public record, Ms. Samra said in an email: “Please file a FOI.  Your assertions are not correct and the City will not be responding to them.”

Councillor Bestwick did not respond to a request for comment.

City records show that Ms. Samra previously received a $75,000 payout from the city in 2013. She had worked as legislative services manager for just seven months before receiving the payout.

The city was also required to provide Ms. Samra with a prescribed letter of reference and agree to say that Ms. Samra had decided to return to practice indigenous law if asked about why she had left the city.

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  • So she gets a raise and our pot holes are getting bigger and roads and intersections are falling apart not a fan of this discussion

  • Thank you for running your website. Ever since we lost our local daily newspaper we have seen the rise of the crazies on social media and there has not been any credible investigative reporting locally. Even though I was not a fan of the quality of the local paper it did play a role in checking city council and the school board for example. Nanaimo has always had a reputation for electing weak city councils and school boards. I once was giving a workshop in Abbotsford and when I announced I was from Nanaimo the audience just laughed. I have been sharing your columns with my friends and the feedback has been excellent. I used to teach media literacy before i retired and you demonstrate the highest degree of professionalism and journalistic integrity. You lay out your facts in a clear and honest way and I really appreciate your supporting evidence. The service you are offering is so valuable. Again thank you so much.

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