Four closed-door meetings involving censure of council members and the termination of a high-level manager are on tap for the fractious council’s first seven days back in the chamber.
The fallout from the secret sessions could cast a shadow over the next 10 months leading into the election in October, particularly if matters end up in court.
Meeting 1: Censure against McKay and Brennan
First up, councillors are expected to deliver their verdict on Monday afternoon in the censure of mayor Bill McKay and councillor Diane Brennan. The hearing stems from a respectful workplace complaint made against them last March by city manager Tracy Samra.
Councillors met to hear evidence on the issue November 21, but recessed to consider their verdicts and get a legal opinion on whether they are too biased to rule on the matter.
Lawyers at Stewart McDannold Stuart in Victoria have now given councillors a written legal opinion and they must decide whether to recuse themselves or put the verdict at risk if they continue to participate.
If four or more of the seven councillors on the censure panel remove themselves, the process will collapse due to a lack of a quorum.
Councillors Bill Bestwick, Jim Kipp, Gord Fuller and Bill Yoachim are most likely to be deemed as too conflicted to render unbiased verdicts.
It’s expected that any verdict and sanction against either Mr. McKay or Ms. Brennan will be appealed to the BC Supreme Court in a judicial review.
The key evidence in the censure hearing against Mr. McKay and Ms. Brennan is still secret. However, it’s understood that a confidential report by Vancouver labour lawyer Roslyn Goldner, who was hired to look into the complaint by Ms. Samra, is core to the evidence.
Last August, Ms. Goldner’s report was leaked to the Globe and Mail, which reported that it “stopped short of finding that bullying and harassment – alleged by (Ms. Samra) – had occurred.” The behaviour that resulted in those allegations was “more aptly characterized as uncivil workplace conduct.”
The report also said council members were “rude, disrespectful [and] at times intimidating,” which created a “hostile work environment” for Ms. Samra and staff, even if staff were not the direct targets, the Globe and Mail reported.
If a judicial review does follow from a censure ruling, it’s likely that the Goldner Report and other evidence will be part of the court record and open to the public.
The outcome of Monday’s censure hearing could also become an important factor in Ms. Samra’s future at the city.
Two sources have told News Nanaimo that the city manager told them she is waiting for the censure outcome before deciding whether to leave her job at the city.
In an email to News Nanaimo on Sunday, Ms. Samra denied that she plans to leave.
“I am pleased with the overall positive forward progress the City of Nanaimo has been making over the last two years. I look forward to leading our administration in a bright new 2018, and I have no plans on leaving this position.
“I’ve worked hard to get here, and worked extremely hard as CAO to make positive changes that will make our city operate smoother and more efficiently this year,” she said.
A guilty verdict in the censure could give the five-man council majority the political ammunition to blame Mr. McKay and Ms. Brennan for any severance they might pay to Ms. Samra.
Meeting 2: Termination hearing for Brad McRae
On Wednesday morning, the city’s chief operating officer (COO) Brad McRae, who was terminated last month while he was on medical leave, will get a chance to fight for his job when he goes before council.
Mr. McRae, who Ms. Samra personally hired away from the District of Lantzville without a competition in October 2016, is a council appointed “officer” and can only be terminated by council after being given a hearing.
It takes five or more votes to dismiss an officer for cause, and six or more to terminate without cause and pay severance.
Ms. Samra is trying to dismiss Mr. McRae for cause. Mr. McRae could not be reached for comment.
According to Mr. McRae’s appointment letter, obtained by News Nanaimo through a freedom of information request, had he been terminated prior to October 3, 2017, severance would have been limited to six months.
Meeting 3: Censure hearing of Brennan on alleged leaks
On Wednesday afternoon, councillors will meet to consider censuring Ms. Brennan on allegations dating back to 2015 that she leaked in-camera information about the unusual circumstances of Ms. Samra’s hiring.
News Nanaimo has previously published a detailed analysis of those allegations, which we concluded are entirely false and without merit based on publicly available information.
For council to pursue this hearing while ignoring brazen leaks by councillor Fuller betrays that it is politically motivated.
Meeting 4: Censure of McKay on various allegations
On Monday, January 15, councillors will take the law into their own hands after allegations they made against Mr. McKay in November 2016 were dropped by the RCMP and withdrawn by the city in a civil suit.
Mr. McKay has maintained his innocence throughout, slamming the allegations as nothing more than “vengeful politics.” News Nanaimo published a detailed review of the allegations in November 2016.
It’s unclear what if any sanctions council will be able to impose even if they proceed to censure Mr. McKay and Ms. Brennan.
The two could have their membership of various boards and committees revoked, but such sanctions would be vulnerable to being overturned on appeal to a court.