Nanaimo council struggles, stymied by Samra’s failure to resign

Moderates on council desperately seek to strike a centrist coalition to move city forward after dramatic developments over the past week

Council room

Moderate members of Nanaimo city council have been working desperately behind the scenes to move the city’s business forward following the dramatic events involving controversial city manager Tracy Samra.

But the fragile initiative to forge a detente between the two feuding council factions is being threatened by hardliners who seem determined to continue the conflict that has wracked the city since early 2015.

Monday’s council meeting will likely reveal to residents whether the more moderate members on each side can put the city on an even keel into the next election, or if the debilitating internal strife that has pushed council to the brink will continue.

The city’s business community, which has effectively withdrawn support from council for the past 18 months, is watching keenly from the sidelines.

The outcome on Monday could see a wide range of business stakeholders come together as early as Thursday to talk about the economic path forward.

Bill Bestwick at Dec. 18, 2017 meeting
Majority leader Bill Bestwick faces important decision

Meanwhile, confusion over Ms. Samra’s employment status with the city is complicating matters.

She has not formally resigned her position at the city even though News Nanaimo has learned that she accepted a new position with the shíshálh Nation in Sechelt on Tuesday night.

The Nation announced her appointment in a news release that included a quote from Ms. Samra on Wednesday.

On Wednesday night, police arrested Ms. Samra for allegedly uttering threats earlier in the day against certain council members, former staff and this reporter (see disclosure below).

She was released on conditions that effectively prevent her from going to work at the city or attending council meetings until at least her scheduled court date March 27.

However, since no resignation has been tendered, city officials are effectively stymied from taking any action that could trigger a constructive dismissal claim from Ms. Samra. At stake is a payout of at least $205,000, a year’s pay.

The delicate situation over Ms. Samra’s status is one reason that mayor Bill McKay has not made any meaningful public statements all week on the dramatic events at City Hall.

His lack of visibility and responsiveness to questions has attracted heavy fire from critics on social media who have called into question his leadership at a time of rampant uncertainty for the city.

In comments to News Nanaimo, Mr. McKay conceded that there appears to be a leadership vacuum, but insisted that it was not the case behind the scenes.

He said he would have liked to be more open and visible but in the interests of the city he is heeding legal advice and focusing his attention on supporting city staff.

Bestwick holds power

However, while the mayor is the council figurehead, the real power rests with majority leader Bill Bestwick, who since 2015 has set council’s agenda with a five-man majority that originally appointed Ms. Samra.

Mr. Bestwick has been silent on the drama taking place at the city. He is understood to be on his annual vacation at his condo in Hawaii, but staying in touch by phone and email.

Observers say it is hard to know how Mr. Bestwick will decide to move now that Ms. Samra is out of the picture.

He could keep his majority together or decide to break it and join in an uneasy coalition to bring stability rather than strife to the city.

The other four men in his majority are evenly split between less hardline Jerry Hong and Bill Yoachim, and diehards Jim Kipp and Gord Fuller, who are staunch Samra loyalists and blame the mayor and councillor Diane Brennan for council’s troubles.

If Mr. Bestwick chooses a moderate path, Mr. Yoachim and Mr. Hong will likely follow, allowing for a broad middle of seven to form, with councillors Brennan, Sheryl Armstrong, Ian Thorpe and the mayor.

Gord Fuller and Jim Kipp
Hardliners Gord Fuller and Jim Kipp could be marginalized

That would leave Mr. Kipp, a long-time council ally of Mr. Bestwick, and Mr. Fuller on the fringes.

When this was suggested to Mr. Kipp today, he responded with a tirade via email (see “Kipp on being a moderate” below).

However, personal animosity rather than policy differences is the barrier to a moderate middle forming, say insiders.

Mr. Bestwick harbours a deep-seated resentment towards Mr. McKay and Ms. Brennan and may find it impossible to be part of any broad coalition of centrists.

With just nine months left in the term, any moderate coalition will need to focus on fundamentals, such as installing an interim city manager as caretaker until the new council can chose a permanent replacement, insiders say.

It may also mean that disruptive initiatives like the proposed second core services review will need to be sacrificed, which may not be acceptable to Mr. Hong.

Whatever happens at Monday’s meeting, it is now clear that Ms. Samra has exited the scene and the next nine months will determine whether voters are willing to give any of the incumbents a second chance in October’s election.

All members of council were approached for input on this article, only Mr. McKay, Ms. Brennan, Ms. Armstrong and Mr. Kipp responded.

Disclosure: News Nanaimo is unable to obtain comment from Ms. Samra because she is currently prohibited from contacting this reporter directly or through a third-party under the terms of an arrest release undertaking. This reporter did not request these conditions. News Nanaimo’s position is that the release conditions violate press freedoms and Ms. Samra’s right of reply.

Kipp on being a moderate

This is the unedited text of councillor Kipp’s email to News Nanaimo today:

“Moderation or Status quo = out of sync ballooning wage benefits, CSR pg 61 and $250 Million shortfall in asset RMR coming in 5 election cycles! That’s moderation

Empty schools, empty buildings, concurrent illness and drug culture rot, toxic environments both human and natural, fear based poverty and racism by the pasty white tiki torch gang to the south and you think you know the real problem!

Yes there are causal links to the mess of power drunken dumb-mock-crazy, you just ether can not see the linkage or chose not to accept.

Instead sadly you think municipal politics is a career. Sadly it is for spoon fed moderate politicians and the bureaucrats that feed them and off of them. Scroll back to my first two lines for facts on the symbiotic relationship of petty power and a financially unsustainable race to high payouts and failed assets!

As for a praying? how about for the children of abuse? Mental health and addiction? or for a waterless cape town?”


Click here to post a comment

  • No surprises here. This council is dysfunctional. Thankfully there is no real urgent emergency such as a war or natural catastrophe because we can not count on this council to provide any leadership or support to the community. It’s a wonder some of these councillors can find their way to a meeting without some assistance. “Hello Tracey… I’m at the corner of x and y streets… which way do I turn now?”

  • Could you supply the exact wording of your email to Jim Kipp. I believe it might help me understand what he is responding to. Thanks

    • So I was working on another story and getting nowhere with Fuller and Kipp. A bunch of nonsense replies, which is typical of them. At the end, I sent this to council and got that reply:

      “Dear Council Members,

      With respect, you face a decision now that will determine your political futures. There is no doubt in this journalist’s mind who and what are the real problems on this council. I wish you all the best of luck and pray for our community as a whole that moderation and good sense will prevail. Follow these two to oblivion or move forward as moderates as best you can.

      Best wishes,

      Dominic Jones

  • This is getting to look like the new “Star Trek Discovery” series with a major plot change every week. Thank you for covering this story, Dominic. Ms. Samra is beyond the event horizon, having accepted another position and not resigning her present one. Jim Kipp is definitely in the black hole of incomprehension. He needs to resign too, owing to his own incoherence and detachment from reality. Both these people need psychiatric help. For Kipp to actually write such incoherent nonsense is grounds for dismissal in any court. Kipp left the world of reality when he shouted his tirade at a city staff manager in Colliery Dam Park three years ago. It is shameful that he is allowed to remain on council. He is a disgrace to himself and the city he claims to represent. I could goon but there is no point. The taxpayers of Nanaimo need to mount an Occupy City Hall movement to get rid of this trash. The business community should lead the charge since they have the most to lose. Sometimes, people need a good slap-down to bring them back to reality.

  • I am having a problem understanding the concern over the City Manager’s status. Once she has been charged the normal practice is to suspend her with or without pay. This should have been done as soon as the City learned of the charges. The only question is why haven’t they!

    • Samra has probably not been suspended because it would require a majority of council to vote on it. Good Luck getting them to vote on that.

      • If I recall correctly Councillor Pratt was arrested but never charged. Seems also to be the case with Ms. Samra (so far). If it is her wish to leave her position we should not be holding her back — but we should also not be lured into dismissing her at whatever cost that might entail.

        To let the public better understand what’s been happening in recent months, council should release the Goldner Report. On many levels it’s inappropriate to continue the ban on its release.

  • For whatever reason, Mr. Kipp’s writing does not make sense. Is there some kind of policy in place when a city councillor is literally not making sense? In a council meeting are all just going to sit there when this occurs? That is what happened when councillor Kipp made a shocking verbal attack on Ms. Pratt during a televised council meeting. I think there should be a policy in place when things like this occur, such as, direct the person to go on sick leave until their mental status is assessed, and in the case of verbal abuse during a meeting the Mayor might direct the perpetrator to leave the meeting immediately, and if they don’t, the entire council should walk out.

    • Councillor Kipp’s response to Mr Jones was incoherent. Jim seems unable to complete a single sentence. There are several possible explanations for this condition, which I will not go into but any or all of them require further investigation from a clinical practitioner. This behaviour goes back to 2013 when Councillor Kipp berated a City manager in Colliery Park about the work to mitigate the dams. I don’t follow council meetings, and I don’t live in Nanaimo, but I did live there for 20 years and I served on the Environment Committee with Mr. Kipp. He is a long-serving councilor and he deserves respect but his present condition gives me grave concern. They are not the words of a sane and sober community leader they are more like the words of a resident in a long term care facility. Mental incompetence is a valid reason for demanding the resignation of a councillor.

  • February 5, 2018 is D- Day for Mayor Bill McKay. In the Mayor’s Report today; he must take the steering wheel away from Councillor Bestwick and drive “his ship” into calm water. Mayor McKay states that he is working behind the scenes, supporting City Staff. I think that is a good idea. We have seen the effects of ” a mutiny” the past 2 years……it has been very bad and extremely ugly.

    Mark my words, ladies and gentlemen, IF Mayor McKay does not take the wheel of his ship away from Councillor Bestwick today; things are going to get far worse than the way they are now. Sad but true.

  • OMG… more stupid drama continues from the CCC (City Council Clowns)! 9 more long months before we can dispose of them seems to keep getting longer and longer! I must admit this is as good as cheap reality TV gets!! It’s like you can’t wait to see what stupid move the City council will do next, right 😉 SAD state of affairs to live in such a beautiful City as Nanaimo and have to see City Council pushing more bullshit every day in the daily news. No wonder it keeps good people and businesses from wanting to move here.

  • It seems to me that this City Council is incapable of doing its’ job, should be immediately released, and a new election called to replace them asap. What employer would tolerate such behaviour from employees?

  • McKay conceded that there appears to be a leadership vacuum, WOE who would have guessed. There’s been a lack of effective leadership on Nanaimo’s council ever since McKay was elected! He has no business still sitting as mayor. He lost the backing of the majority of council members long ago, and should set his ego aside and do the honorable thing and resign!