Nanaimo council to consider fate of two top managers

After weeks-long investigations, 5-4 council divide and big payouts expected to loom large in crucial decision
Tracy Samra and Victor Mema
Tracy Samra and Victor Mema
Nanaimo city council is set to meet for a rare Friday closed-door session that could decide the fates of the city’s top two managers, News Nanaimo has learned.

Lawyers who have been investigating staff complaints against city manager Tracy Samra and her deputy, chief financial officer Victor Mema, are expected to present their findings to council tomorrow at 10 a.m.

It will be the first time that council members have been fully briefed on the investigators’ findings and evidence.

A second in-camera meeting is scheduled for two hours starting at 5 p.m. on Monday in case council is unable to reach a decision on Friday.

The two managers have been off work with full pay pending the results of the sweeping internal investigations. News Nanaimo has learned that these have delved into financial, human resources and legal issues.

Council voted to formally suspend Ms. Samra from her duties shortly after RCMP arrested her for allegedly uttering threats during an incident at city hall on Jan. 31. The city has previously said only that Ms. Samra was on leave.

A separate police investigation into the alleged threats led to a special provincial prosecutor approving a peace bond application against Ms. Samra. Her twice-postponed court date is now set for May 1 in Nanaimo.

A month after suspending the city manager, council also suspended Mr. Mema at a closed meeting on March 1 pending an investigation into an “allegation of significant concern” that is believed to include complaints about personal expenses.

Council divided

Nanaimo council majority
Pro-Samra council majority: Bill Bestwick, Jim Kipp, Bill Yoachim, Gord Fuller and Jerry Hong

Council could decide to reinstate the two bureaucrats or terminate either one of them with or without severance pay.

A decision to pay severance requires a two-thirds majority or six votes, while any other decision requires only five votes.

The 5-4 divide on council is expected to loom large in the deliberations.

Ms. Samra and Mr. Mema have long enjoyed unqualified support of the five-man majority, comprised of councillors Bill Bestwick, Jim Kipp, Bill Yoachim, Gord Fuller and Jerry Hong.

The five first appointed trained lawyer Ms. Samra, who was well-known to several of them, as interim city manager in November 2015 without an interview or reference checks.

With control of both council and the administration through Ms. Samra, the majority led by Mr. Bestwick set about systematically eliminating opposition and stamping their agenda on the city.

The result has been 28 months marred by legal threats, multiple police complaints, censure hearings, unprecedented staff terminations and resignations, and heated confrontations both behind closed doors and in public.

Mr. Mema, widely considered Ms. Samra’s right-hand man, famously played a vital role in providing the no-tax-increase financial blueprint to support former hockey coach Mr. Bestwick’s pet project — a $100m ice arena that was rejected by 80% of voters in a March 2017 referendum.

Facing off against Mr. Bestwick’s majority are four council members in the form of mayor Bill McKay and councillors Diane Brennan, Ian Thorpe and Sheryl Armstrong, a former RCMP officer who replaced Wendy Pratt in a by-election last July.

Council minority
The minority: Mayor Bill McKay, Diane Brennan, Sheryl Armstrong and Ian Thorpe

Severance payouts

It appears unlikely that either Ms. Samra or Mr. Mema will be restored to their posts without council provoking upheaval among city staff.

The decision will likely come down to whether to fire either or both with or without severance.

Under her contract, Ms. Samra is entitled to 12 months pay — about $210,000 — if she is fired without cause. Typically, managers at the city are entitled to one month severance for each year worked or a minimum of six months if they are let go without cause.

But the council majority approved double the minimum severance for Ms. Samra and increased her pay in November 2016 despite her having a fixed-pay contract for four years.

However, it appears unlikely that Ms. Samra will get the six votes needed to secure a payout because council members on either side of the divide are said to oppose paying her out.

Firing Ms. Samra without a payout will require one or more of the five-man majority to break ranks and vote with the minority.

Mr. Bestwick, who has his sights set on running for mayor in October, and Mr. Hong, who fashions himself as a fiscal hawk, are seen as most likely to break ranks.

Mr. Mema is entitled to six months, or about $90,000, in severance under his contract. It is understood that he is likely to have enough support from both groups of council members to be let go with a payout.

Mr. Mema’s role is currently being filled by deputy financial officer Laura Mercer, who has been with the city for the past 16 years.

Two weeks ago, council agreed to advertise for an interim city manager after coming under pressure from senior managers who had been sharing the role in Ms. Samra’s absence. The managers complained of being disrespected by some council members.

The application period for the interim city manager post closes on Monday.


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  • Regardless of the decisions made by council, a time of healing and reflection will be needed in our city.
    I wish the best for all involved parties (the nine know who they are) . . .
    then we can move into those who have been unjustifiably dismissed.

  • This is where we will see the true colours of Bestwick and his palace coup plotters. Given the circumstances and history, there is little doubt Samra and Mema can be fired with cause. But will they?
    Should they walk away with a full year’s salary due to the Fab 5, that will be it for them. An angry electorate that is fed up and wants them gone will only be further infuriated and outraged. There is no hope they can be re-elected as it is. That would just put them into a deeper wrung of political hell.
    And should Bestwick be silly enough to try run for mayor, listen for the general groan from Extension to Aulds Road. Remember the multiplex!
    Given Samra’s history she may sue if she gets booted out the door sans cash; maybe claiming defamation since she could never win on wrongful dismissal.
    One message to her in the event that she does file a lawsuit: Take a number. You see all those people ahead of you? They have your number.

    • i agree louis… the fab five actions on this vote will show their true colours… i doubt they will change… when you are digging a hole deeper into the ground – the idea is that you stop once you realize.. i am not confident these 5 have figured that out yet…

      • These 5 are idiots that don’t have the brain cells to know how stupid they are! The pandering will start soon, but do not be fooled Nanaimo fools!!!!

  • A “fiscal hawk”, funny. Hong has run the Queens into the ground during his ownership. He’ll tell you it’s because of driving laws and changes in liquor law policies but the fact is other similar places are doing just fine. As someone who knows many people who worked there before and after his ownership I can tell you it was his vision that changed it from a thriving live music venue open seven nights a week, busy for many of those and a place where musicians loved to play, to somewhere that is barely open, serves mediocre (at best) food and is a place that many musicians refuse to play at anymore because of they way they have been treated by ownership.

  • “Unqualified support” equals wilful blindness if you are determined to ignore the facts before you. For a change, council, listen to your “real” lawyers. Dig deep and try to show a modicum of ethical responsibility on one of your last major decisions before the election. Please.

  • Neither of these two deserve any type of payout. Why reward them for bad behaviour? Respectful workplace….ya, right.

  • Severance pay is normally due for dismissal without cause which is hardly the case here. Both parties should be dismissed for cause let alone that neither of them is fit to fill those positions at City Hall. Let’s get back to having harmony amongst staff in our City!
    As for filling those positions, it’s time to engage a HR Professional so that we don’t make the same mistakes again. Mr. Horn is not that person. In both cases proper background checks and vetting was not carried-out and the proper hiring processes were interfered with by oddly biased Councillors. We couldn’t have done worse!

    A civic election is looming; it’s our collective duty to elect nine responsible, intelligent, considerate adults who will fulfill their roles with decorum and fiscal responsibility, not ones that push personal projects ($100M muliplex and $41M walkway)) or social agendas (drugs, poverty and homelessness). Lets hope they can focus on core responsibilities like our badly deteriorating roads, recycling, waste disposal and tax reduction.. How were we able to build a $100M+ muliiplex without a tax increase and now we are are facing a 3% increase? It must be to cover Councill’s rediculous legal costs!

  • I would just like to thank Mayor Bill McKay, Diane Brennan, Sheryl Armstrong, and Ian Thorpe for at least attempting to maintain some integrity during this unbelievable term, the likes of which have never been seen before that I am aware of. I don’t blame any of them for not running again!! Who would want to? As for the other 5, please… we’re begging you, do Nanaimo a favour and consider putting your energies into something else, anything else, just not our city council. This taxpayer says “Enough is enough!!” As for Samra and Mema, they should be ashamed of their conduct. I hope they are fired with cause (let us count the ways!) and their so-called severance should be exactly $0.

  • The Gang of Five Idiots are in a conflict of interest. They hired a person who had been fired previously without competition to carry out their personal vendettas against city employees and now they’re going to give her a huge severance along with a gag order so their secret doesn’t get out.