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 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.
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.