The City of Nanaimo has dropped its headline-grabbing lawsuit against mayor Bill McKay a year after trashing his reputation and costing taxpayers an undisclosed sum in legal fees.
Dropping the civil suit is an embarrassing retreat for councillor Bill Bestwick and his council majority, who have campaigned with city manager Tracy Samra to oust the mayor since taking control of the city in late 2015.
With Ms. Samra’s position under pressure due to a union-led revolt over her management, the collapse of the city’s case against the mayor is likely to deepen tensions between her and the Bestwick-led majority.
The decision to call a halt to the court proceedings, which was filed on Friday, comes two months after the RCMP and a special prosecutor dismissed a related complaint the council majority authorized Ms. Samra to file against Mr. McKay.
The mayor has all along maintained his innocence, slamming the actions against him as “vengeful politics.”
It’s believed that he has spent more than $10,000 out of his own pocket defending himself against the city’s actions.
City officials have so far refused to disclose how much taxpayers have spent on the civil suit and police complaint against the mayor.
The decisions to launch the unusual legal actions were made at a secret council meeting on November 7, 2016 by councillors Bestwick, Jim Kipp, Gord Fuller, Bill Yoachim and Jerry Hong.
At the time, the council majority and Ms. Samra were mired in a series of controversies just as council was debating plans to build a $100 million ice arena that was being championed by Mr. Bestwick and his council allies.
The allegations had the effect of shifting media attention to the mayor and undermining his credibility as an opponent of the multiplex plan, which was ultimately defeated by 80.3% of voters in a referendum last March.
Bestwick group instigated citizens’ suit
At the November 2016 closed meeting, the five-man majority also approved issuing a hard-hitting news release outlining several allegations of conflict of interest involving the mayor.
The release (PDF) was issued with the specific purpose of encouraging citizens to file their own lawsuit to have the mayor disqualified from office, released in-camera minutes show.
On December 22, 2016, a group of 10 citizens with links to the council majority and Ms. Samra filed a sloppily worded lawsuit asking the court to disqualify the mayor from office.
The citizens were Tim McGrath, Robert Fuller, Beverly Jarvis, Louise Gilfoy, Leslie Barclay, Bill McCallum, Brian Naylor, Brian Main, Terry Lee Wagar and Mary Montague.
The citizens’ suit was never served on the mayor and expired last Friday.
The following week, on December 28, 2016, the city filed its unusual legal action against Mr. McKay in the BC Supreme Court in Nanaimo.
News of the lawsuit made headlines across the country. It was believed to be the first time in BC that a city had sued a sitting mayor for damages.
The city alleged that the mayor had breached confidentiality to help 42-year veteran administrative assistant Marilyn Smith in her wrongful dismissal case against the city and Ms. Samra.
Mr. McKay denied any wrongdoing in comments to the media but never formally responded to the city’s court claim because it wasn’t served on him.
Censure hearing proposed
In a news release today, Nanaimo city council said it had unanimously decided to file a Notice of Discontinuance at its December 18 in-camera meeting and would pursue the matter further through a censure hearing in early 2018.
The statement blamed “delays in the judicial system as well as the delays to address the issues by the (mayor) and his legal team” for the lawsuit being dropped.
“Council has chosen the alternative route of a censure hearing to achieve a meaningful outcome,” said the statement.
However, it’s unlikely that a censure hearing will be held or that it will be able to rule on the issues.
Councillors have yet to issue a ruling on a censure hearing last month related to respectful workplace complaints that Ms. Samra filed against Mr. McKay and councillor Diane Brennan.
It is understood that councillors have been advised by the city’s lawyers that they are too conflicted to be able to stand in judgment of their colleagues.
McKay hits back
In statement, Mr. McKay said: “While the city’s news release says the justice system requires complaints be acted on within a 12 month window, that requirement at issue was simply that the city serve its notice of claim on me. I do not understand why the city was unable to do that within the 12 months it had. I am easy to find at City Hall.”
The mayor also rejected the claim in the city’s news release that he and his legal team has caused delays, saying the case “never got to the stage of me being required to do anything.”
Added the mayor: “I remain of the belief that the city’s proceeding against me was completely without substance, and an attempt to abuse the process of the court.
“While I welcome what should be an end to the city incurring unnecessary legal fees in this matter, I regret that I will not be able to defend my name against the city’s allegations in a court of law where the process is fair, transparent and unbiased.”
Mr. McKay called on council to publicly disclose the legal costs to date and what will be spent on a future censure hearing.
News Nanaimo has requested comment from council members and will update this article if and when they respond.