City manager Tracy Samra, a trained lawyer with a background in first nations law, hired Valkyrie Law Group LLP just two weeks after her controversial hiring last November. The action came immediately prior to her spearheading censure measures against two councillors who criticized the unusual process that resulted in her appointment.
The contracting of Valkyrie, which focuses on municipal and first nations law, was done without competitive bids and by directly awarding a contract for up to $150,000. By contrast, the city’s prior law firm, Young Anderson, was hired for a three-year term through a public tender in 2012.
Over the past few years, the city has consistently spent more than $400,000 on legal costs, with $582,000 spent in 2015 alone. Any expenditure over $250,000 requires council approval.
A secret activity
Under the city’s procurement policy, direct awards can only be made in certain limited circumstances.
In response to questions about the Valkyrie award, the city’s finance director Victor Mema said it was done on the basis of high security and/or that the hiring of a law firm is a secret activity.
A request to all members of council asking if they were personally satisfied that the direct award to Valkyrie met the requirements of the city’s purchasing policy has gone unanswered.
On May 3, seeking to understand the rationale for the unusual award, News Nanaimo requested records under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Specifically, we wanted to know what communications there were between councillors and Ms. Samra about the termination of Young Anderson and the hiring of Valkyrie immediately prior to the unfounded censure measures against Councillors Diane Brennan and Ian Thorpe at an in-camera council meeting on Nov. 30, 2015.
News Nanaimo also wanted to review what information Ms. Samra gave the finance department to justify bypassing a public tender for the legal services.
“Harmful to city’s financial or economic interests”
However, after using 27 of the the permitted 30 days to respond to the request, the city refused to provide any records.
In a letter, the city justified its refusal by citing solicitor client privilege and claiming that disclosure would be harmful to the city’s financial or economic interests.
Since one law firm was being terminated and another proposed to be hired, it’s hard to see how solicitor client privilege would come into play. And claiming that disclosure of internal communications could harm the city’s financial interests suggests that what was done could open the city up to potential claims.
The bottom line is that there is something about Ms. Samra’s hiring of Valkyrie so soon after she arrived at the city that is potentially damaging to the City’s — and by extension the taxpayers’ — interests.
But according to the city, we have no right to know.