The City of Nanaimo’s legal bills have hit an all-time high — and infighting at the council table is partly to blame.
Total fees paid to lawyers reached $890,230, according to information obtained by News Nanaimo. But after accounting for fees that will be recovered from developers’ deposits, the total nets out to $850,882.
Disputes between council members and workplace complaints by city manager Tracy Samra cost taxpayers at least $70,000 in lawyers’ fees. That doesn’t include costs for council censure hearings or fees council members paid out of their own pockets.
Council-related legal costs include $26,152.89 billed to the city by Roslyn Goldner, the investigator in a respectful workplace complaint Ms. Samra filed against mayor Bill McKay, Diane Brennan and former councillor Wendy Pratt.
Ms. Goldner’s report was delivered to the city last July but never made public.
Five council members — Bill Bestwick, Jim Kipp, Jerry Hong, Bill Yoachim and Gord Fuller — cost taxpayers $14,413.16 in lawyers’ bills.
Of that amount, $3,833.53 was paid to Victoria-based Cook Roberts to defend the five against allegations related to the 2015 hiring of Ms. Samra.
The remaining $10,579.63 was for conflict of interest opinions they demanded of Mr. McKay and Ms. Brennan when they claimed the two couldn’t adjudicate any issues involving Ms. Samra.
Human resources legal fees jump 28%
One fee taxpayers are unlikely to see again in the current council term is $41,722.20 paid to Weirfoulds LLP, which advised the city on aspects of the failed proposed events centre.
Fees for municipal legal services — provided by North Vancouver-based Valkyrie Law Corp. and Victoria-based Stewart McDannold Stuart — topped $286,000, which is down slightly from 2016.
Fees to Valkyrie, which worked closely with Ms. Samra, fell by almost two-thirds to $103,000 from almost $300,000 in the prior year. As News Nanaimo reported March 15, Valkyrie now only has one senior lawyer on staff.
Meanwhile, the city’s costs for labour and human resources lawyers swelled 28 percent to $123,400 during 2017. Some of that amount was likely the result of legal advice for staff terminations.
The largest single legal expense is for insurance-related claims against the city, totaling almost $212,000. These were paid to the Municipal Insurance Association of BC, which assigns the lawyers.
This is the first time the city has provided a comprehensive list of all its legal fees. In prior years, the city disclosed fees paid directly to law firms, which excluded insurance-related costs.
Calculated on a similar basis to prior years, the city’s legal fees in 2017 were $611,000 compared to $525,000 in 2016 and $582,000 in 2015.
News Nanaimo obtained the legal fees information through a freedom of information request.