Province releases Inspector of Municipalities’ letter setting Samra straight on committees

City tried to block access to top official's letter copied to all of council saying Nanaimo CAO's claim that province OK’d committees was false
In the buttoned-down corridors of government, it’s a rare thing when a senior provincial official sets a top municipal official straight in writing.

Tracy Samra
City Manager Tracy Samra

And it’s rarer still when it’s done in a letter shared with the entire city council.

But that’s what happened in July when BC’s Inspector of Municipalities Tara Faganello wrote to Nanaimo Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Tracy Samra to correct claims she made in emails published by News Nanaimo.

The city refused to provide a copy of the inspector’s letter when News Nanaimo filed a freedom of information request for it. But the Province overruled that decision and this week released the letter in full.

“Important to clarify … there was no ruling”

The letter concerns emailed comments by Ms. Samra that appeared in a July 16 article that raised serious doubts about the legality of the city’s new committee structure.

In her emails, Ms. Samra, a trained lawyer, had claimed that she “got confirmation today from office of the inspector of municipalities we aren’t non-compliant with Community Charter” and that the ”Ministry is fine with our committee structure.”

However, in her letter the Inspector refers to Ms. Samra’s statements in the News Nanaimo article and says she feels it’s “important to clarify” that her department’s role is to give advice but not make legal findings.

Consequently, says Ms. Faganello, “there was no ruling by the Inspector or staff on the legalities of the committee structure” as Ms. Samra had claimed.

Adds Ms. Faganello: “As I am sure you appreciate, it is only the courts that can determine if legislative requirements are being met or if a public body is acting outside its statutory authority in any particular situation.”

Letter from Inspector of Municipalities to Tracy Samra
The Inspector of Municipalities referred to article on News Nanaimo containing emailed comments by Ms. Samra

A consultant with more than 30 years experience in municipal administration previously told News Nanaimo it was highly unusual for ministry officials to publicly correct statements by a CAO.

Second wrong statement now removed from city website

Ms. Samra has never acknowledged providing incorrect information to News Nanaimo and the public.

In fact, after receiving Ms. Faganello’s letter and after News Nanaimo reported on its existence, the city put out a statement saying “mayor and council” wanted to “clarify … misstatements and errors which have been published on social media and news websites.”

The statement went further to say that the ministry “did not find fault” with the city’s committee process, which for a second time misstated the role of the ministry. Mayor Bill McKay has said he did not approve the statement.

Without explanation, that statement now has been removed from the city’s website.

article that promoted the letter
The Inspector’s letter was prompted by Samra’s comments in this article

City denied FOI request

The city denied News Nanaimo access to Ms. Faganello’s letter on Sept. 21 citing harm to intergovernmental relations and policy advice. However, the province, after consulting with the city, disagreed with that decision.

Nanaimo’s FOI head Sheila Gurrie did not respond to an emailed question asking why two public bodies could reach such starkly different conclusions on BC’s FOI laws.

This week, the Nanaimo News Bulletin reported Ms. Gurrie and Ms. Samra claiming “there’s been a history of interference by staff” in the FOI process.

Those comments were about prior redactions of video recordings of council meetings.

The complete letter from the Inspector to Ms. Samra is embedded below and is on the Province’s Open Information website: