Samra defends committees but ignores Province’s letter saying she gave bad info

New questions raised over why wrong information wasn't corrected as city manager gives unscheduled update on controversial committees
Nanaimo’s top civil servant Tracy Samra last night gave a surprise update on the city’s controversial new committees  —  but she again failed to acknowledge that her prior statements on their legality have been contradicted by a senior provincial official.

Letter from Inspector of Municipalities said Ms. Samra provided wrong information

The city manager’s unscheduled remarks at the regular council meeting came on the same day that News Nanaimo published details of an unusual letter BC’s Inspector of Municipalities Tara Faganello sent to the city denying Ms. Samra’s public claims that the province had ruled the new committees legal.

In her brief remarks to council shortly after 11:15 pm, Ms. Samra avoided the issue and said the city was moving ahead with its plans to replace 11 committees with 6 new ones, while scrapping a separate environmental committee. The new committees are seen as a means for the council majority led by Councillor Bill Bestwick to cement control over all city policy and administrative functions at the city. They have been heavily criticized by prominent committee members.

Court challenges may decide the question

Ms. Samra consulted the province after Mayor Bill McKay’s vote against the new committees threw their legality into question. Later, Ms. Samra told News Nanaimo and council members via email that the province had ruled the committees were “not non-compliant” and the ministry was “fine with our committee structure.”

However, last week Ms. Faganello, who is also an Assistant Deputy Minister in the Department of Community Sport and Cultural Development, disclosed that neither she nor ministry staff offered any ruling on the question, which can only be decided by the courts.

Last night Ms. Samra said the city had “consolidated the legal advice to a full legal opinion that was given by Valkyrie LLP, and the legal advice remains consistent that council has the authority to establish these committees.”

But Mayor McKay maintains that provincial law requires mayors to create standing committees, which are committees with an ongoing function. Councils can, without a mayor’s support, only establish select committees that have a limited function and life. His views have been supported by senior municipal law experts.

Ultimately, the issue comes down to the nature of the new committees and whether they have ongoing functions or limited ones. Ms. Samra appears willing to put the questions, and potentially future committee and council decisions, to the test of court challenges.

Tracy Samra at Aug. 8 2016 council meeting
Ms. Samra speaking on the committees near the end of last night’s meeting.

New questions raised over failure to correct bad info

Meanwhile, questions remain about why Ms. Samra or council did not inform the public about the Province’s letter or correct the public record. The failure to do so meant that false information was allowed to remain on the public record until Ms. Faganello issued a statement about it last week.

News Nanaimo sent a list of questions about the lack of disclosure to all council members yesterday but none responded. The questions were:

  • When was council informed about the letter from the Inspector of Municipalities correcting statements Ms. Samra made to News Nanaimo?
  • When Council became aware, why wasn’t the public immediately told that inaccurate information had been provided to News Nanaimo so that the public could be properly informed?
  • Did anyone on council advise or request that the Inspector of Municipalities’ letter should be made public?
  • Is Council concerned that even when I directly asked about this letter last week, both the CAO and the Communications Manager failed to respond or take steps to correct the previously made false statements?

Oddly, a short while later, the city’s Corporate Officer Sheila Gurrie sent an email saying the questions sent to Ms. Samra last week were “non routine” and were being treated as a freedom of information request. That could mean a delay of 30 business days before answers are provided.

Extensive discussions

In her remarks last night (view video), Ms. Samra said there have been extensive ongoing discussions about the committees in “our conversations, in our briefing sessions, via email and earlier this evening in the in-camera session.”

She said council is currently considering which three council members will be appointed to each of the six committees.

Staff are in the process of notifying the prior committee members, giving them copies of the new committees’ terms of reference and will be inviting them to “an inaugural session on the new committee structure,” Ms. Samra said.