The 49-year-old bureaucrat’s departure was announced in chaotic fashion Wednesday afternoon on the website of her new employer while the City of Nanaimo had no official information to provide.
Mayor Bill McKay said he had still not been informed two hours after the announcement was made by shíshálh Nation in Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast.
By 4:30pm, Mr. McKay said he had been told Ms. Samra was packing up her things from her office but he still had not received any formal communication from her. That remained the case at 8:00pm.
The city’s director of human resources John Van Horne initially did not respond to an email early Wednesday morning. A follow-up email Wednesday afternoon elicited an automated response saying he is away from the office until Thursday.
Other council members also had no information about Ms. Samra’s decision. Six members of council are currently out of town at a conference in Richmond. Only the mayor and councillors Jerry Hong and Bill Yoachim are in town.
As reported exclusively by News Nanaimo Monday, Ms. Samra is expected to start work mid-February as the new chief administrative officer for the shíshálh Nation, a position she has been in discussions about for several weeks.
Chief financial officer Victor Mema is expected to take over as acting city manager until council appoints a permanent replacement for Ms. Samra.
The announcement by shíshálh Nation, which was independently confirmed by another source, ends two days of suspense for city staff members who have had to endure multiple management changes and reorganizations under direction of Ms. Samra and her council backers.
Rank and file discontent over council and the city manager’s leadership boiled over last December when most union members boycotted a city Christmas lunch to draw attention to poor morale and a culture of “fear and vitriol.”
Said one manager: “We’re all relieved. Since Monday, the waiting has been the hardest part. But we’re happy she has decided to go. A lot of staff will be having celebratory drinks tonight!”
The news came after a Jan. 30 deadline expired for Mr. McKay and councillor Diane Brennan to make written apologies to Ms. Samra as recommended by a council censure hearing on Jan. 9.
Mr. McKay and Ms. Brennan confirmed that they did not provide apologies to Ms. Samra, who filed workplace complaints against the two council members early last year.
Vancouver labour lawyer Roslyn Goldner investigated the complaints and issued a report to council last July, but it has not been made public. A Globe & Mail news article based on a leaked copy suggests that the two council members were not solely at fault.
Councillor Brennan has called the censure panel’s ruling biased, in part because it ignores the roles of other councillors and Ms. Samra.
“I have done nothing wrong,” said Ms. Brennan. “The censure panel was biased and did not bring an open mind to the hearing. I have lots of evidence of that and if necessary I will release it.”
Samra might seek payout
Ms. Samra might seek a payout from the city in a legal claim that would likely heap blame on the mayor and Ms. Brennan for her departure.
That would almost certainly serve the political interests of the five-man majority led by Bill Bestwick that appointed Ms. Samra in November 2015.
But the fact that Ms. Samra has been making plans for a new job for several weeks could complicate any claim she might seek.