UPDATE: Jan 31, 2:13pm — Tracy Samra has accepted the position. See story.Tracy Samra has been in discussions to take a new job with the Shíshálh Nation in Sechelt and might shortly announce she is leaving her job at the City of Nanaimo, News Nanaimo has learned.
Although it is unconfirmed that she has accepted the position, sources said the Sunshine Coast First Nation is expecting Ms. Samra to start work next month as its new chief administrative officer (CAO).
Shíshálh Nation Chief Warren Paull confirmed that Ms. Samra, 49, is their chosen candidate but said he was not able to say anything at this time. He expected there would be an announcement by the end of the week.
Two sources told News Nanaimo that an announcement was planned to be made tomorrow, January 30.
That date is significant as it is also the deadline a council censure panel set for mayor Bill McKay and councillor Diane Brennan to apologize to Ms. Samra arising out of a respectful workplace complaint she filed against them.
If Ms. Samra leaves, her position and duties in Nanaimo will likely be filled in the interim by Victor Mema in his capacity as acting city manager and chief financial officer.
It is not known yet if Nanaimo city council will seek to hire a new city manager or leave that to the next council that will be elected in nine months if Ms. Samra departs.
If a new manager is appointed, s/he will be the fifth to helm the city in less than 10 years.
Controversial from the start
Ms. Samra leaving the city would mark the end of a tumultuous 26 months that have seen the city make national headlines on several occasions.
She was hired on Nov. 17, 2015 on an interim basis for six months to replace former city manager Ted Swabey, who resigned to take an equivalent job in Maple Ridge.
But the appointment was immediately controversial. The legality of her hiring was publicly questioned after it emerged that the process had been cut short at an in-camera hiring committee meeting on November 13, 2015.
While the meeting had been called to create a shortlist from 22 candidates, five councillors led by Bill Bestwick instead voted to hire Ms. Samra after just 27 minutes without an interview.
Ms. Samra was previously known to certain councillors. A trained lawyer, she had worked at the city as legislative services manager for seven months between November 29, 2012 to July 8, 2013 before leaving with a settlement of $75,000 and a prescribed letter of reference.
Mayor McKay knew her from her first period at the city and had subsequently hired her as his lawyer. That is why he excused himself from the hiring committee when she was being discussed as council’s preferred candidate.
Council member confrontations
The acerbic administrator has had many confrontations with council members. At her first in-camera meeting with council on Nov. 23, 2015, Ms. Samra led an inquisition into who had spoken to the media and members of the public about the unusual circumstances of her hiring.
The events of that meeting, which ended after midnight and saw Ms. Brennan and new councillor Ian Thorpe falsely accused of breaching council confidentiality, have helped to define the rest of her troubled time at the city.
It has always been clear that Ms. Samra is not a neutral appointee. She has taken her marching orders from the five who appointed her over the protests of the others. At many subsequent public council meetings, Ms. Samra has done little to hide her disdain for all but the council majority.
Three council members in particular — mayor McKay, Ms. Brennan and former councillor Wendy Pratt — have born the brunt of Ms. Samra’s animosity.
The most notorious incident led to the resignation of Ms. Pratt, who Ms. Samra twice filed complaints about to local police.
At a raucous in-camera meeting on February 27, 2017, Ms. Samra accused Ms. Pratt of laughing at her and said she was going to film the councillor on her phone. Ms. Pratt said she was not laughing, then stormed out of the room, ripping the phone from Ms. Samra’s hand.
The city manager filed assault charges against Ms. Pratt, who was subsequently arrested and later ordered to make an apology. Ms. Pratt resigned from council in April last year.
Following that incident, the city manager made a respectful workplace complaint against Mr. McKay, Ms. Brennan and Ms. Pratt that led to a probe by labour lawyer Roslyn Goldner, whose report has not been made public.
When Ms. Goldner reported her findings to a closed-door meeting last July, Ms. Samra stormed out the meeting, reportedly yelling expletives at council members.
After going on administrative leave, Ms. Samra released an edited version of the video she had filmed of Ms. Pratt and issued her own news release. She claimed Ms. Goldner had found that Mr. McKay and Ms. Brennan were responsible for creating a toxic work environment for herself and staff.
But this seemed to be contradicted by a news report in the Globe and Mail, which was leaked a copy of the report.
Ms. Samra returned to work last September after a petition started by her cousin made allegations of racism against city council and led to Snuneymuxw First Nation removing their flag from city hall.
At the flag handover last Sept. 15, councillor Bill Yoachim broke council confidentiality and legal privilege to read a letter expressing “regret for the deterioration of relationships.”
But Mr. McKay and Ms. Brennan have come under the most fire from the combative city manager.
Early on in her tenure, she banned the mayor from parts of the city’s offices and had council put in place a protocol requiring Mr. McKay to only meet with her in the presence of another councillor.
Later, she compiled a list of allegations against the mayor which her council backers authorized her to take to the RCMP, make public and use in a civil suit against Mr. McKay. All of those actions later collapsed.
Ms. Brennan was targeted for alleged breaches of privacy and confidentiality on at least two occasions, and was regularly on the receiving end of sarcastic and snide remarks at council meetings.
Ms. Samra is also disliked by many staff. More than 35 managers and non-union support staff have left the city under her management.
Under her leadership, relations with unionized staff have also soured. Last December, union members staged an unprecedented protest when most boycotted the city’s year-end lunch to draw attention to the culture of “fear and vitriol” at the city.
Event Centre defeat
However, likely the single most defining event is how Ms. Samra led Mr. Bestwick’s majority to a humiliating defeat in the March 2017 referendum on the planned $100 million waterfront ice arena.
The lopsided result, where more than 80% of voters rejected the proposal, was interpreted as partly a repudiation of the dysfunction and conflict on council that has ensued under Ms. Samra and the five-man Bestwick majority’s governance.
As the frontline general carrying out the Bestwick-led majority’s decisions coming out of a core services review, Ms. Samra has also inspired intense feelings among the city’s business community.
She oversaw the unintended collapses of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation in December 2016, and the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association in March 2017.
For the past 18 months, the city has done little on the economic development front, while the downtown core is suffering from chronic crime and businesses migrating out of the city centre.
Tourism Nanaimo was shuttered and its work transferred under contract to Tourism Vancouver Island in late November 2016. Key players in the industry have been working on a new model for the city but no new organization has yet been agreed upon.
Ms. Samra did not respond to email and phone messages seeking an interview.