News Nanaimo has learned that Laura Mercer, who has been with the city since October 2001 and is currently manager of accounting services, automatically takes control of the finance department under a council resolution approved last year.
Ms. Mercer, who unlike Mr. Mema is a registered Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) in BC, was appointed as one of two deputy financial officers by unanimous council resolution on June 19, 2017.
The resolution says she becomes the provincially mandated “financial officer” in the absence of Mr. Mema and former deputy director of financial services Deborah Duncan, who took early retirement last year.
Sources say Ms. Mercer is well liked and respected at the city. Last November, she was a speaker at a local government and accounting workshop jointly presented by the Government Finance Officers Association of BC and the Chartered Professional Accountants of BC.
In her new capacity as “financial officer” under provincial law, Ms. Mercer’s duties include:
- receiving all money paid to the city;
- ensuring that all funds and investment are kept safe;
- investing the city’s funds until needed in authorized investments;
- paying municipal bills as authorized by council;
- ensuring that accurate records and full accounts of the financial affairs of the municipality are prepared, maintained and kept safe; and,
- exercising control and supervision over all other financial affairs of the municipality.
There was initial confusion last week over who would be in charge of the finance department while Mr. Mema is suspended. The CFO had appointed Nick Mloyi as his deputy director of financial services.
Mr. Mema and Mr. Mloyi, who arrived at the city in early January, previously worked at the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in Fort McMurray, Alta.
Mr. Mloyi is not a CPA, which is listed as a requirement for the deputy director role.
‘Allegation of significant concern’
Sources say Mr. Mema was suspended from his duties at a closed-door council meeting last Thursday.
At the time, he was also acting city manager following the arrest and release of city manager Tracy Samra in January on allegations of uttering threats.
She is currently on an undefined leave of absence and prohibited from going to work under conditions of a RCMP release order.
There is no provincial requirement for the city to have a city manager but it is understood that council is seeking someone to fill the role in the interim.
The city has been tight-lipped about Mr. Mema’s suspension. A statement from mayor Bill McKay on Friday said only that council had “learned about an allegation of significant concern” and had immediately launched an investigation.
It’s understood that the allegations relate to certain city credit card transactions highlighted in a report by the city’s auditors KPMG.
Last month, the city issued a rare Saturday news release acknowledging for the first time that KPMG had reviewed purchasing card records.
The release claimed that staff had previously been allowed to incur “personal expenses on city-issued purchase cards and credit cards,” which is contradicted by several former staff and city policy documents obtained by News Nanaimo.
The documents clearly state that no personal expenses are permitted on city cards and abuse can lead to termination.
The city’s unusual news release also said there had been “no defalcation, fraud or misappropriation of City funds” through the use of city cards.
Last December, the city blocked News Nanaimo’s access to corporate credit card statements for Mr. Mema and Ms. Samra even though it provided statements for three other senior managers.
Scrutiny over expenses
Three months earlier, Mr. Mema’s previous employer, the District of Sechelt, filed suit against him seeking repayment of almost $10,000 related to allegedly personal expenses he charged to a corporate credit card. Mr. Mema left Sechelt after running up expenses totalling $67,185.54.
Mr. Mema has come under scrutiny for his expenses while in Nanaimo. The most recent records have disclosed that he spent $28,425.83 in the 21 months between January 2016 and the end of September last year.
That is almost six times more than his predecessor Brian Clemens, who retired from the city in June 2015, spent in his final three years at the city.
Mr. Mema joined the city on September 8, 2015 as director of finance. He was promoted to Chief Financial Officer in June 2016 by Ms. Samra, and made her deputy in March 2017.