Veteran accountant will take over suspended Mema’s duties

Laura Mercer, CPA, CGA will be in charge of the city's finance department under a council resolution adopted last year
Nanaimo CFO Victor Mema
Suspended: Victor Mema
A 16-year veteran accountant will assume control of the City of Nanaimo’s financial affairs following last week’s suspension of chief financial officer (CFO) Victor Mema.

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.

Laura Mercer
Laura Mercer      Source: LinkedIn

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.

council resolution on deputy financial officers
The council resolution appointing deputy financial officers last June.

‘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.

Although the city claimed staff had previously been permitted to bill personal expenses to city credit cards, policy documents obtained by News Nanaimo show that was not the case.

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.


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  • Now this part is interesting:
    Ms. Mercer’s duties will include “ensuring that accurate records and full accounts of the financial affairs of the municipality are prepared, maintained and kept safe.”
    That may be the toughest and most important part of her new job given what’s gone on, what’s happening around Mema’s and Samra’s expenses and that a certain faction on council may be at odds with “full accounts of the financial affairs of the municipality (being) prepared, maintained and kept safe” in the event they are made public.
    And that is the next step, likely now under the next council, to see that those full accounts are made public (where allowed by law) for the sake of transparency.

  • Isn’t it funny how HR can look internally and all of a sudden find the right person, a loyal employee for the job! Congrats Laura Mercer, I know tax payers will feel better already.

  • Best Wishes Ms.Mercer. I hope you can restore the integrity of the City accounting process and render any discrepancies transparent to the public. Your predecessor has created an unfortunate situation. Good Luck untangling it.

  • Makes me wonder why wasn’t Ms. Mercer appointed the CFO instead of Mema? She had the required qualifications and Mema did not. Further she was a long time employee who was obviously more entitled to the position than Mema. What was the reason for promoting Mema instead? Was there any preference based on some undisclosed reasons for choosing Mema? I think we all saw some of these reasons during the Mema Magic Math show when the Arena was being foisted on the taxpayers of Nanaimo. This whole nest stinks to high heaven.

  • To use a well worn metaphor, the city train has gone off the track, derailed, after the Bestwick faction with Samra and Mema mutinied and tossed the engineer, conductor and crew under the engine. Claiming they would bring the train to its destination faster and more efficiently, in fact they were more inept than the inept crew they tossed under the train! The emergency brake certainly seemed to fail in the sad case of Samra, tossed from the speeding locomotive as it plowed into the freight car that could be seen standing on the track from miles away.
    So now search and rescue is at the crash site looking for survivors, treating the injured and making a list of the fatalities. But it won’t be until October that the mess is cleared, track repairs can begin (maybe) and an investigation (maybe) can pinpoint the cause of this unholy wreck.

  • At the time that Mr. Mema was hired as Director of Finance in September 2015, the City Manager a.k.a. CAO, was Mr. Swabey.

    Regarding the position of HR Director, I understand that the current Director, Mr. Van Horne, replaced Ms. Hartley, after she left the City in 2015 (don`t have exact date, but Minutes indicate that in May, 2015, she was still with the City.)

    Minutes of an open Council meeting of October 22, 2015, reflect that Messrs. Swabey, Van Horne (new HR Director), and Mema were in attendance.

    Also, on October 22, 2015, there was a closed meeting, at which City Manager, Mr. Swabey, announced that both he and the General Manager of Corporate Services, (Ian Howat), were resigning effective November 13, 2015.

    According to the City’s News Release of March 7, 2016, Ms. Samra began her employment as the City’s Interim City Manager on November 17, 2015 and Council then appointed her to the position (on permanent basis), on March 7, 2016.

  • Revealing timeline.
    All that’s missing is who:
    a. arranged for Mema to come to work at the city (Sept. 2015);
    b. told Swabey and Howat to get out of Dodge (Oct. 2015);
    c. brought in Samra as interim city manager (Nov. 2015) and then made her the new sheriff in town (March 2016).
    The outline is there, now we need to find out if a special interest group in and around city hall was making all this happen between September 2015 and March 2016.
    This all might be coincidental. And it looks too neat, part of an effort to grab the levers of power.
    Was it a group of similar thinking people who wanted to showcase Nanaimo as a municipality that could cut taxes to the bone (e.g. failed core review), bully the unions into submission and still have big public projects (e.g. failed multiplex referendum)?
    If this is accurate, the people behind this failed palace coup would be too cowardly to take responsibility for their actions. Let’s hope, once more, that FOIs and maybe a whistleblower can reveal exactly who deposited this steaming, foul smelling pile of dung now stinking up our fair city.

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