City confirms improper purchase card use by former senior managers

City of Nanaimo provides credit card statements for senior staff

Two former high-ranking Nanaimo bureaucrats used city credit cards to pay for dozens of personal purchases.

According to purchase card statements obtained by the News Bulletin through a freedom of information request, Tracy Samra, the city’s former chief administrative officer, used her city-issued purchasing card to expense $3,208 worth of personal purchases over a 22-month period, while Victor Mema, the city’s former chief financial officer, made more than 60 personal purchases with his card during the same period. It’s unclear how much Mema spent because the city redacted the purchase amounts on his statements.

The purchase card statements provided to the News Bulletin span from January 2016 to October 2017 and show detailed spending information for Samra and Mema as well as director of human resources John Van Horne, city clerk Sheila Gurrie, and former chief operations officer Brad McRae.

Jamie Slater, manager of revenue services, said while the majority of staff responsibly use their purchase cards for work expenses only, Mema and Samra’s statements include expenses that were not work-related expenses.

“They were personal charges,” she said, adding that redacted purchases were repaid by each individual and are subject to redaction according to privacy laws.

Although management expense information for 2016 and a portion of 2017 is available on the city’s website, the city had not, until recently, released purchase card information for senior managers.

According to the statements, Samra spent $25,362 on her purchase card during the 22-month period, expensing $17,065 in 2016 and $8,297 in 2017. Among work-related expenses, the former chief administrative officer spent $2,322 at the River Rock Hotel and $513 at a restaurant in Vancouver’s Yaletown neighbourhood while on a five-day trip to the Lower Mainland in late September 2017. Slater said Samra’s trip to the Lower Mainland that month was to attend the Union of Municipalities of British Columbia conference. She said the former CAO’s spending at the River Rock Hotel included a $1,723 charge for five nights as well as a $608 personal charge that was later reimbursed.

Among the other work-related purchases made in 2016 by Samra include $1,500 at the Fairmount Winnipeg, $135 at the Firehouse Grill and $21 at the Edmonton Craft Beer Market. Samra’s 2017 statements show that she spent $153 at The Clinic for Cats, $577 at the Coast Coal Habour Hotel in Vancouver and $116 at the Modern Café. They also show that between late July and August of last year, a period of time during which Samra was on leave from her duties as city manager, she spent $873, which includes three redacted purchases of $200 each.

Slater said she’s not in a position to comment on Samra’s purchase at the cat clinic, nor could she comment on whether any staff member had cheques bounces when attempting to repay personal expenses.

When it came to Mema, statements show that the former chief financial officer used his purchase card to pay for hotels multiple times. According to the documents, Mema’s work-related expenses included $2,267 at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando last May as well as more than $400 on taxis while in Florida that same month. The former chief financial officer also spent $4,633 on work-related airfare over the 22-month period as well as more than $2,000 at Best Buy and $600 at Indigo Books.

Meanwhile, Gurrie and Van Horne spent a combined total of $9,822 on work-related expenses over the same 22-month period according to the purchase card statements. McRae spent $1,710 from November 2016, which was shortly after he was hired by the city, until September 2017.

Slater said sometime last year, both Samra and Mema asked her to cancel their purchase cards by the end of October. She said Samra’s last expense was on Oct. 30, one day before her card was cancelled.

A 2017 KPMG audit of the city’s financial statements, which was presented to council earlier this year, found significant deficiencies “in internal control over financial reporting” and raised concerns about the use of city funds and the city’s ability to collect money.

Slater said no new policies around purchase card use have been adopted yet, but new policies are in the works. She said purchase card statements and SOFI reports won’t always match because SOFI reports list expensed amounts after tax, whereas purchase card statements include government sales tax, for which the city is later reimbursed.

“For purchasing cards, we are allowed to claim four per cent GST on everything,” Slater said.

According to the city’s policy on hotel expenses, staff should travel the “most economical way possible” and maintain a “normal standard of living.” Any out-of-country travel must be pre-approved by the chief administrative officer or general manager prior to travel. Out-of-province travel must also be pre-approved by either a department director, city manager or general manager.

City policy also advises staff to ask for government rates whenever possible, and that if travelling with a spouse, only a single-room rate will be reimbursed while bar service, personal phone calls and movies won’t be reimbursed.

Slater said for there is nothing in the policy that restricts staff or council from staying at a specific type of hotel.

“There is nothing formally written in our current policy,” she said. “Usually, the person spending the money would use their judgment.”

Speaking from Nova Scotia, Mayor Bill McKay said the level of spending by Samra and Mema was “more than alarming” and that there has never been anything like this before at the city. He said council was only able to see the purchase card statements for the two former employees about three months ago.

“I was shocked to say the least. I was shocked at how much information mayor and council did not know,” he said.

McKay said there is “no doubt” that Samra’s purchase at The Clinic For Cats was a personal expense and has “no idea why she would do such a thing.” He said council trusts senior management to adhere to the policies and rules around purchase card use, but that wasn’t always the case for some individuals.

“Managers are supposed to justify [expenses] to their managers and they are supposed to stay within their budget, which clearly didn’t happen here,” he said, later adding that he would be in favour of increased public transparency, particularly around the city’s financials.

Mema declined to provide a comment to the News Bulletin. Samra did not respond to a request for comment.

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