City of Nanaimo being sued by human resources firm

Integrity Group seeking more than $50,000 over what it claims are unpaid bills

A facilitator that was hired to help council get along is now suing the city.

The Integrity Group filed a notice of a civil lawsuit in the Supreme Court of B.C. last week and is seeking more than $50,000 from the City of Nanaimo over what it claims are unpaid invoices.

The notice of claim states that Nanaimo’s mayor said he had authority to hire the Integrity Group “for services relating to issues between [City of Nanaimo] staff, the mayor and members of city council.”

Heather MacKenzie of the Integrity Group met with councillors May 4, 2015, and “rendered services” through to Dec. 18 of that year, according to the claim, and about a month later, the consultancy firm presented two separate bills to the city totalling $52,600.

City council, in an in-camera meeting, asked staff for a review of the costs associated with hiring the facilitator. A month after that, with the review complete, the city sent out a press release saying council, in another in-camera meeting, had unanimously voted to pay a $20,000 portion of the bill, but “the Integrity Group also submitted an additional $28,000 in fees for work undertaken with the mayor.”

Mayor Bill McKay told the News Bulletin at that time that he did not agree with council’s decision not to pay the full $48,000.

“A contractor has done work with us in good faith,” he said then. “I followed the process that was provided to me by the previous city manager and believed that the process was being followed.”

According to the city press release, a majority of council felt the Integrity Group’s work resulted in a “positive and changed dynamic” between members of council.

“In my opinion, council has made huge strides recently in creating a more positive and productive working atmosphere,” said Coun. Ian Thorpe in the release, and chief administrative officer Tracy Samra added, “Overall, progress was made by council, both as individual councillors and as a group.”

With the Integrity Group’s bill still unpaid later that spring, the mayor said he was concerned “they could sue us.”

In November 2016, a confidential e-mail from McKay to an Integrity Group facilitator was leaked publicly and led to a report to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. The e-mail, which a Nanaimo resident said he found on the windshield of his truck, contained the mayor’s opinions on the personalities and behaviours of all other members of council. Thorpe told the Bulletin at the time that the e-mail was a “huge step” backward for council’s working relationship.

Samra told the Bulletin then that regarding the Integrity Group’s invoices, neither the facilitator nor the mayor had itemized what was done for the city.

“Unless and until I know services were properly contracted and actually provided to us, we are not paying it,” she said at the time.

The city will have to file a response within three weeks of being served with a civil claim.

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