Nanaimo City Hall. (News Bulletin/file)

City of Nanaimo cancels leadership and corporate culture change project in CAO’s absence

Initiative had been spearheaded by Tracy Samra

A leadership and cultural change project that had been proposed by Nanaimo’s chief administrative officer has been axed by city officials.

The City of Nanaimo has cancelled a request for proposals calling for a private firm to provide 60 managers with training and coaching services as part of a leadership and corporate culture change project. Tracy Samra, the city’s CAO, had spearheaded the initiative late last year.

The leadership and culture project was intended to be rolled out in three phases over a 12-month period, with an anticipated budget of $75,000. The project’s aim was to create a healthier work environment, reduce fear among city employees and provide management additional training that could improve their communication and better position them to take on leadership roles.

Jane Rushton, purchasing manager for the city, told the News Bulletin the decision to cancel the RFP was made earlier this month after members of senior management felt that it would be difficult to award a contract for a leadership project when the individual who ordered it hasn’t been at city hall. Samra has been on leave since the end of January and has a scheduled court appearance on March 27.

“When I went to senior leadership, they weren’t sure … how to take this on,” Rushton said. “So we were really caught as to how to proceed in the predicament that we are in.”

Rushton said the project was a good initiative and staff wanted to go forward with it, but not all senior management shared the same vision and without a CAO it was difficult to move forward.

“It needs a project sponsor. It needs someone to take it by the reins and direct the successful proponent to lead us where the next vision is for us,” adding that an RFP can always be reissued in the future.

Samra had told the News Bulletin back in January that part of the rationale for implementing such a project was because there was a “lack of leadership” within council and that years of conflict between council members was negatively impacting staff and herself.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said he had not heard much about the project or where it was at since it was an initiative led by staff, not by council, adding councillors hadn’t talked about it. With Samra along with Victor Mema, the city’s chief financial officer, both on leave, Thorpe said city staff have done an excellent job.

“The other members of our senior management team have absolutely stepped forward and provided really strong leadership, we couldn’t ask for more, I think,” he said.

Coun. Jerry Hong said it was “pointless” for staff to continue with the project without Samra. He also said there has been a lack of leadership on council for years and that it starts with Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay.

“That’s always been the case and that is one of the reasons why we have asked the mayor to resign … I would like to see some leadership, but at this point, that is the problem that we have,” he said, later explaining that the mayor must communicate better and help bring councillors together instead of siding with particular councillors.

McKay said he agreed with the decision to cancel the program because senior management is running shorthanded at the moment.

He said when it comes to leadership, councillors were elected to be individual leaders and that they need to lead by example and ensure that they are seen in the community as strong and competent professional leaders.

“I certainly have tried to do my best to convey that not only to the public but also to our staff and our citizens,” he said. “It takes a whole board to manage this corporation.”

Thorpe said while there is no denying that council has struggled with its relationships, councillors have been able to move projects forward with the help of city staff and doesn’t believe there is a lack of leadership.

“I don’t think that is the problem at all,” he said.

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