Councillor questions city legal expenses

City Coun. Diane Brennan was the only Nanaimo politician not to get a $5,000 expense budget for legal costs.

Nanaimo city council gave itself four times the legal budget this year, with dollars going into expense budgets for all but one politician.

Coun. Diane Brennan was the only Nanaimo politician not to get a $5,000 expense budget for legal costs, and she claims attempts to look into reimbursement have been unsuccessful.

The City of Nanaimo has released expense reports of city councillors for the first six months of the year, which showed councillors each had a $13,500 budget compared to Brennan, who had $8,500, and that more than $14,500 has been spent by five councillors to date on legal costs.

Council voted in December to increase its legal budget from $15,000 to $60,000 with $5,000 going to each council member and the city manager to get independent legal advice for “allegations” in a Dec. 10 legal letter to Mayor Bill McKay, in-camera minutes show. Council also had the city manager get legal advice on the interim city manager hiring process.

Earlier this year, when it became public that council increased its legal budget, Coun. Gord Fuller told the News Bulletin allocations were for potential litigation related to a legal request submitted to city council, adding that it names five councillors and if it went to judicial review, the money was there for them to possibly deal with defamation.

Fuller, who spent $3,593 on legal, would not tell the News Bulletin what his legal opinion was for, but on the question of why Brennan did not receive a legal budget, said other council members’ legal opinion was a result of litigation toward the corporation and claims Brennan’s was litigation to the corporation. Mayor Bill McKay said the reason why Brennan wasn’t allocated the same legal budget is still in-camera and he can’t speak to it.

But Brennan, who brought up the issue of the different budgets in a committee of the whole meeting last week, said the circumstances are that the full council was awarded an allowance for legal fees to address a question her lawyer had sent to the city because council alleged she breached confidentiality.

She told the News Bulletin when Tracy Samra, chief administrative officer, was hired on an interim basis, Brennan made a motion to inform the community about the selection process used, which was agreed to. Once Samra’s appointment was made public, Brennan said she talked about it and was told she breached in-camera information and was asked to publicly apologize. Her lawyer, however, advises she did not breach confidence.

A judicial review, which was mentioned in the letter, was not pursued by Brennan, who said there was no need because council stopped asking for an apology.

She said she hadn’t intended to seek reimbursement, and has paid her own legal fees which amount to more than $5,000. However, she says it seems unfair that she shouldn’t have the same opportunity to access the legal allowance that others did.

Samra also mentioned the legal expense at an open meeting as part of an overview of the provision of legal advice. She said Brennan requested legal advice on council’s motion for her to make an apology, but retained legal counsel to do more than advise on whether she should make an apology. Samra referred to the letter by Brennan’s legal counsel, which has not officially been made public but which the News Bulletin has a copy, and details the hiring process for the interim CAO and requests action related to Samra’s hiring.

Samra said Brennan has been advised she could make an application to council to get a portion of her legal fees – the part that relates to an apology – reimbursed, but the decision is up to council.

Brennan told the News Bulletin she didn’t need a lawyer to tell her how to apologize, but to examine the situation and say whether she leaked confidential information.

She said there was only a policy on obtaining a legal opinion on conflict of interest, and the legal expenses council allocated were new and set up after she obtained legal advice.

“If they set up a procedure to access those other funds, one, I was never told about it and two, when I did inquire I was told [by Samra] I didn’t meet the criteria, that I wasn’t included in the motion,” she said.

news@nanaimobulletin.com