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Nanaimo city council triples its legal budget

NANAIMO – Councillors approves a $45,000 hike to its legal budget this year.

Nanaimo city council has tripled its legal budget, but much of the information about the hike is still in camera.

Councillors opted to increase their legal budget from $15,000 to $60,000 this year and voted Monday to pay for it with unused money from last year’s budget. They also more than tripled the legal budget of city manager Tracy Samra to $5,000.

A Freedom of Information request shows five Nanaimo civic politicians have already billed the city for legal costs totaling more than $14,500 as of March 11 this year. Councillors Bill Bestwick, Bill Yoachim, Jerry Hong and Gord Fuller were each reimbursed $3,593, while Jim Kipp was given $212.

Between January and March 11, the City of Nanaimo spent close to $130,000 on legal costs.

According to Victor Mema, the city’s director of finance, council approved an increase to the legal budgets for mayor and council, and the chief administrative officer in December and on Monday, approved to pay for the cost with last year’s unused budget allocations. Mema said he thinks “they sense that they were going to need additional legal advice ... in 2016,” although he was not prepared to say what for because that is still in camera.

The budget is used for legal opinions and conflict of interest.

Coun. Gord Fuller told the News Bulletin allocations were for potential litigation related to a legal request submitted to city council. The letter, obtained by the News Bulletin, speaks to the hiring of Samra and council’s steps to “investigate and censure” certain councillors for allegedly breaching the confidence of an in-camera meeting. It also calls for the mayor to take certain steps or legal counsel would seek instructions from its client to issue a legal process to have a judicial review of the matter.

Fuller said it names five councillors and “if it went to judicial review then those monies were there for us to possibly deal with defamation.”

Mayor Bill McKay would not confirm the legal fees are related to the legal request or reveal his vote on the increase in legal fees because information is still in camera. Hong and Coun. Ian Thorpe also said the information is in camera and were not prepared to comment.

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