Nanaimo city manager calls work environment ‘challenging’

NANAIMO – Tracy Samra addresses city council to pressure politicians to treat her with respect.

In a public statement, the City of Nanaimo’s top bureaucrat claimed “turmoil” and “attacks” have not ended with her permanent employment.

Tracy Samra, chief administrative officer, made the statement at a council meeting Monday, calling her work environment “challenging.” She outlined a series of alleged actions by two elected officials in hopes of addressing questions she said will be raised from recently released in camera motions and to put pressure on the politicians to treat her in a “respectful and professional manner.”

According to Samra, Mayor Bill McKay made complaints about the interim CAO hiring process to the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, prompting an investigation, as well as to the ombudsperson. Once she was permanently hired, Samra said McKay went to Work Safe B.C. with allegations she failed to create a safe work environment for staff. Samra also alleged Coun. Diane Brennan has added to a “hostile” working environment by openly challenging her decision making in front of staff and to the media. Samra claimed the councillor has repeatedly refused to withdraw a demand to terminate her.

Samra said she appreciates council has made formal and informal attempts to have the mayor and Brennan cease such conduct, which is damaging to both the city and herself and impairs her ability to carry out duties as CAO, but steps have not yielded results. She also said a cease-and-desist letter from her lawyer has been directed to the mayor and there’s been legal advice by city corporate lawyers about respectful workplace obligations.

“It is apparent, in my opinion, that what they seek to create is an environment that would cause me to resign as your CAO and sue the city. I have no intentions of doing so,” she said. “We have made great progress on council agenda, there is much work to be done on the core services review and I enjoy working with staff when I am actually given the opportunity to do so free of interference and harassment.”

Samra was first hired in an interim role last November.

Samra said it’s well known certain councillors oppose her employment with the city and that even before council made the decision to hire her in an interim capacity, Brennan alerted the media that “a group of them had a newsworthy story.” She also claimed Brennan reported confidential information and was asked to apologize for her actions, but instead chose to issue “legal demands” to the mayor to suspend Samra from her position and launch an investigation to overturn the interim hiring process.

The “legal demands” stem from a letter to the mayor from Brennan’s legal counsel, obtained by the News Bulletin, which reviewed the interim hiring process and council’s steps to “investigate and censure” certain councillors for allegedly breaching the confidence of an in-camera meeting.

The letter argues the will of an in-camera meeting of the City Manager Selection Committee on Nov. 13 and a subsequent council meeting on Nov. 16 allowed councillors to rise and report on the process by which Samra was hired and there was no breach of confidence by Brennan or any other council members.

In a previous interview, Brennan said she was satisfied the issue had been resolved.

The presentation Monday came as a surprise for Brennan, who said she had no warning of the content.

“My only response is that I’m trying to do my job with grace and integrity,” Brennan said. “I’m determined to speak out on behalf of the taxpayers of Nanaimo whenever I believe it is in their best interest and I will question a public servant if that’s necessary.”

Samra, whose full speech can be found on the city website at www.nanaimo.ca, spoke about offering the mayor an olive branch last week with a plea that he set aside his concerns about her so they can be seen to be working together. She said she knows she can do it, but asked the mayor to make a statement that he will make the commitment, too.

“It’s time to set aside the past and move forward together,” she said.

Immediately following the presentation, McKay called it one of the most “bizarre things” he’d ever heard.

He did not offer further comment to the News Bulletin except to say it appears it’s a relationship issue between his office and the CAO office and he believes that should be something they deal with themselves.