The City of Nanaimo’s chief administrative officer remains on paid leave from her duties one month after an incident of alleged threats uttered at city hall.
On Jan. 31, a woman was arrested by RCMP Island District for allegedly uttering threats. The woman was not identified by the police, however, it was widely reported that Tracy Samra was the woman involved.
Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay confirmed a death threat was made against him and that Coun. Diane Brennan was also threatened, and the city launched an internal investigation. The B.C. Prosecution Service also announced that it was conducting an investigation into the incident and appointed special prosecutor Michael Klein.
Cpl. Tammy Douglas, spokeswoman for the RCMP Island District, said in an e-mailed statement to the News Bulletin this week that charges have not been filed and that police cannot release any additional information.
McKay said this week that there is an in-camera process “at play” and that council does not comment on personnel issues. He said it’s unfortunate that the public might believe that council isn’t dealing with the situation and stressed that process needs to be respected and followed.
“I am disappointed that they think we are doing nothing because in an employment relationship there is always due process,” he said, adding that Samra’s absence is not impacting the day-to-day operations of the city.
Samra, who was hired by as the city manager on an interim basis in 2015, officially became the city manager in March 2016. Concerns raised by two members of Nanaimo council members about the interim hiring process are detailed in a series of in-camera documents recently released.
The documents lay out a chronological timeline of events that took place between November 2015 and February 2016 related to Samra’s hiring. They also show that during that time, McKay raised concerns about the process multiple times, going so far as to hire his own legal counsel on the matter and contact the provincial government.
McKay said his concern was not about Samra specifically, but about the process of how she was hired. He said not a single candidate was even interviewed and that he left a November 2015 in-camera interim hiring committee meeting because he felt the proper process was not being followed.
“This was a highly irregular process and we went in there that day to determine who we might short-list to interview,” he said. “I couldn’t support appointing someone that day without interviewing a whole group of people.”
The documents also show that following two legal opinions from the city’s own lawyers stating that the interim hiring process was legal, McKay went and got his own legal opinion without the authorization of council and eventually asked Peter Fassbender, who was then the province’s minister of community, sport and cultural development, to step in and help address the issues and assist with the hiring process of a permanent CAO. However, the province informed McKay in February 2016 that it would not be stepping in to address his concerns after receiving a letter signed earlier that year by seven councillors, supporting Samra.
McKay said, as the mayor, it is his responsibility and the duty to ensure good governance in the community and that he had every right to hire an he independent legal firm, but didn’t disclose information about what his lawyers told him. He also said he was disappointed when he learned that the province did not want to step in and help.
“I did want the ministry to be involved in the permanent process,” McKay said. “I did want the ministry to oversee it and I did want council to ask the ministry to do so.”
Another part of the report states that McKay called Samra a liar, untrustworthy and untruthful, which the mayor denied.
“I have never, ever, ever called Ms. Samra a liar,” he said.
The city manager publicly addressed what she called a challenging and hostile work environment and referenced the mayor’s contact with the provincial government in a statement at a city council meeting in May 2016.
At a censure hearing in January 2018 related to the workplace environment at city hall, McKay – as well as councillor Diane Brennan – were directed to comply with the city’s respectful workplace policy and it was recommended that they apologize to Samra by the end of that month.
Phone calls and e-mails to Samra were not returned.