Update: Nanaimo city council agrees to launch legal action against mayor

NANAIMO – Mayor Bill McKay calls allegations “vengeful politics at its best.”

Nanaimo city council has agreed to launch legal action against Mayor Bill McKay and forward information to police after a seven-month investigation it claims reveals the city leader wasn’t transparent to council, staff or the community.

McKay calls it “vengeful politics at its best.”

Nanaimo council issued a formal statement through the City of Nanaimo Wednesday afternoon about an investigation launched into McKay’s financial disclosure reporting, international trade and travel missions, and business dealings on foot ferries, hotels and internal investigations. The probe began in March.

“Council regrets having to speak to the mayor’s actions, but is obligated to abide by the Community Charter and operate in an open and transparent matter,” said council in the statement.

Among the claims are that McKay entered into a non-disclosure agreement with Clipper Navigation Inc. to begin discussions to bring a foot ferry to Nanaimo without council approval, during a time when the city had leases with Island Ferry Services and was under a memorandum of understanding with other parties to locate a ferry on city lands. Council also said the mayor accepted a free trip from the company in September to do business out of the country without the knowledge of council and failed to report it to council or on his financial disclosure declaration.

McKay said it’s normal to keep the information from a conversation with a business confidential and the city had a non-exclusive arrangement with Island Ferries. He said he did not enter into business negotiations and while he accepted a free trip to fly to Seattle to meet with Clipper Navigation, he claims there was no cost, council was aware of it, and he reported back upon his return.

McKay said legal advice from the city solicitor indicated the trip would not be considered a gift.

Council also states McKay failed to declare gifts and services in-kind during an official trip to China last year, as required by law, including a gift of flight by Andre Sullivan, the chairman of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, to return home.

McKay, however, said the law states gifts have to be declared if they are cumulatively or of a single value more than $250 and in his view, hospitality gifts received in China didn’t total that amount.

He also said Sullivan, who went on the trip with McKay, asked if they could go home early, and that it would be an additional cost of $800 each, which McKay said Sullivan told him he would pick up. McKay said he insisted Sullivan not and told him to expense it but added that he did not follow up with Sullivan.

Council also alleges that a former employee said McKay provided him or her with confidential and privileged information as part of a settlement of a constructive dismissal and human rights claim against the city and chief administrative officer.

McKay said he “has no knowledge of that claim.”

“For the life of me, I cannot understand why this council feel it necessary to constantly drag people who have different opinions than themselves with respect to governance of the city, why they continue to drag them through the mud in an attempt to embarrass and humiliate them,” McKay said. “These are purely political actions, plain and simple.”

While McKay believes the claims to be untrue, he said fair process through the courts or a censure hearing hasn’t been provided, adding that he will talk to his legal counsel about next steps.

Coun. Jerry Hong said it’s up to the public to now decide if it thinks the mayor has done his job.

“We are just bringing this out to light,” said Hong, who had also referred to councillors having a duty to perform their job and one of them is disclosure, being open and transparent and not bringing information out that could put the city at risk.

Coun. Bill Bestwick said councillors have been asked time and time again, and in fact, demanded that they be transparent with the handling of their internal affairs and said trust is important to citizens.

“We are doing everything possible to be accountable,” said Bestwick.

Council has directed staff members to take the information to police for consideration of violations under the Offense Act and said it will speak further once the RCMP reports out. It has also agreed to have staff start litigation under a B.C. Community Charter section related to release of confidential information, as well as notify the public about McKay’s alleged breach of financial disclosure obligations.

Bestwick said he’s not in a position to disclose the vote, which is still in-camera, but it was the majority of council.

Cpl. Tammy Douglas, Island RCMP spokeswoman, confirmed the RCMP has received information regarding concerns raised by the City of Nanaimo and is reviewing that information.

“We will take the time necessary to complete a thorough examination,” she said, in an e-mail. “Measures will also be taken to ensure a level of independence as individuals outside of the Nanaimo RCMP will be engaged in this review.”