Contents of leaked email a 'body blow' to Nanaimo council relationship

By Dominic Abassi
November 24, 2016 - 5:27pm

NANAIMO — The contents of a leaked email authored by Nanaimo's mayor validates the call made by the majority of council for his resignation, according to Coun. Bill Bestwick.

"Before all of the councillors knew about this authored three page bit of information, seven members of council sought the mayor's resignation, without this information," said Bestwick. "What does this say? I think it validates the views and opinions of those seven councillors."

On Monday night, the email written by Bill McKay was released to the public, media and presented to council after being found on the windshield of a long-time council watcher's vehicle. The email was addressed to Heather MacKenzie, a lawyer with the Integrity Group, a company brought in to, as McKay says, deal with on-going discord among council and respond to complaints of bullying and harassment by then city manager Ted Swabey. The email contained McKay's often harshly critical opinions of each councillor.

Bestwick was asked if he felt the March 2015 letter was intended to influence the investigation being undertaken by Integrity Group.

"You can make your own deductions on the reasons why the information provided was framed the way that it was. It's quite obvious to me," said Bestwick.

He says MacKenzie made it clear that there would be no conversations with McKay or Swabey until after interviews with members of council were done. He says it's obvious that wasn't the case.

"To pre-script the desired outcomes, to pre-script opinions on people...all of this is very disturbing and unnecessary," he said.

McKay denies that his words were an attempt to sway MacKenzie. He says he was asked for his opinion of each councillor and also what outcomes he would like to see from the process with the Integrity Group because he was the one that initiated it. He says there's no way it could have influenced a skilled and competent facilitator. McKay was asked if he could see why people may think he was trying to lead the process in a certain direction.

"No I can't. The fact is that every piece of information that was exchanged with the facilitator is through the lens of the individual that's providing it," said McKay. "So the same thing could be said of all of the evidence that was provided by every single member of council."

The leaked email shows it was written on March 31, 2015. That was four months after this council was elected and before the official investigation by Integrity Group began. McKay says that work started in early May and was active until November 2015. He says no findings or results were ever presented to council.

"In the context of when it (the email) was written and for what reason is pretty disturbing...it's opinions and it's setting a tone for an individual that's been tasked with a responsibility to do some strategic relationship building," said Bestwick.

"I've been cast in a light of dysfunction, but I think this shows where some of this dysfunction comes from," said Coun. Jim Kipp. "The mayor working with staff and a consultant...steered towards making some people look bad and other people look good."

Kipp says the whole Integrity Group investigation was setup, phony, creates dysfunction and was not meant to do any good, but rather meant to divide council.

With hurtful comments, that the mayor says were never supposed to see the light of day, now splashed on Facebook for anyone to see, it remains to be seen if councillors can move beyond the latest in a seemingly never-ending string of controversies.

"This is a huge body blow to our working relationships," said Coun. Ian Thorpe. "I really don't know where council goes from here in terms of working together and trying to get city business done."

Thorpe says while he's disappointed in both the words written by the mayor and the fact they were leaked, he says he's more upset in the fact it became public. He says what's going on is alarming and counterproductive to being able to establish trust within the council chambers.

Bestwick says the statements in the email don't make things any easier, but he figures people don't view this council as "being together" anyway. He says they're getting a lot accomplished under the worst circumstances possible.

McKay was asked if he thought he could have ever worked well with his fellow councillors, considering the derogatory thoughts he had about many of them.

"I'm sure that members of my council had certain views of me as well...I simply expected we would work through all of our preconceived notions and put them aside. The fact is, council members are there to do a job. They're not there to base their decisions on their feelings about another member of council," said McKay.

"I have hope, but it's waning. I'm going to continue on with the job I was elected to do and I would hope members of council would do the same," he said.

Kipp says he has played on many sports teams with people he didn't like, but you have to work through it. He says the mayor's opinion is not valid to him anyway.

Meanwhile, the city's chief administrative officer Tracy Samra confirms the bill of over $50,000 from Integrity Group still remains unpaid.

"Once either Mayor McKay or Ms. MacKenzie provides the city with the information required to verify the services provided we will be in a position to make a decision about paying the invoices," stated Samra in an email.

She states repeated emails have been sent to both parties to figure out why the invoice was more than double the expected total of $20,000. To date, Samra states, there has been no response.

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