NANAIMO — Taxpayers continue to foot the bill for paid leave, while the City preaches the need for due process for its top two officials.
As independent investigations into allegations play out, Nanaimo chief administrative officer Tracy Samra and chief financial officer Victor Mema have been paid more than $58,000 in combined wages while on leave, based on salaries disclosed in financial statements from 2016.
Director of human resources John Van Horne told NanaimoNewsNOW he anticipated being able to offer more of an update on the investigations next week, but reassured taxpayers "things are happening."
Van Horne said Samra and Mema were granted leave with full pay based on advice given to staff and Council by the City's lawyers.
"The City is wanting to make sure it provides fair, due process. In doing so, that goes a great length to making sure the City doesn't incur liability."
Late last month, the Crown applied for a peace bond against Samra because several people, including mayor Bill McKay and current and former City staff, had "reasonable grounds to fear" Samra would cause injury to them. The application followed Samra's arrest on Jan. 31 for allegedly uttering threats at City Hall.
She has not been charged with a criminal offence and the allegations have not been proven. Among the conditions of her release, she is not allowed within 100 metres of City Hall.
Mema meanwhile was suspended with pay by Council on March 1 pending an investigation. The City would only confirm it is acting on an "allegation of significant concern."
Van Horne said he didn't know how much the City-initiated investigations would cost and no budget was attached to the process.
Dermod Travis, executive director of non-profit, non-partisan political watchdog IntegrityBC, agreed with the City's approach, saying the embattled municipal officials deserved the right to be presumed innocent pending an investigation.
However, he said there are two concerns for taxpayers, the first being transparency around the process.
"I think City Hall needs to be as transparent as they can possibly be, given the sensitivity of both issues, with the public. I suspect they can probably be more transparent than they've been to date without causing harm to Council's position or the two individuals concerned."
Neither the City nor Council have offered an official update on the process or given much clarity to the accusations being investigated.
Secondly, Travis said mayor and Council need to ensure the situation doesn't become one of indefinite paid leave.
"They should be looking at, in that vein of transparency, putting a timeline to it. These matters will be resolved in X amount of time. Otherwise you run the risk of it just dragging on and being dragged on...through legal suits and counter-suits.
"There needs to be a sense of when these matters will be resolved for taxpayers," he said, adding firing senior officials without cause and due process can be very costly.
Mayor Bill McKay echoed the comments of Van Horne, saying staff told him the investigations are "nearing completion," but he didn't know if that meant it would be a few days or a few weeks.
"I'll say this is an unusual situation we find ourselves in. Having said that, we're going to make sure we follow due process and are fair to everyone concerned."
When asked if the current process was fair to taxpayers, McKay said the City could be exposed to "significant liability" if legal advice was ignored.
Emails to councillors Gord Fuller and Jerry Hong asking for comment were not answered.
Meanwhile, Samra's legal counsel, Robert Mulligan, told NanaimoNewsNOW it's possible he will ask for an adjournment of a scheduled court appearance on April 10. A previously scheduled March 27 appearance was also adjourned.
"If the essential work is not complete in the next few days, it may be necessary to seek another court date to allow more time to properly settle on the course of the case," Mulligan said.
On Twitter: @domabassi
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