Nanaimo Council criticized for lack of oversight as ex-CAO's expenses run wild

By Dominic Abassi
June 12, 2018 - 6:42pm Updated: June 12, 2018 - 9:54pm

File photo/NanaimoNewsNOW

The breakdown of ex-CAO Tracy Samra's expenses in 2017.City of Nanaimo

Nanaimo councillors apparently didn't know or did nothing to stop their only employee from nearly tripling her expense budget in 2017.

The City's recently published 2017 statement of financial information showed former chief administrative officer Tracy Samra's expenses were nearly $44,000 last year. That's despite her budget for the year being set at $16,530 and the fact she was on leave from March to September.

All councillors were emailed for comment on Tuesday afternoon, asking if they were at any point aware of the spending and if not, why.

Only coun. Diane Brennan responded, saying "I do not believe we were ever given the $43,000+ figure for any senior employee. Actually I have never seen any number like this for any employee."

Brennan said it is imperative to create an oversight mechanism for staff expenses moving ahead.

Kris Sims, B.C. director with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, called the level of expenses "highly concerning."

"My first question is, is this a mistake? Is this somehow an error?"

Sims said the fact Council exercised no oversight on the spending budget of their lone employee is a clear lack of proper protocol.

"The idea there was no actual oversight up until now into any staff person's expenses on the taxpayer's dime is bizarre," Sims said.

Of the 62 other non-union managers at the City, only eight had expenses over $5,000 in 2017. The only one over $10,000 was recently fired chief financial officer Victor Mema.

The majority of Samra's expenses, nearly $35,000, were for legal costs. They were included on her personal expenses in the final financial report, despite attempts by Mema to keep them off.

An email obtained by NanaimoNewsNOW from Mema to another staff member in January 2018 said "We will not be including legal amount in Ms. Samra's list for legal" because the advice provided "seems to be" for City operations.

While it's unclear if Council was aware of or approved the legal expenses incurred by Samra, another comment from Mema indicated the budget was approved by Council.

A staff member asked Mema if they were to remove everyone's legal expenses from the financial report or just the CAO's.

Mema replied: "No, Mayor and Council expenses are driven by policy. For staff, our guidance would be a Council resolution allocating a budget for a specific expense."

Mema's expenses meanwhile came in at a little more than $18,000.

More surprising is the fact his salary in 2017 was higher than the CAO's at $225,000. NanaimoNewsNOW previously reported his salary was boosted multiple times over the course of the year at the direction of Samra, despite her being aware of his inappropriate personal use of a City credit card.

Further, Samra and Mema's personal expenses were higher than reported in the annual financial report because the improper personal credit card purchases were re-paid and not included in the report.

For comparison, the City of Vancouver's highest expense claim was from streets director Taryn Scollard at $22,149. Only one other employee at Vancouver topped $15,000 in expenses. Phyllis Carlyle, CAO of the Regional District of Nanaimo, expensed $8,300 to taxpayers in 2017.

Between 2012 and 2015, Nanaimo's CAO position had total combined expenses of $15,800.

Overall, management expenses in Nanaimo climbed for a third consecutive year. Despite having seven fewer managers in 2017 compared to 2015, combined spending climbed 14 per cent to $211,634.

— with files from Spencer Sterritt


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On Twitter: @domabassi

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