Feb. 3, 2018

Nanaimo City Council is at a real crossroad right now. Even though we have not seen confirmation of City Manager Tracy Samra officially out of her job, some critical decisions lie on the immediate horizon.

After Samra was alleged to have uttered threats against some city council members and others, it is reasonable to assume that the Chief Administrative Officer job is open. That means council has to make some wise decisions in the next few days.

Though the process is in place for the Chief Financial Officer to step into that job in the event of a vacancy, city council needs to do some serious self examination before filling that post on a permanent basis. Council cannot afford the risk of continuing with the haphazard decisions made by the majority group of five in the past three years.

CFO Victor Mema has been in the crosshairs of a lot of local citizens, particularly with his number juggling on the events centre proposal, which thankfully went down in flames in a referendum. Controversy seems to follow Mema in a lot of areas. Prior to taking the job in Nanaimo he had problems with his previous employer over expenses charged to the municipality. Most recently there have been two other issues, one which is in black and white – he overspent his expense account by 100 per cent, running up charges of more than $15,000 in only nine months. On top of all that, there’s the question about Mema using the designation of CPA, certified professional account. We’re told he’s not registered with the B.C. body that governs such designations. To be fair, I’ve been told that was not a condition of employment with the city, but it certainly adds up to a professional gaff, if nothing else.

The mess at city hall needs to be cleaned up very quickly, and the big decision will be whether to name an acting or interim CAO until at least October when the next civic election takes place.

The majority on city council needs to face the fact that they’ve screwed up royally and need to finally do what’s best for the city, and that is not to make any decisions that will bind the future council just nine months from now.

The minority group on council – Mayor McKay, Councillors Brennan, Thorpe and Armstrong – will have to do some serious lobbying to get at least one or even two of the other five to act with reason and make sure the right thing is done.

Just thinking out loud, even though some councillors have personal axes to grind, it would be prudent to offer a one-year contract for the CAO job to a to someone with a load of experience.

I know of a couple of people who would fit the bill. One is Jerry Berry. I have no clue whether he would even consider it, but he has the experience to clean up this mess. He has the reputation as one of the top experts in municipal government in our province. Then, if things turn around, the next city council could decide whether to make it a permanent appointment.

If anyone has any better ideas, now would be the time to speak out. Send your thoughts to me, I'll take the best ones and post them here. Send your comments to news@nanaimonet.com

Readers' Comment

Graeme Roberts - Disgusting — beyond all imagination. This is serious. The Province should immediately step in, appoint an interim city administrator and conduct a full scale audit and  investigation into the function of City Council including RCMP interrogation of the Mayor and certain members of council. This has gone far too far and it seems it could be beyond just a civil matter.  Employees appear to be in certain jeopardy and the citizens and taxpayers have been left in the dark. They have a right to know what has and is taking place behind the grey walls of City Hall.

 

TerryLynn Saunders Same crap happening at the School Board! The Superintendent is retiring at the end of June, the election of a new Board is in October. There are so many options available to have an interim Superintendent but this Board wants to make decisions for a new Board despite the fact that they don't know whether or not they will be re-elected and some have already stated they will not be running again. Waiting until after the election is the most appropriate thing to do but since when has this term's City Council or School Board done the right thing!

Mike Thompson I agree with you Merv. There’s a massive mess to clean up and it needs to be done with Nanaimo’s best interest at heart. I want to be positive about ‘what’s next' but, like you, have my worries about the Majority Group of Five. They have not even come close to showing the city they have anything but their own best interests at heart. 

Nevertheless a wrong step now would be disastrous for the city. Much needs to be done to straighten everything out and it requires a professional. Jerry Berry would be an outstanding choice.

Bill Allan Jerry Berry? Nanaimo is lucky to have a such a capable person of integrity so close by. And who knows, based on his affection for the city he might be tricked into pitching in until October. But several of the Fab 5 do not hold Mr. Berry in the high regard he deserves - it would be like admiting they were wrong - so unlikely he'll be tapped. Could that be another measure of how right he actually might be for the job? 

Jan. 10, 2018

“It can’t get any worse,” is the common refrain coming from citizens when the topic of Nanaimo City Council’s latest shenanigans comes up.

Well yes, it can get worse, to wit: council has held a sham censure process of the city’s mayor and one council member, ordering them to attend touchy-feely classes and to apologize to Chief Administrative Officer Tracy Samra for their dealings with her.

There are a number of issues here, but according to lawyers, council cannot enforce any of its terms of censure of Mayor Bill McKay and Coun. Diane Brennan.

An apology means nothing unless it comes from the heart of the person doing the apologizing voluntarily, recognizing they may have done something wrong, You can’t “order” anyone to be sorry for his or her actions. It’s totally meaningless. It's forced humiliation and grovelling for Samra's gratification.

As to the question about the impact of the censure process, lawyers say there’s nothing in legislation to allow council to apply any punishment. However, that legal opinion did not address the continuing bullying of these two council members as the majority exacts retribution. For instance, the vindictive majority of council controls the appointments to committees, and that could include a paid appointment to the Nanaimo Regional District board. For the council majority it's all about getting even.

Since we are in the final year of this council's mandate, perhaps McKay and Brennan should tell the majority to pound sand. The citizens of Nanaimo will hold their own censure process in October in a general election.

The entire concept of this censure action is way over the line, people’s rights are being violated. The two council members have run up untold legal fees in order to carry out their responsibility to the citizens of Nanaimo, with no recourse. In this case the Group of Five presented themselves as the accusers, prosecutors, judge and jury. The two never stood a chance when they faced the charges against them.

This kangaroo court was held in-camera with McKay and Brennan not allowed to participate.

The most concerning part of this debacle is that no matter how many times the vindictive Group of Five step into the cow pie they keep on charging full speed ahead. You would think they would count to ten before bulling ahead with their childish petulence, which is making Nanaimo a laughing stock across the entire country.

It goes beyond that. A source tells me that a group of business men met in Victoria Monday to discuss the ongoing circus that is Nanaimo city council. Those people have investments in this community and they are concerned how their investments will be affected.

In the meantime the national disgrace will continue. "Have you heard the latest from Nanaimo? You've got to be kidding!'

Merv Unger is a retired journalist and former Nanaimo City Councillor.

READER COMMENTS

Brenda Olson - Thanks Merv, a voice of reason.

Sandy Thomas McLellan - Shocking, embarrassing
 
David Fairbairn - Thank you Merv. You have lots of experience with these people. Keep it coming, please.
 
TerryLynn Saunders - You are so right Merv!
 
David Stanley - These clowns would be funny if they weren't occupying positions which should be taken seriously.
 
Susan Knight It is a worry that the people in Nanaimo may not want to participate in the election this year. We have seen how bullying, intimidation, lies and innuendo and plain meanness extends well thru out the Council and even to the top female at City Hall. I am not sure I would willingly want to put my name out there and then face the guillotine. Hopefully there are men and women out there who are prepared to stand up for us and say enough is enough!!! And to them I say thank you and lets hope those that are at the core of this dissension and evilness will not get re-elected. And we can have a City Council more intent on building Nanaimo than trying to destroy its people. sigh

– – – – –

OurNanaimo is a citizens group which evolved from the Events Centre referendum and now continues to monitor City Council. They have issued a news release stating they are deeply troubled by the ongoing censure hearings being conducted by Nanaimo City Council.

There are many serious issues facing the City and its residents – crumbling infrastructure, housing, the opioid crisis, governance, planning – but our current Council appears to be almost exclusively focussed on the allegations and complaints of one individual, the City CAO, Tracy Samra, to the detriment of all other Nanaimoites.

Rather than a fresh start in 2018, another week has been spent on a secretive and potentially extra-judicial and politically motivated process, while the needs and concerns of 90,000 Nanaimo residents continue to be ignored.

OurNanaimo urges City Council to finally focus on what they were elected for: the good governance of Nanaimo and the public interest.

Comment by e-mail to news@nanaimonet.com

Jan. 9, 2018

Property assessment notices came out at the turn of the new year, and like years and years before them, the general taxpayer will not understand how that translates into property taxation. The following was a column I wrote last year at this time and bears repeating.

Taxation is complicated because it is based on a number of variables. It all starts with assessment, done by an independent body not answerable to local jurisdications. Assessments are based, in part, on market trends in real estate, as of the previous July 1. Part of that is achieved by comparing properties to similar ones that have sold recently in the same vicinity. You can see how subjective and volatile that can be in today's market.

That creates the assessment roll on which the city then determines how much money they need for the new budget, and by setting a percentage of the total assessment roll, (combined all properties in Nanaimo) and that creates the tax rate on which you tax bill is established.

So, if the city decides to keep it's total tax collection the same as last year, then there will not be any increase in the amount of tax collected over all. (With minor exceptions).

That should make everything hunky-dory, if your assessment remained the same as the average. However, if your assessment increased more than the average, then even with the city rate remaining the same, you have a greater starting point, thus increased taxes. The opposite is also true, if your assessment decrease is below the average, then you should get a tax decrease.

My my own case, my assessment went up more than the average, so I knew my tax bill would be going up. And it did.

Clear as mud, right? Well, there's another little thing. Sometime elected officials move the goal posts while they're playing the taxation game – take some city services off the tax bill and charge user fees instead. But that's another kettle of fish. User fees are a tax by another name, plain and simple. Thus they are taking from one pocket and putting it into another.

The city's share of taxes is only one portion of your total tax bill. The city sets it's rate, but the Regional District of Nanaimo set its own rate. There are other jurisdications as well. But even with a tax rate freeze, the city share of your tax bill can still go up or down.

Following are the "Levies collected on behalf of other agencies."

The Municipal Finance Authority.

Nanaimo Regional District General

Nanaimo Regional District Parks

Nanaimo Regional District Sewer Benefitting Area

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital District

Regional Parks and Trails Parcel Tax

Vancouver Island Regional Library

Then there's the really big elephant in the room - school taxes collected on behalf of the Province of B.C. 

City staff have tried for years to explain the relationship between assessment and taxes and still only a small per cent of the public really understand.

I would venture there are city councillors who don't understand. 

Merv Unger is a retired journalist and former city councillor, living in Nanaimo. 

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Jan. 5, 2018

Rejoice! It’s here. This is what we’ve all been waiting for – the New Year.

The new year marked an important milepost, probably nowhere more important than in Nanaimo – 2018 is the year residents get to judge their city council. Since a faction of council has been obsessed with censuring some fellow members, city voters will have the opportunity to turn the tables and censure them.

There is a lot of coffee-row talk about who will be our Mayor, come October. Whoever the candidates for mayor are could be a game changer in who will run for city council to support their favourite candidate. Incumbent Mayor Bill McKay has said he will run, then he won’t and then he will again. Retired Mountie Norm Smith declared a year ago that he wants to be mayor.

We don’t know about Coun. Bill Bestwick who has basically had the mayor’s job by coup since the last election.

Some high profile names are examining the pros and cons of entering the race, but until they announce it would not be fair to name them due to other commitments they have at the present time. If and when they enter the race it could be a very interesting summer and fall in Nanaimo.

I also keep hearing the name of former City Administrator Jerry Berry as a possible candidate for mayor. I’m not hearing it from him though. That could make things interesting, to be sure. I wonder if Jerry would consider taking back his old job as CAO. If the over-all makeup of council changes dramatically there’s a likelihood that there could be an opening.

A group that was formed during and after the soundly-trashed ice centre referendum (defeated by 80 per cent) has been meeting to plan strategy. The group, known as Our Nanaimo, say they won’t run what is often seen as a slate of candidates, but are conducting a search for people they would like to unofficially support – the same thing by a different name.

So far, no prominent names have sprung up other than the usual suspects, and that does not bode well for those wishing to put a completely new face on council. In past elections, with 30 or more candidates in the field for eight seats, it could take less than 30-per-cent support to be a winner. If higher profile candidates do not enter the race, it only increases the chances for incumbents to stay in office because of name recognition. Many voters check off the names they know rather than what they know about those names.

There is also the possibility that some present councillors will see the writing on the wall and not seek re-election. Coun. Diane Brennan is not planning to run, but in politics the nomination deadline can be a magnetic force that drives some back into the field. As of now, the only sure bet is Coun. Sheryl Armstrong who won the by-election in a landslide.

Also, when people see who is likely to be the mayor of a new council they decide to get on board.

A number of the candidates in last year’s by-election stated then that their candidacy was a dry run for the real race this October. If some of the higher vote-getters from the by-election follow through it could turn out to be an interesting race, even though most of them have no background in municipal politics.

Stay tuned, no matter who or what happens, it will be an interesting summer.

 

Jan. 2, 2018

0101 - We spent Christmas in the U.S. southland. Though Christmas is Christmas, there are curious cultural differences between us and the South.

This was not our first Christmas to see our family in West Virginia, but the stark differences seem to stand out more.

Here's a difference, Christmas dinner is lasagna as the main course. The turkey has already been gobbled at U.S. Thanksgiving just a few weeks earlier. Christmas Eve dinner included fried oysters – an important family tradition.

The real eye opener was the Christmas Eve service at a church that seats 2,000 and it was more or less full to the brim for four services. It was interesting to note the police cars and officers directing traffic. Everything went smooth as silk.

In the U.S. where attacks on churches and other large gatherings are becoming too common, that risk can pop into your mind.

I learned that this church sends members of the congregation to firearms training courses. They are then scattered throughout the audience, packing heat, to react to  any attack by a loony toons or a terrorist.

My cousin is a pastor in Texas – he stashes a gun in his pulpit, and congregants pack guns in church.

Our son’s Christmas gift from his in-laws was a gun, for the second Christmas in a row. Fear not, both are antiques, handed down in the family for almost a century. I doubt if they could be fired without some serious modification. His Christmas gift from his wife, a membership in a new shooting range near their home.

She may also join the club, but first she wants a new Mercedes first.

Hand guns are viewed no different than any other tool or implement that is in every household. West Virginia is a great area for hunters – deer, wild turkeys, and more, so you can't tell them to give up their hunting hounds and weapons.

Different? Absolutely. But somehow under their circumstances it did not really feel that foreign, it didn't seem all that abnormal. It's the second amendment in their constitution, to proctect them from their own government. 

Think about that one for a moment.