City finance department to look into mayor’s legal costs

Mayor claims legal expense was allowed. Two authorization routes for legal costs, laid out by city staffers, not followed.

Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay billed the municipality just over $3,000 in legal fees last year, a move allowed if authorized by council or covered under the city’s conflict of interest policy.

In this case, it was neither, but the City of Nanaimo paid the bill anyway. McKay spent $3,068 on legal costs in 2015, a Freedom of Information request shows.

According to city staff members, the mayor and councillors can spend money on legal fees in two ways: through a policy that allows politicians to seek legal advice on potential conflict of interest or with the authorization of council.

The mayor, however, does not recall using the conflict of interest fund in 2015 and said council did not authorize the expense. City staff have no record of council authorization for the expense, and there’s been confirmation the legal expenditure was not for conflict of interest legal fees.

McKay would not say what the legal expense was for, calling it privileged, but said the expense is allowed and referred to the community charter.

“The mayor is the CEO of the organization, has a responsibility to the community and can seek legal advice as required,” he said.

According to Tracy Samra, city manager, the mayor has unique duties under the charter and in order to carry those out he may need to get legal advice, but he has to get a motion to authorize and he has to share that legal advice.

“I am not aware of a policy or motion that authorized the mayor to incur those expenses,” she said.

Victor Mema, the city’s director of finance, believes staff members followed process and from his perspective the mayor’s expense fits one of the two avenues of authorization.

If the mayor is saying it fits something else, he needs to explain what that something else is “because now I’m interested,” said Mema, who later told the News Bulletin he plans to talk to the mayor and might need to recover some money from him “or he can point me to the community charter.”

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Nanaimo News Bulletin