Nanaimo’s former chief financial officer calls a recently released expense report misleading.
Victor Mema, who was the city’s former chief financial officer until last month, was paid $225,076 and spent $18,247 last year, according to statement of financial information report, which shows that his expenses were the second highest of any employee.
Statement of financial information reports, also known as SOFI reports, provide information about the employee renumeration, expenses as well as other financial data related to the city such as amount paid out to suppliers. Personal expenses made on purchasing cards that were repaid are not included in the report.
The report shows that the bulk of Mema’s $18,247 worth of expenses were attributed to registering for conferences, $5,536, and accommodation, which came in at $4,998. Meanwhile, Tracy Samra, the former chief administrative officer, was paid $218,013 in salary and spent $43,974 last year according to the report. Samra’s biggest expense was $34,537 on legal fees and she, along with Mema, were the only two employees to spend more than $10,000 last year.
Laura Mercer, the city’s manager of accounting services, told the News Bulletin that legal fees are included in expenses whenever there is an employee who spends money on legal services. She also said she couldn’t comment on whether there was any interference from former staff members regarding the SOFI report numbers, nor could she speak about whether council was aware of the expenses incurred by senior managers.
“I wasn’t involved at that level…” Mercer said. “I can’t really comment on that honestly because I don’t know what they were told and what they weren’t.”
In an e-mailed response to a series of questions from the News Bulletin, Mema claims the $18,247 in expenses listed by the city as well as previous media reports about those expenses are wrong.
“What has been reported and my expenses for 2017 is incorrect and misleading,” Mema said, though he would not go into detail about how or why the city is wrong or what his actual expenses are.
He stated that previous media reports or allegations of him covering up expenses or being ordered not to include Samra’s legal expenses in the SOFI report are untrue.
“Under no circumstances did I ever attempt not to include any expenses be they legal or otherwise,” he said.
He also said it’s “nonsensical” for any member of council to claim ignorance about employee expenses.
“The city makes quarterly interim business expense disclosures for elected officials and senior management within the parameters of relevant legislation,” Mema said.
The former chief financial officer said there are a number of issues between him and the city that will need to be dealt with in court.
“It is apparent that the city and I will spend some time in the courts to resolve a number of issues. For that reason I will not make blanket judgments or comments beyond noting that I have seen selective disclosures in recent months,” he said.
Coun. Ian Thorpe, currently serving as acting mayor, said he couldn’t speak about other council member’s expenses, but wasn’t alarmed about the $385,944 in total expenses. Thorpe, who had $8,643 in expenses last year, said his were related to travelling to conferences.
“I am happy to justify those expenses,” he said. “I don’t think there was anything unusual in mine. I know my expenses were mainly for attending conferences and in-service type situations such as FCM conference.”
Thorpe also said he was not aware of senior management’s expenses.
“All I can say is that I was not personally aware; maybe I should I have been,” he said. “I think it is safe to say that if council had been aware, they would have said something.”
Overall, the city paid $52,753,854 wages and benefits to all employees and elected officials last year and there were 46 senior managers who made more $100,000 or more. Senior managers who made more than $100,000 last year include Richard Harding, director of parks and recreation, at $163,527; Karen Fry, Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief, $155,857; Dale Lindsay, director of community development, $152,224; John Van Horne, director of human resources, $149,379; and Sheila Gurrie, city clerk, who made $117,787 last year.
The report also shows that there were nine CUPE 401 unionized city employees who made $100,000 or more, with the top earner, Glenn Cook, the city’s water distribution foreman, earning $117,589 in salary last year.
Meanwhile, 72 unionized employees with Nanaimo Fire Rescue made more than $100,000 last year, according to the report, with the highest-earning employee, Dan Kershaw, making $148,895.
When it came to elected officials, Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay was the highest earner, making $95,103 last year according to the report, which also shows that he expensed $13,635 last year. Coun. Diane Brennan spent the most of any elected official last year, expensing $16,086.
Former chief operations officer, Brad McRae made $180,886 last year. McRae, who was fired this January by Samra, has filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and is seeking to be reinstated.