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Nanaimo mayor rejects calls for resignation after council feud blows up

Downtown Nanaimo in 2009.

Don Denton/The Canadian Press

He has been called a "bully" and a "dictator" by his own councillors, but the Mayor of Nanaimo is dismissing the allegations as unfounded and he is refusing to resign.

"I'm not the first mayor that's found him or herself in this position and I won't be the last. It's politics at its finest," Bill McKay said Wednesday from city hall, where he says he's virtually been cut off by staff and council.

"Well, it's pretty isolated," he said of his office. "I feel like there's a moat around it."

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The long-simmering feud broke into the open at a council meeting Monday when it was revealed seven of eight councillors have signed a letter demanding his resignation, nearly three years before the next election.

The letter followed repeated complaints made in camera, according to one councillor, that Mr. McKay was bullying the city's new chief administrative officer, Tracy Samra.

Ms. Samra, who did not return calls, has been the CAO, or city manager, for only one week, but was acting in the job for six months before her appointment.

She is the first woman and first aboriginal person to hold the job in Nanaimo – a bustling Vancouver Island city with a population of about 84,000 – and she appears to have strong support from council, which voted 8-1 in favour of hiring her.

But Mr. McKay opposed her appointment and has struggled to work with her.

Asked to describe his working relationship with Ms. Samra, Mr. McKay replied with one word: "Terrible."

Why?

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"Well I mean, since she's taken the position, the mayor's office has been isolated from the rest of city hall. She's instructed staff not even to speak to me. And that goes right even to a 'good morning' hello," he said.

"She refuses to meet with me one on one. She does everything by e-mail. And that's not healthy. That's not the kind of relationship a mayor and city manager are supposed to have," he said.

Mr. McKay rejected the allegation that he has been bullying Ms. Samra.

"Absolutely not," he said.

Has he yelled at her?

"No. No, in fact I would welcome a third party to come in and do an investigation into bullying and harassment at the council level. I absolutely invite that and I welcome it," he said.

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But Councillor Gordon Fuller said Mr. McKay's treatment of Ms. Samra has been unacceptable, and prompted council to demand his resignation in a letter sent last week and discussed for the first time publicly at a council meeting Monday night.

The letter has not been released, but Mr. Fuller said it stems from the mayor's treatment of Ms. Samra.

"I witnessed him verbally and aggressively asking her to resign … On a number of occasions in camera, he has been very aggressive with her, demanded that council fire her," Mr. Fuller said.

He said council is also upset with Mr. McKay for skipping meetings or leaving meetings early and for getting legal or professional advice on issues without first seeking council approval.

He said the letter demanding Mr. McKay's resignation was passed around among councillors, and when it came to him, he was quick to sign it.

"I did not hesitate in the least. His behaviour pretty much since he was elected has been one of a dictator and not as a team player," he said.

Mr. Fuller said council can't force the mayor to resign, but can limit his powers by removing him from committees and designating more responsibility to a deputy mayor.

Councillor Wendy Pratt said she signed the letter because Mr. McKay ignored calls to change his behaviour.

"He didn't respond in any way to our requests," she said. "So that letter was, at least in my opinion, a bit of a shot across the bow. It was an attention getter. It was to say, 'This is serious; we are serious about this; we need you to respond.'"

Ms. Pratt said Ms. Samra is doing a good job and stressed that Mr. McKay is the only council member who has complained about her.

"We're very pleased with her performance and find her extremely easy to work with and are actually quite impressed with her energy and her ability to move things forward effectively," Mr. Pratt said. "She's done a good job of working with the staff and we are very happy with her. Unfortunately, that doesn't extend to the mayor."

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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