B.C. mayor faces lawsuit from his own city


NANAIMO, B.C. – An embattled mayor on Vancouver Island is being taken to court by his own city over allegations he leaked confidential information to an employee, while at the same time a group of residents has launched a separate court petition to have him removed from office.

A document filed in B.C. Supreme Court says Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay breached his duties by providing Marilyn Smith with a private email from the city’s chief administrative officer that the lawsuit says she used to support a claim against the city.

Coun. Bill Bestwick said in an interview Wednesday that the claim was an employment matter and was settled out of court late last year for an undisclosed amount.

Smith was an administrative assistant to the mayor and council. She was preparing to sue the city at the time of the alleged incident, the statement of claim says.

The city’s lawsuit, which was filed on Dec. 28, accuses the mayor of obstructing city staff and not acting in the best interests of the municipality.

“The mayor’s improper disclosure of confidential information to Ms. Smith was not inadvertent,” the notice of civil claim alleges.

“Ms. Smith used the confidential information … to support her claim against the city,” it says.

None of the allegations have been proven in court and no statement of defence has been filed.

McKay, who was elected mayor in November 2014 after serving one term as a councillor, wasn’t available for comment.

However, the mayor told CHEK news on Tuesday that he hadn’t been served with the documents, but that he would “vigorously defend himself with respect to the allegations.”

Bestwick, the Nanaimo councillor, said the lawsuit against the mayor was initiated by councillors and city managers to ensure there are consequences for what the city alleges is inappropriate behaviour.

“In today’s political climate, citizens are seeking openness and transparency,” Bestwick said.

The legal action follows a protracted squabble between McKay and council members that became public last November when councillors asked the RCMP to investigate the mayor for allegedly breaching his financial disclosure obligations.

An RCMP spokeswoman said Wednesday that officers outside the Mountie’s Nanaimo detachment opened a file on McKay after council members passed a motion alleging that the mayor failed to properly declare gifts he had received and entered into a non-disclosure agreement without council’s knowledge or approval.

A November statement from council members posted on the city’s website accused McKay of failing to report to council a free trip it said he had accepted from Clipper Navigation, a company interested in launching a fast-ferry service between Nanaimo and Vancouver.

The statement also alleges that McKay did not disclose gifts he received while on an official trip to China in 2015, including a return plane ticket from the chair of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corp.

A statement from the mayor issued in November said he had done nothing wrong and that council’s actions were based on speculation and innuendo intended to discredit and humiliate him.

“I wish to make my position clear that the allegations of wrongdoing are false,” McKay said in a statement. “It is nothing more than petty politics and does not serve our community in any positive way.”

A separate legal action filed on Dec. 22 by 10 Nanaimo residents petitions the B.C. Supreme Court to disqualify the mayor from holding office because of the alleged conflicts of interest.

The petition alleges that the mayor took gifts and services from Clipper and Nanaimo’s development corporation in a legal application, and it accuses the mayor of abusing his position of influence.

“The desired result is to maintain public confidence by promoting transparency and ensuring that elected local government bodies are free from impropriety,” the document reads.

A statement of defence has not been filed in reply to the petition.

— By Geordon Omand in Vancouver. Follow @gwomand on Twitter.