A Surrey city councillor wants a one-hour “regular time slot” incorporated into Monday night council meetings that would invite residents to “speak to any local issue of interest to them, including asking questions of mayor and council.”
Linda Annis, of Surrey First, says she will present a notice of motion to this end at the next council meeting Monday, Sept. 27. She notes that currently Surrey residents only get to address council over land issues during public hearings at the outset of regular council meetings held Monday nights.
“Right now, if you’re a resident in Surrey you only get to address council over land use issues,” Annis stated in a press release Wednesday. “We spend hours and hours at every council meeting dealing with land use issues and developments, but we never give our residents the chance to talk about anything else, it just doesn’t make sense and I think we need to change things and give people the chance to talk to their mayor and council about any local issues.”
Annis noted that all members of council were elected to listen to Surrey residents and giving them a hour to have their say on “any civic issue” is a good way to hear from them.
“We sit through countless hours involving developments, but our city has more issues in front of it than just rezoning or development applications, and I’d like to hear what else is on the minds of our fellow citizens,” she said.
This comes after the Safe Surrey Coalition majority on city council passed a motion during its land use meeting on Sept. 13 designed to “protect the democratic process” by banning some speakers – seven members of the Keep the RCMP in Surrey campaign – from attending public hearings, toward “ensuring a safe and respectful environment” for council and staff.
Ivan Scott, organizer of KTRIS, said his group will respond to “this illegal action by the City of Surrey and the Mayor’s Safe Surrey Coalition with legal action in defence of our rights guaranteed under the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Annis said this ban underscores how difficult it is for residents to speak to council members about issues that are important to them.
“People should not be ignored. They think politicians aren’t listening, and for good reason,” she said. “If we can’t find one hour at each council meeting for our citizens to speak about things that are of interest or important to them, then we really need to ask ourselves what we’re doing here in the first place. I grew up believing that we have two ears and one mouth so we could listen twice as much as we talk. I’d love to hear what concerns or interests my fellow citizens have. Who knows, maybe we’ll all learn a thing or two.”
Surrey city clerk Jennifer Ficocelli confirmed Wednesday that residents can contact council members by email or by phoning “but there’s not a public input portion of the agenda” of any of council’s meetings, including council-in-committee and land use meetings.
Annis told the Now-Leader she hopes council will see the importance of her motion “because I know there is such a frustration amongst the residents of Surrey not being able to speak about any other issues other than development applications.”
“It’s certainly something I was unaware of when I was elected for council. I thought that when we were elected we there to listen to the people and advocate for issues that were important for them and I was quite astonished when I found out that people don’t have an opportunity to speak to us unless they pick up the phone and call us, or send us an e-mail but there’s no opportunity to come before council and pose ideas and ask questions, pose concerns,” she said.
“And that seems vitally important to me if we’re going to have an open and transparent government. Public engagement is key to it all, right, and what a great opportunity when you’ve got eight councillors and the mayor there to be able to come forward and speak.”
Meantime, Annis argued to have council put a cap on late night meetings at 2:04 a.m. Tuesday, July 27, toward the end of a sitting that ran for more than 12 hours.
The Safe Surrey Coalition majority on council defeated her motion. She wanted council to instruct city staff to “explore options” to ensure meeting hours don’t extend into the early hours of the morning. That particular meeting ended at 2:19 a.m.
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