Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has stacked his four standing committees with Safe Surrey Coalition councillors, appointing them to the positions of chairperson or vice-chairperson with rival slate councillors serving as third wheels.
Councillor Brenda Locke, of Surrey Connect, charges “this is a deliberate way to shut out the public and to nullify the public’s voice.
“It’s very clear that the mayor doesn’t want to hear from anybody that is in opposition from him, or has a contrary opinion to him, but he doesn’t even want to hear from the public – that is appalling. That is not how Surrey has ever run their committee structure before. It’s always been an opportunity for the public to be involved in what’s going on in their city. I mean, he needs to remember this is the citizen’s city, not Doug McCallum’s city.”
“This is disgraceful,” Locke said. “The number of committees that he’s dissolved, it’s tragic. This is tragic for our city, I think.”
The result, Locke says, is whereas 192 members of the public served on city committees before, there will now be just 42.
“This is simplistic and an affront to all those that have participated in the past,” she said. “If this isn’t a demonstration of his my way or the highway mentality, I don’t know what is.”
McCallum, in response, said Locke’s comments “are wrong.”
He said the principle behind setting up the four major committees is two have the same amount of councillors to public members on them. “If there’s three councillors on those committees then there will be three from the public on that.
“The principle was to have the same number of public as was councillors on the committee because we felt it should be equal both ways. I think it’s very fair representation, actually, not what Councillor Locke said.”
The composition of the standing committees is by mayoral appointment, and then there are select committees and statutory committees. For the standing committees, McCallum appointed SSC councillors Doug Elford chairman of the audit committee and Laurie Guerra as vice-chairwoman. Guerra is also chairwoman of the Parks, Recreation and Culture Committee and Elford vice-chairman. Councillor Brenda Locke is on it too, as will be three members of the public. McCallum himself will chair the Investment and Innovation Impact Committee, on which SSC councillors Mandeep Nagra, Allison Patton and Guerra will also serve.
Councillor Linda Annis, of Surrey First, will sit on the Surrey Heritage Commission. Councillor Mandeep Nagra, of the SSC, has been appointed chairman of the Development Advisory Committee and SSC Councillor Allison Patton its vice-chairwoman. The mayor also appointed Independent Councillor Steven Pettigrew, and three community members, to the committee but Pettigrew declined to sit on it.
Meantime, a juggernaut of a committee – called the Community Services Committee, absorbing the former public safety committees’ role, embracing fire services and bylaws, the SMART program, and various social committees – will have Elford as chairman, Guerra as vice-chairwoman, and Annis plus three public members.
The Agricultural and Food Policy Advisory Committee and the Environment Advisory committee have been folded into a new Agricultural, Environment and Investment committee with Patton as chairwoman, Nagra as vice-chairman, and also Councillor Jack Hundial of Surrey Connect plus three community members.
“I’ve always been a believer in having efficient committees,” McCallum said.
Council during its Dec. 7 meeting directed staff to advertise for recruiting members of the public volunteers for the standing committees.
Locke said the “all-inclusive” Community Services committee is “far too large
“This all just seems to be more and more of this condensing of who we are and not letting the community in and participating in this city government of ours, and I think that’s a huge error for us,” Locke said.
“I don’t think it’s going to serve the citizens,” she said. “I think this is a colossal error and I think the public would and should be very concerned they are not going to be able to have the voice that they would have otherwise in the city and what we do.”
Locke argued agricultural and environmental concerns are “separate and distinct” and that social equity, bylaws, fire service and public safety are all “very distinctive issues.”
She presented a notice of motion at the Nov. 23 council meeting arguing that the Public Safety Committee should be “immediately re-instituted” as this second wave of the pandemic “has affected Surrey disproportionately.” This was to be debated at the Dec. 7 meeting, but Locke withdrew her motion at the last minute as McCallum had in the meantime folded public safety into the Community Services Committee.
McCallum noted that the Public Safety Committee never had any public on it, and “now it’s going to have three people from the public on it, it’s going to be part of a bigger committee. So we have tried to give more public input, or have them on the committees than even what we had last year.”
Hundial noted that the Agricultural and Food Policy Advisory Committee was originally formed by farmers more than 20 years ago and having only three members of the public on the new committee it has been folded into will “really be a disadvantage to the farming here in Surrey, certainly in the region.”
“Going back to the other committees, I look at the skill sets of individuals that are on council and to me the skill sets don’t necessarily match up,” he added.
Annis said she’d liked to see more residents engaged on the committees. “Many of them are experts in their field and are very, very helpful in terms of providing guidance to us in areas that we may not be familiar,” said. “None of us are farmers; many of us have an interest in farming or in agriculture but we’re not the expert and to be able to provide a little bit of community engagement I think would go a long way not just on the agricultural committee but on many of the other committees too.”
In a press release issued Monday, Annis said McCallum’s committee changes will sideline Surrey’s billion-dollar agricultural industry as well as issues concerning the city’s “growing rural-urban divide” Under the new regime, she said, the merging of the agriculture and environment committees into the new Agriculture, Environment and Food Policy Committee, the number of participating members of the community has been reduced from 21 to three while the number of councillors now tackling these issues has increased from two to three.
Patton, now chairing the committee embracing agriculture, told council “there will definitely be a farmer on that committee and I can practically guarantee it.”
Guerra said the new committee structure will help reduce redundancy, particularly for city staff. Patton added she thinks city staff “will love the committees” because there will be less repetition.
“We want community members, not activists,” Patton said. “I want community members part of my committee not an activist, and not a complainer.”
Pettigrew said this is a “trying time” for the city. “This is a very poor decision in my view,” he said. “This is a dark time in out city, it really is.”