SURREY â€” Coun. Barinder Rasode is leaving Surrey First’s "coalition of independents" and may have her eye on the mayor’s chair.
Rasode plans to run in the upcoming municipal election as an independent councillor, but said if Mayor Dianne Watts doesn’t run, she would "strongly consider" running for mayor.
The Now has obtained a copy of the email Rasode sent to the rest of the Surrey First team this morning, announcing her departure from the slate.
In the email, Rasode claims the more questions she asks of council, the more "hostile" the relationship becomes.
She writes that she believes there is "a systematic failure of process at City Hall, and in order to adequately address this issue, I have decided to sit as an Independent on Council."
Rasode says in the email there are three issues she finds troubling, "both personally and professionally: 1. The approach taken toward public safety and fighting crime. 2. Spending at City Hall. 3. Community consultation."
While she values the work she’s accomplished together with Surrey First, Rasode writes she no longer believes that "independent voices are encouraged or respected within the team."
She goes on to say that due to a series of events "it has become obvious that I am not able to offer alternative viewpoints while remaining a member of Surrey First."
"Following the tragic death of Julie Paskall, I spoke out about the need to fulfill the commitment in our crime reduction strategy to hire more police officers, and implement additional safety measures in Newton and around our facilities. In the weeks following, I was criticized by council both privately and publically, cut off from staff resources, removed as Chair of the Police Committee, and stopped receiving Council updates from the OIC of the Surrey RCMP," Rasode charges.
In response to Rasode’s comments that she has stopped receiving council updates from the Officer In Charge, Surrey RCMP Cpl. Bert Paquet said, "City of Surrey councillors are provided with the same updates and relevant information from the Surrey RCMP. This now appears to be an election issue and as a result it would be inappropriate to comment further as the police are impartial."
Rasode also claims she has heard from the community that access to public information is being restricted, including Freedom of Information requests being "ignored."
"Major decisions, such as contracting-out community policing services, are being made behind closed doors and without any council or public consultation," she writes. "The standard protocol around spending on major projects, such as the new City Hall, as well as taxpayer-funded travel is being ignored."
Rasode ends her email by saying the decision was difficult on a personal level, but adds that her "first responsibility is to serve the people of Surrey, and I believe that I can be more effective as an Independent. Our city will be strengthened through open dialogue, as well as greater transparency and accountability at City Hall."
Speaking on behalf of Surrey First, Coun. Linda Hepner said the team is disappointed by the announcements today, adding that Rasode has never raised these issues at the council table or in committee meetings.
"I think thereâ€™s a lot of electioneering in here as opposed to something thatâ€™s real," Hepner said.
She suspects Rasode made her decision months ago and it’s just coming to light now.
Hepner says Surrey First will continue to support Rasode in her work for the city.
"She’s a strong worker and I think we’ll continue to support her. And we wish her the very best of luck in whatever else she would like to do and we’re sorry she couldn’t do it within our environment," she said.
In an emailed statement, Watts said she is "saddened and disappointed" that Rasode feels unable to work in the team environment to bring issues forward to council and committees.
"Myself and council will continue to support Councillor Rasode in her role as the Chair of Community Safety. As she has held the Public Safety portfolio for the past two years we will continue to encourage her to bring issues forward to council chambers for discussion," Watts said in the statement. "There is a significant amount of work we are undertaking to move the City of Surrey forward and this continues to remain my top priority."
Watts did not respond to Rasode’s criticisms, and said she "will not engage in electioneering."
On Thursday morning, in an interview with CKNW, Watts said, â€œEverything that we do at the city is open, itâ€™s transparent. Thatâ€™s one of the cornerstones that we have. All of that is public information."
She told the radio station that Rasode is indeed running for mayor and has a team in place.
Rasode adamantly insists she hasn’t decided if she’s running for mayor yet, and has "not at all engaged with anybody about running a slate," adding, "I’m now speaking against the slate model because I believe it doesn’t work in Surrey."
As well, Rasode said her comments are not an election platform, but instead have to do with the timeliness of the issues at hand.
Some in the community have asked Rasode about a lunch she is thought to have had with former mayor Doug McCallum.
"No. There is nothing there. That’s one of the many rumours out there," she said, firmly stating there’s absolutely nothing political in the works between the two.
â€” Tiffany F (@ynaffit79) April 17, 2014
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Earlier this year, Watts insisted there was no rift between her and Rasode. While Rasode claimed the same, she said the two have "a difference in opinion on community public safety."
The two politicians have made headlines recently.
After Julie Paskall’s murder outside Newton Arena, Rasode broke party lines and went public with comments that Surrey did not do enough in the neighbourhood.
Less than a week later, Watts said it was an accident that she liked at least four posts on Facebook that slammed Rasode, including one that called her a "coward."
Then, following questions about why police committee meetings weren’t publicly available for the past two years, Watts referred comments back to Rasode, as she was chair at the time, until Watts took over as interim chair of the committee for a time.
In January 2013, media reports made note of a rift at city hall following the divide among Surrey council following the rejected South Surrey casino proposal, but Rasode and Watts both said that was not the case.
Rasode ran under the left-leaning Surrey Civic Coalition slate in the 2005 civic election. In the 2008 election, she joined Surrey First, and made history when she became the first South Asian woman elected to Surrey council.