Surrey City Hall. (File photo)

Surrey Council Code of Conduct gets final nod on five-yes, four-no vote

The bylaw establishes expectations for ethical conduct for the politicians

Surrey council has given final approval to its new Council Code of Conduct bylaw – which establishes expectations for ethical conduct for the politicians – but on a five-to-four vote split.

Mayor Doug McCallum and Councillors Doug Elford, Mandeep Nagra, Allision Patton and Laurie Guerra – all of the Safe Surrey Coalition – voted in favour.

Councillors Linda Annis (Surrey First), Steven Pettigrew (Independent) and Brenda Locke and Jack Hundial (Surrey Connect) voted against the bylaw, at the May 4 council meeting.

The code of conduct sets out specific rules Surrey council members must abide by. These govern “appropriate interactions” in dealing with city staff, volunteers, and advisory body members; conduct at council and advisory board meetings; appropriate use of a council member’s influence; unpermitted election activities; avoiding conflicts of interest; conduct with respect to lobbyists; outside activities and business relations; the use of municipal assets and services; employment of council family members; accepting gifts; collecting and handling information; the use of social media; proper communication protocols; interactions with the public and the media; and council members’ attendance concerning orientation and training.

Guerra at the meeting asked city staff how many times the code can be amended once it’s passed, and was told that once the bylaw was adopted, its can be changed at council’s discretion. None of the other Safe Surrey Coalition members spoke to the bylaw at the May 4 meeting. McCallum noted he had earlier asked council members to put their comments in writing, and thanked them for doing so.

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Hundial told his fellow council members he’s “not comfortable” that conflict that could arise with other legislation.

“It’s coming in without the necessary training and procedurals around it,” he said. “One of the risks of course also is that we shouldn’t have to wait until a situation arises to actually have some procedures around something and I see this as being one of those pieces of legislation where it’s going to be maybe going out to a lot of extra cost by getting legal opinions for this and for that… I think it’s very important that the public understands this is what the bar is and this is why the bar is.”

Locke said one of her “great concerns with this document” is that it incorporates language that “actually usurps the business that we’re supposed to be doing.

“I’ll give you an example, it says ‘unwelcome comments’ by a councillor. Well, sometimes that’s exactly our job,” Locke said. “It is not our job to make everybody’s job easier on council; it’s our job to represent the public.”

And where social media is concerned, she added, “We cannot control people in the community and what they say and what they do. We can monitor it, there’s no doubt, to some degree and we can put disclaimers.” She maintained some elements of the code “are stepping way out there in terms of the expectation that a city councillor has to all of a sudden be the social media police, that’s not reasonable.”

Pettigrew, who also spoke to why he would not vote in favour of the bylaw, said he believes the original idea that was proposed was a good one, but “unfortunately I no longer have confidence in this bylaw. I believe that the council determination and measures should be decided by a three-quarters vote and not a simple majority.”

Annis later told the Now-Leader she voted against final approval because council’s ability to censure one of it’s members, as the code now stands, “is fraught will political interests, and I really feel that we have to have not just a simple majority, that it should be 60 per cent or 70 per cent of the councillors and council that would support it, support the censure.”

Ensuring this, she said, would “take away any political motives – it’s done for all of the right reasons.”

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