Surrey city council members gave themselves a 2.3 per cent pay raise in January during a meeting that was closed to the public.
City staff was later authorized to release a redacted version of its report entitled Council Indemnity and Benefits Market Review, with “confidential information removed,” after the in-camera meeting. More than three full pages of the 10-page report, by city manager Vince Lalonde and Rob Costanzo, general manager of corporate services, have been blacked out.
Retroactive to Jan. 21, Mayor Doug McCallum’s indemnity for 2021 has increased to $156,800 from $153,211 “to achieve better alignment with the market” while the eight council members are now getting $79,968 instead of $78,139.
“The City of Surrey compensates its Council members equitably to the relevant comparator market for the service they provide to residents,” the redacted report states. City staff conduct a market review of council members’ pay and benefits every four years, comparing what they receive to compensation their counterparts in Western Canada and Ontario get in municipalities and cities of “comparable size and complexity.”
Surrey council members health benefits and vehicle allowances were not increased, in accordance with a review done by Mercer Canada Limited, described as a global leader in compensation consulting. Retro was paid on Feb. 12.
The Now-Leader tried contacting McCallum to learn why this was done in a closed meeting but has not yet received a response. At least two councillors said at press time they will donate their pay raise to charity.
“I will be donating my increase to local charities for this year and next,” Councillor Jack Hundial said.
Councillor Steven Pettigrew said he’s “not comfortable with how issues are being dealt with in closed council meetings.
“I believe that we need greater transparency in what our municipal government does behind closed doors. I will be following Councillor Hundial’s lead and donate my pay increase to charity,” Pettigrew said.
Councillor Laurie Guerra said she has no problem with the optics of council giving itself a pay raise in a closed meeting, saying it’s mandated by the Local Government Act. “Any HR, employment issues are all done in closed.
Guerra said the city’s legal department and staff – not council itself – decides what council deals with in closed meetings. “You can say secret or you can say closed, closed just means it’s not open to the public,” she said. “We are still in a democracy in this country and this city, and when there’s a majority that vote for something, no matter who it is, that passes and then the information is allowed to go public, but not the way things are voted on.”
Councillor Brenda Locke said Surrey has “way too many things” that are done behind closed doors. “I think council salaries should be in open, absolutely. And we should discuss them in open.”
Council members are prohibited from discussing details, like who voted for what, related to in-camera meetings.
“I’m happy to talk to the public about what we get paid – they should know,” Locke said. “I have no reason to know why we did this in closed. These are the mayor’s decisions.”
Guerra disagrees with Locke that too much of Surrey’s business is done in closed meetings. “I don’t think too much is being done in-camera. We don’t really get much choice as to what’s done in-camera.”
Councillor Mandeep Nagra, meantime, told the Now-Leader “any meeting in-camera, we’re not supposed to make any comments about it so I can’t say much about it.” When told a redacted report has now been released to the public, Nagra said he had to “get the rationale why staff sent it to an in-camera meeting first.”
Councillor Allison Patton said Tuesday she wasn’t aware a redacted report had been made public.
“Was it released? OK, because I don’t know that,” she said. “Maybe I should go check and see what it says before I talk to you about it.
“I’m going to read it then I can email you back,” she said.
As a parting shot, Guerra said it’s “very nice” that Hundial has decided to donate his increase to charity, noting that besides his council work he holds a full-time job and has an RCMP pension.
“I mean, that’s very nice that he’s going to give that to local charity,” she deadpanned.