The Safe Surrey Coalition majority on council voted Monday to enable council’s regular and council-in-committee meetings to be held virtually in response to a failed in-person meeting on May 30 that was adjourned after members of the public shouted at Mayor Doug McCallum to resign.
That meeting was adjourned to June 1, at which date council instructed city staff to provide it with an amended Council Procedure Bylaw that would authorize electronic meetings to be conducted at council’s discretion.
Council gave third-reading approval to the amended bylaw on June 13, with McCallum and councillors Allison Patton, Laurie Guerra, Doug Elford and Mandeep Nagra voting in favour and councillors Steven Pettigrew and Linda Annis voting against. Councillors Brenda Locke and Jack Hundial were absent.
A report by Rob Costanzo, Surrey’s general manager of corporate services, indicates council will have the authority to switch scheduled in-person meetings to virtual, and vice-versa, “so long as appropriate public notices are given.”
“Regular council meetings can generally be switched to an electronic format if council resolves to do so at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting,” Costanzo noted, “and for public hearings, council may only switch to an electronic format by resolving to do so at least 21 days prior to the public hearing in order to comply with legislation concerning notices for public hearings.”
No hybrid model – a mix of in-person and electronic participation – was considered under the amended bylaw.
Council also directed City Clerk Jennifer Ficocelli to give public notice of the amended bylaw through newspaper advertisements once a week for two consecutive weeks before final approval is granted. Meantime, the corporate report also recommended flexibility concerning start times for council meetings and public hearings – of which there are five left before the Oct. 15 civic election, on June 27, July 11, July 25, Sept. 19 and Oct. 3.
“Currently the start time for these meetings is 7:00 pm. By allowing flexibility for a start time between 1:00 pm and 7:00 pm, there will be flexibility to better schedule council meeting start and end times to better accommodate all participants,” Costanzo wrote in his report.
Annis voted against it, noting “we have just a few council meeting left until election time.
“I think it’s very important that as councillors we’re in the chambers and we have it open as we do tonight for the residents of Surrey to hear us debate issues and for the residents to be able to participate in discussions here,” Annis said.
Patton cast her vote in favour, she said, “for the protection” of city staff, council “and “any other members visiting.
“Of course you want to keep it open as much as we possible can but not at the risk of safety. I think safety comes first,” she said. “So I think having the option allows us that flexibility to respond in the moment to something that brews in front of us.”
Elford echoed Patton. “I think it’s really important to have that ability to shift on the fly,” he said.
Nagra voiced his reason for supporting it. “The only reason is the safety of our staff and elected officials and all the speakers who come in to speak at different bylaws,” he said.
After the May 30 meeting collapsed, Guerra told the Now-Leader that council members were escorted to their vehicles.
In the fallout, Ivan Scott, of Keep the RCMP in Surrey, said close to 100 members of his group were in council chambers during that infamous meeting and nobody threatened council “with any physical harm whatsoever, or attempt to enter the councillors’ area from the public area.
“Neither was anybody foul-mouthed towards McCallum,” Scott added. “His SSC councillors had absolutely no justification to say that they feared for their safety from the SSC group.
“The idea that the two SSC female councillors had to be escorted to their cars due to their safety fears from KTRIS people is ludicrous and laughable in the extreme,” Scott charged.