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Surrey councillor silent on ‘shocking’ findings of ethics commissioner

Coun. Rob Stutt’s critical Nov. 14 vote on policing issue ‘deemed illegal and invalid,’ Safe Surrey Coalition charges
Surrey Coun. Rob Stutt. (File photo: Anna Burns)

Surrey Connect Councillor Rob Stutt has come under fire by a few city council colleagues in the wake of the ethic commissioner’s findings related to a conflict-of-interest complaint lodged against him by the Surrey Police Union in February concerning his eligibility to vote on the policing transition.

The SPU called on Stutt, a former Surrey Mountie, to recuse himself from voting on policing or be disqualified from doing so until the City of Surrey Ethics Commissioner finalized a decision on a complaint against him.

In February the union filed a complaint with the commissioner alleging conflict-of-interest on Stutt’s part. Its president Rob Stewart charged that Stutt voted to end the transition to Surrey Police Service from the Surrey RCMP without disclosing that his son is employed by the Surrey RCMP and his daughter is seconded from the City of Surrey and assigned to the RCMP. Nor did Stutt recuse himself, Steward stated.

According to a summary of the ethic commissioner’s report, while Stutt did not have a “direct or indirect pecuniary interest in the matter under consideration at the November 14, 2022 Council meeting,” there are “other forms of a personal interest in a matter can give rise to a conflict of interest where a reasonably well-informed person would conclude that the interest might influence the exercise of the Council member’s duties.

“For that reason, members of Council must not participate in Council decisions that affect the members of their immediate families in ways that go beyond the interests those families have in common with other members of the community, in circumstances where a reasonably well-informed person would conclude that there is a potential for bias.”

Stutt has not responded to numerous requests for comment from the Now-Leader.

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke has yet to respond to a request for comment after the commissioner’s findings came to light late Tuesday.

But on Wednesday afternoon, the City of Surrey issued a statement attributed to Locke that said the report confirmed that the potential for a conflict of interest “appears to have been eliminated” as Stutt’s family member is no longer a member of the Surrey RCMP.

“I am disappointed that misinformation continues to be spread in a partisan campaign to discredit certain members of Council and the Surrey RCMP,” a statement attributed to Locke reads. “In his report, the Ethics Commissioner found that Councillor Stutt acted in good faith and was fulfilling a promise he made to voters. The Commissioner goes on to note that since the family member was already in the process of transferring and is no longer a member of the Surrey detachment, the potential source of conflict of interest appears to have been eliminated.

“I want to note that the latest vote on this matter on June 15, which can now be made public, had six council members voting in support of continuing with Surrey RCMP as the Police of Jurisdiction and three councillors opposed.”

The Surrey Ethics Commissioner Investigation Report was made public on June 20 and can be read here.

READ ALSO: Surrey mayor threatens to call for inquiry into policing transition after Farnworth’s ultimatum

READ ALSO: Farnworth chides Surrey for not sharing report prior to policing vote

Meantime, Surrey First Coun. Linda Annis says Stutt should not have voted on Nov. 14 to retain the RCMP as Surrey’s police of jurisdiction rather than to forge ahead with the transition to the Surrey Police Service.

Had he not voted, Annis noted, the motion, which passed on a 5-4 vote, would have failed on a tie vote.

“The Ethics Commissioner was clear that a reasonable person would have seen the potential for bias because of Councillor Stutt’s family connection at the time to the RCMP,” Annis said. “It begs the question why the mayor didn’t see that conflict, and why she allowed Councillor Stutt to vote. If the motion had failed, I think it would have changed things quite a bit. Instead, it has continued the political chaos and cost that surrounds the policing issue.”

Annis said the vote held by council behind closed doors on Thursday, June 15, which Locke has stated affirmed keeping the RCMP on a 6-3 vote, should have been held in a public forum

“Transparency on November 14 showed the conflict, but the vote in-camera last week means we cannot talk about how people voted, which is hard for taxpayers and residents to understand,” Annis said. “Transparency has been missing on this issue from day one under Doug McCallum, and it continues under Brenda Locke. That includes details about the real numbers and costs. Numbers that are secret can’t be taken seriously. The numbers around policing need to be public and they need to be challenged and defend in public.”

A press release issued Wednesday by the Safe Surrey Coalition roasted Stutt’s “shocking conflict of interest, as confirmed by the ethics commissioner.”

The slate also slammed Locke, maintaining her “deliberate disregard for ethical standards has come under scrutiny, as she knowingly permitted Councillor Rob Stutt’s deceitful actions to manipulate the council and the trusting residents of Surrey. This is a clear indication of Mayor Locke’s lack of transparency and her willingness to prioritize personal agendas over the best interests of the community.”

Coun. Doug Elford, of the SSC, stated in the press release that the “egregious act by Councillor Stutt and the willful negligence of Mayor Locke are an affront to the principles that govern our council. The hardworking taxpayers of Surrey deserve better, and we will not rest until SPS becomes the police of jurisdiction.”

Moreover, fellow SSC Coun. Mandeep Nagra stated that the “blatant ethical violation and subsequent financial repercussions inflicted upon our constituents cannot be ignored. It is imperative that we rectify this illegal vote and work tirelessly to restore faith in our governance. Now that the 5-4 vote has failed the transition to SPS will continue.”

According to the SSC, the Nov. 14, 2022 vote was tainted by Stutt’s “compromised position” and “has now been deemed illegal and invalid. With the removal of Stutt’s vote, the motion has rightfully failed with a revised 4-4 vote. This outcome paves the way for the council to finally continue moving forward with SPS, ensuring a future that upholds integrity, transparency, and genuine representation.”

On Nov. 14, 2022, council on a 5-4 vote – with one of the five votes in favour cast by Stutt – decided to maintain the Surrey RCMP as the city’s police of jurisdiction instead of moving forward with the Surrey Police Service, and instructed city staff to prepare a plan for Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth’s approval to that end, as well as issue a letter on council’s behalf to the Surrey Police Board “to pause all new hiring and expenditures pending further Council direction.”

READ ALSO: Surrey council votes 5-4 to maintain Surrey RCMP as city’s police department

READ ALSO: Surrey council approves ‘draft’ of final plan to retain RCMP on 6-3 vote

Then, on Dec. 9, council decided in a 6-3 vote to approve a “draft report” on retaining the Surrey RCMP and submitted it to Farnworth for consideration, with Surrey First Coun. Mike Bose voting in favour of this along with Surrey Connect’s majority comprised of Locke and councillors Harry Bains, Pardeep Kooner, Rob Stutt, Gordon Hepner while Safe Surrey Coalition councillors Doug Elford, Mandeep Nagra and Surrey First Coun. Linda Annis voted in opposition.

Had Stutt not voted on Nov. 14, the Dec. 9 vote would not have come before council, nor would the June 15 in-camera vote have happened, as the Nov. 14 vote would have failed on a 4-4 tie.

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About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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