Surrey Councillor Brenda Locke. (File photo: Amy Reid)

Surrey disbands homelessness society during closed meeting

Councillor says having no members in the society contravenes Section 40 of B.C.’s Societies Act

The Surrey Housing and Homelessness Society, which has been helping people since 2011, underwent a seismic shake-up last Thursday when Mayor Doug McCallum decided to not elect a new board during a meeting that was held in-camera, or closed to the public.

The result, says Surrey Councillor Brenda Locke, who was chairwoman of the board, is that there are “no board members on the society.” She said it “should have been a discussion in open council.”

“It was a directive from mayor and council to not re-appoint the current directors,” Locke said of the June 25 disbanding on the same day as the society’s AGM. “I talked to the mayor and he said he did not like the governance model. He wanted to bring it in-house.”

Locke said the “problem” is there was a lot of corporate donations and personal donations in the kitty, “so it is not the City of Surrey’s money. There’s been charitable receipts provided for that money, so unpacking that money will be challenging, that’s for sure.”

“The money doesn’t sit with the city, it sits with Vancity foundation, and so that money is held with them and there is a lot of unpacking to figure out who owns the money.”

“There’s $11 million in the account now,” Locke said. “There’s a lot of unpacking to do before anybody can figure out if the money’s transferred, because it’s not in our control.”

“I don’t know what he’s going to achieve,” she said of the mayor’s intention.

A spokesperson for the City of Surrey said Mayor Doug McCallum won’t comment “as this matter was an item in Closed Council.”

Locke said having no members in the society now contravenes Section 40 of B.C.’s Societies Act.

“We’re talking to our lawyer,” she told the Now-Leader. “You can’t have a society without a board of directors, and that’s in fact what the city has done.”

Locke said the board had been comprised of “high-profile people in our community” who had done “amazing” work.

“It’s kind of devastating to be honest with you. I’m devastated and I certainly feel awful for those people that have worked hard over the year to support this organization.”

According to its website, the City of Surrey allocated $9 million from the city’s Affordable Housing Reserve Fund to seed the society. Its funds are managed by the Vancity Community Foundation.

READ ALSO: Mystery donor to triple donations to Surrey youth homelessness fund, June 26, 2020

Judy Villeneuve, who served on council for nearly 30 years after first being elected in 1989, said it was one of her goals during her time to “do something substantive” to help the homeless or those at-risk of homelessness in Surrey.

She helped spearhead the society’s creation.

Villeneuve said it “seems like a strange time to hold back on a society at this particular time when there’s so much need for supporting homelessness services.”

If council’s decision is a “re-look,” Villeneuve said, then that could be good.

“But if the money’s not going to be used, then I don’t think that’s fair to the public.”

Meantime, Councillor Linda Annis charges that the mayor is “abusing” the in-camera process to side-step transparency and public discussion.

“It’s becoming clear to all of us on council that whenever the mayor wants to pass something controversial without discussion, transparency or public input, he slides it into an in camera session of council,” Annis said. “He knows that once we are in camera our hands our tied and we can’t say anything publicly.

“The fact that I can’t even mention some of the things he’s brought to these behind-closed-doors sessions tells the real story and more often than not, he’s adding things to the meeting agenda at the very last minute without any notice,” Annis said.

“But, the minute the doors are closed, we can’t say a word publicly. It’s no way to run an open government and it’s certainly no way to treat Surrey residents. City business was never meant to be done in secret.”

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