Surrey mayoral candidates trade barbs over closed-door meetings

SURREY — With the Surrey election months away, the mudslinging has already begun.

In a statement released Thursday, candidate Doug McCallum slammed his Surrey First opposition Linda Hepner and Barinder Rasode — who has yet to announce whether she is running for mayor or an independent councillor — for “hypocrisy.”

McCallum said both politicians regularly call for open meetings and transparency, but instead have “voted for closed police committee meetings for years.”

McCallum, who served as Surrey mayor from 1996 to 2005, when he was unseated by current mayor Dianne Watts, pointed to a list of more than 10 City of Surrey voting records, dating back to 2008, in which no dissenting votes were recorded against a motion to close the meetings to the public.

“Even when I was mayor I was a very strong believer that council — in all committees, including council meetings — should not have any in-camera meetings,” McCallum told Vancouver Desi. “There shouldn’t be any in-camera meetings except (when there are) personnel and legal issues.”

“But outside of that we should have open council meetings, or at least open to the public.”

Hepner fired back that those meetings were closed in line with “standard protocol (followed) in every city in this country.”

“When you’re talking about human rights issues, legal issues and particularly in the police — when you’re talking about some crime suppression plans or some confidential information that will actually put our protective services guys at risk by exposing them in a public session … it would just be, in my mind, irresponsible leadership to do anything other than (a closed meeting,)” she said.

“He knows full well that’s protocol. Those are legal issues, those are property issues, those are personnel issues and those are issues … (that) will put our officers at risk.”

While McCallum acknowledged that he doesn’t know why the meetings were closed, he said: “It would be surprising that every one … for the last six years had in-camera meetings (for those reasons).”

According to Rasode, the closed meetings McCallum mentioned and her stance on the need for open, public meetings and government transparency are “two separate issues.”

“When a clerk gives you an agenda that is closed, you really don’t have a choice but to go into close,” said Rasode, adding that the clerk makes the decision based on legality issues and the protection of personal information.

Hepner said McCallum’s accusations were “the height of hypocrisy and it borders on the ludicrous that he would even think that the public would not understand that.”

But McCallum insisted the public has the right “to know any information that council knows,” adding that he’s “always been an open person in the public.”

However, in 2002 — while acting as mayor — McCallum came under fire for allegedly trying to interfere with the RCMP’s release of crime information to the media when he was accused of telling off police for releasing bad news.

“I was just asking questions of the RCMP,” McCallum said of that incident. “I actually did it in public.”

Surrey’s civic election will take place Nov. 15.

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