And now that the dust has settled…

(My apologies to the wonderful Ross Buchanan, who sent this to me last week while I was sick with the plague. Actually, it’s the flu, but the worst one I and my children have had in years-sustained fever over 42 for days, body pain and aches, cough, stomach ailments, this flu is the full meal deal and I would only wish it on my worst enemy!  Ross caught me on a good moment while the Advil was just kicking in – which  clearly didn’t last long… and within moments of our conversation I was back on the couch in a fever chill again. ) However, here it is at last, a note from Ross to everyone who supported him and has been asking what is next:

“Thank you…

 Now that the dust has settled on the municipal election, I wanted to thank all of the great folks who supported me and those who worked very hard to help return democracy to city hall in Surrey.

 Your efforts are valiant and appreciated. At the top of the list are folks like Laila, Sarbjeet, Murray, Marcy, Mark, Jean, Walter, Maggie, Michael, Pauline, Don, Caroline, John, Dann, Geoff, Charleen and many others.

 In my opinion we fought the good fight, we shone a light on the dark side of what is really happening in Surrey and we opened the can on things that the citizens of Surrey need to be giving serious thought.

 Whether it is the Incinerator, the truth about violent Crime, the wasteful new City Hall, the out of control spending, the fact that Surrey First is a secret society with a closed membership, or the problems with Surrey City Development Corp… we now have the facts revealed and people are asking questions. Every issue we brought forth is substantiated with hard facts – not opinion –  that were also provided to the press,( and to anyone else who is interested).

 To those of you who helped, who supported and who voted a huge THANK YOU. Along the way I have met some wonderful people who I hope to be able to continue to call my friends for the rest of my life.

 For those of you who hunger for change I apologize. I wish we could have done more for all of us. My concern is for the citizens of Surrey and what the future holds for us.

 Seldom in the history of our country has a city of this size been so overwhelmed by such a significant influence of  “big money” that we see in Surrey, as a result of the wild west mentality towards what developers call “the last great land rush”. It will be sad to see what we are left with in five or ten years. My sense is that the price we pay for the destruction of green space, the paving of all things natural and the ‘stack them and pack them’ approach to housing will haunt Surrey for decades. Taxes will skyrocket, infrastructure will crumble and violence will escalate.

 My hope is that I am wrong. Time will tell.

 People have been asking me…what’s next?  To be honest, I can say I don’t know where the efforts of the last month or so will take any of us.  What I do know is, that as we have worked together, bridges have appeared and doorways have opened that offer us new and exciting possibilities for shaping a democratic future for Surrey.

 My primary objective remains the same. To work together with all, to create a Better Surrey…. one that we can all be proud of.”

 ~ Ross Buchanan 

Breaking news: Announcement imminent for creation of Municipal Auditor General.

So,  I have on good authority, that on /or around 9: 30 am tomorrow, Christie Clark will be making an announcement at SFU, heralding the creation of a Municipal Auditor General.

I would hope, for all our sakes, the position actually comes with some feasible authority as well as legislation with teeth –  or the move will be simply window dressing. For all the wonderful, exposing work provincial Auditor General John Doyle has done, he still has no real ability to make the government do anything different from what they have done all along. His stunning truths and financial revelations are most often ignored by those projects and organizations  that have been the subject of his examination, and little has changed despite his ongoing and stellar work.

I might  also note that the vast majority of his work in which he has found discrepancies, have also been ” independently audited”.  ( One wonders how  truly independent the audits are, when paid for by the entity being independently audited…)

Stay tuned in the morning for the press to report.

( **update: In late October I requested a copy of the unconsolidated financial reports to Surrey City Development Corporation, because the City of Surrey had consolidated the financials for that entity with their own year end. It took two days for them to give the reports to me, and then they were found to be very vague, not detailing the directors compensation by director, to whom consulting fees were charged, what or to whom the over $600,00 0 in salaries were being paid to, nor the specifics of the land transfers or acquisitions or any transactions of substance.

At that point, I asked Heather Marshall of SCDC for a further breakdown. She denied access and I was told to file a FOI with the city of Surrey. I did so, requesting a full accounting of the expenditures, acquisitions and land transfers between the city of Surrey and Surrey City Development Corporation. That response has been acknowledged and the information should be ready on or before December 20th, this year – unless of course, they use the same tricks as the BC government in delaying FOI requests forever! )

” Civic development corp draws heat in Surrey” *** with loan and land transfer documents.

A follow up from Kent Spencer to his first article, posted below- scroll down below to read that one!

Surrey mayoral candidate Ross Buchanan stands Wednesday at proposed development site at 32nd Avenue and 192nd Street. He is critical of operations of Surrey City Development Corp.

Surrey mayoral candidate Ross Buchanan stands Wednesday at proposed development site at 32nd Avenue and 192nd Street. He is critical of operations of Surrey City Development Corp.

Photograph by: Les Bazso – PNG, The Province

The City of Surrey has created joint- venture partnerships to develop a mall, erect 141 townhouses and build a large brewery.

Opposition council candidate Grant Rice said Thursday that warning bells should be going off about the city’s foray into moneymaking enterprises usually left to private developers.

“The people running the Surrey City Development Corp. don’t have the expertise to handle multimillion-dollar projects. They’re burning through $1 million a year and the taxpayers know very little about it,” said Rice, who is running for the Surrey Civic Coalition.

“I’m sticking up for private developers here and asking how we can insure that they have a level playing field,” said Rice.

Meanwhile, Mayor Dianne Watts’ office has released the details of three joint- venture projects with private businesses that will start in 2012:

– A $25-million development at the Cloverdale Mall with 102 residential units and 2,000 square metres of retail;

– A $39-million townhouse development in East Clayton with 141 units;

– A $15-million brewery, office and retail project that will take up 9,200 square metres in Bridgeview.

Independent mayoral candidate Ross Buchanan said the corporation’s annual financial statement reads like an “Enron” balance sheet because details have been left out about the contracts and who is earning $632,000 in salaries.

Buchanan, who is challenging Watts’ Surrey First party, said the corporation was almost $3 million in the red at the end of 2010. Expenses in 2010 were $1.3 million.

“The political involvement by the mayor and councillor [Linda Hepner] as directors of the corporation creates a conflict of interest with what’s best for the city,” he said.

Buchanan said there are inherent business “risks” such as those involved in the moneylosing Olympic Village in Vancouver.

“Some developers go bankrupt a couple of times,” he said.

Watts, meanwhile, said the corporation will provide huge benefits for the city and save taxpayers’ money.

It makes “strategic” land purchases, shapes growth, lowers taxes and adds “significant value” to city holdings, she said.

“We want to create a revenue stream to help pay for capital projects like a new performing arts centre,” she said.

Watts said the corporation’s $2.8-million deficit will be “wiped out” this year as land sales bear fruit.

The salaries are necessary to manage major projects such as the city’s new $38-million library, she said.

Other Canadian cities have established corporations similar to Surrey’s, including Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton, she said.

“Edmonton is very active in residential and industrial land development,” said Mark Hall, Edmonton’s development manager. “It is a for-profit venture.”

Watts said she will never be in a conflict of interest.

“I will always do what’s best for the city,” she said. 

Yes, of course Dianne. And that is exactly why there has been controversy kept quiet for years about this corporation, that is only able to keep operating because of ongoing loans from city hall !

Not only that, the city actually has actually had to borrow the money, authorized again by the passing of a special bylaw, without public consultation, to loan the money to their own development company, as shown by this document from 2010

scdc loan bylaw -2010

Sound familiar? Sound like the city hall borrowing with lack of consultation all over again? Seems the city likes to borrow a lot of money without telling or asking anyone but themselves.

But thats not all. This company is not being accountable in any manner. In fact, Ross Buchanan states unequivocably that Watts and council are in conflict and there must be an immediate, independent audit into all activities and transactions of the development corporation.  He says the citizens of Surrey have lost an objective council completely because Watts, Hepner and the city manager are all on the board of directors.

Buchanan states that the corporation is riddled with a lack of transparency because although  it remains a corporation separate from the city of Surrey controlled by the city, it has not been accountable for its activities, pointing to how the city consolidated the financial activities with it’s own financial statement last year.

“ It’s highly irregular that the financial statements from a corporation would be consolidated with the cities, regardless of who that corporation reports to. It is a separate entity altogether.  In order to get an unconsolidated financial report, one has to ask for a separate copy directly from the corporation, and if you want detailed accounting, you are denied and told that you need to file a Freedom of Information request to get that information through the city. The people of Surrey have a right to know what is going on with the cities land holdings, how many properties have been transferred to this corporation and at what value. This is exactly how the city of Vancouver got into trouble with the Olympic village fiasco.”

Buchanan is so concerned  about the amount of taxpayers money being spent to operate this corporation, and the number and value of city owned assets such as property holdings have been transferred to the corporation with little to no debate or public consultation that he has filed a formal request under the freedom of information act for a detailed listing of all land transfers , acquisitions and transactions between the city and the corporation.

Here is one document detailing some land transfers that have occurred with absolutely no public consultation or notice whatsoever, at seemingly no value allotted

SCDC land transfers

“ I expect that because we are in an election period, they will not respond quickly for the benefit of the people of Surrey, in particular because the city has also been loaning Surrey City Development Corporation money  from day 1 just to keep it afloat. I understand the mayor claims to be trying to generate revenue, but this corporation has been the subject of criticism from day 1. In fact, even early on there were questions when one of the directors stepped down because he didn’t agree with what the city was doing. It’s time to have an independent audit of the financial activities and relationship between Surrey City Development Corporation and the city of Surrey. “

It’s time the residents of Surrey knew the full extent of what financial foolishness is going on at city hall. It’s time the residents of Surrey knew the extent of the land transfers, loans, and risk Dianne Watts and her Surrey First council have exposed the city too via this development corporation.

The only way to do that, is to vote Ross Buchanan for mayor, to allow a complete and independent outside audit of the financial affairs of Surrey City hall, and allow the truth to be known.

Guest Post : ” Why we need a municipal auditor in Surrey” ~ Grant Rice

*** It is always a wonderful thing to find others who take great interest in the financial wheelings and dealings of our governments the way I do, and Grant Rice is definately a wealth of information when it comes to the municipal affairs of the city of Surrey. He shares many of the same concerns as Ross Buchanan, with regards to the lack of cities accountability and transparency in muncipal financial affairs. At the Surrey Board of Trade all candidates dialogue, he spoke to the question ” Do you support a municipal auditor general? ”  I was so impressed with his answer- and quite frankly, wanted to know more about the land deals he spoke to- that I asked if he would like to do a guest post for my site, and he graciously accepted. Grant Rice is currently finishing his masters in Urban Studies, has been a bold community activist and is running for city council in Surrey this year- I suggest you check him out.

Why Surrey Needs an Independent, Municipal Auditor General

 Having an independent municipal Auditor General look at our municipal finances could unlock some long held secrets. When Surrey’s Manager of Area Planning, South, was dismissed by the city last year they indicated that some developers had benefited from preferential treatment.

 The RCMP investigation resulted in only one city employee being charged. Around the same time the Manager of Long Range Planning left under mysterious circumstances. Was there a severance package involved? No explanation of where the buck stopped or details about the extent of the corruption were ever revealed.

 During the economic recession, the mayor’s former campaign manager, Chris Gardner, was hired as the Manager of Intergovernmental Affairs. Less than half a year later he returned to his former employer. How much did that cost? Recently the Deputy City Manager, Dan Botterill, was fired and is now suing.

 Between the end of 2005 and 2010 General Government expenses increased from $21 million to $57 million. The cost of consultants’ services has more than tripled from $5 million to $16 million. Only an Auditor General would be able to find out if these expenses are justified.

Barbara Steele, in her role as UBCM President, voiced concerns that she needed to know why the province thinks an Auditor General is necessary. “We don’t know what the problem is that they are trying to solve with a municipal auditor-general,” Steele said. “We would like an understanding of what they want to achieve from this office. We’re in the dark here.” No Councillor Steele, it’s the citizens of Surrey that are being kept in the dark.

Surrey First claims the city already undergoes an audit. The difference is that KPMG is making sure that the numbers add up. They are not looking for waste or whether relationships between developers and council are unethical. Having your books audited is not a guarantee that your accounting practices are in order. Arthur Anderson was well respected before Enron collapsed.

I would love to see an independent audit of the Campbell Heights land transactions from 2003. The SET dominated council sold land to favoured developers at $35,000 an acre when industrial property was being sold for ten times that amount. By 2007 the same properties were selling for over $800,000 per acre.

 Barbara Steele, Dianne Watts and Marvin Hunt were members of the SET team and Linda Hepner was the Manager of Economic Development. Judy Villeneuve and candidate Judy Higginbotham also voted in favour of the sale. At least one of the developers is a regular donor to the Surrey First election campaigns. Why was this land sold at fire sale prices? I asked the same question in 2008 and haven’t heard a satisfactory response.

 Three years later and the same patterns are being repeated. When the City of Surrey transfers land to the Surrey City Development Corporation (SCDC) they are doing so at book value as opposed to fair market value. Profits on the eventual sale of real estate are then divided; two thirds come back to the city and the other one third is retained by the SCDC for future operations. This method of accounting could show an unsubstantiated profit for the SCDC if the transfer is at less than fair market value.

 The SCDC is currently in joint ventures with the Townline Group of Companies constructing 143 town homes in East Clayton and T.H. Housing, a Townline subsidiary, developing the old Cloverdale Mall site.

 Surrey taxpayers need some assurance that projects the SCDC is overseeing do not favour developers with ties to any of its directors (Townline contributes to Mayor Watts, Councillor Hepner and the rest of the Surrey First candidates) and that they are tendered in a fair and transparent manner. 

 An independent Auditor General might be able to answer these questions and shed some light on the details that are missing from the city’s Annual Reports.

” Watts’ rival slams Surry land corp”

Less than 48 hours until voting begins and I’ve been so busy I neglected to post this yesterday – keep your eyes on this story…

“Surrey mayoral candidate Ross Buchanan has called for changes in the way cityowned lands are controlled through the little-known Surrey City Development Corp.

“Very few people in Surrey are aware that in 2007, Dianne Watts and the Surrey First councillors created a wholly owned development corporation in which the city are the main shareholders,” said Buchanan.

“Diane Watts, Coun. Linda Hepner and city manager Murray Dinwoodie sit on the board of directors. How can the mayor and council remain independent of influence when they are sitting on the board of their own development corporation whose goals are at odds with the livability of the entire region?”

Buchanan said the corporation is “riddled with a lack of transparency” and has not been accountable for its activities.

“It is highly irregular that the financial statements for the corporation would be consolidated with the city’s. It is a separate entity. Requests for detailed accounting are denied,” he said.

He said valuable city assets have been transferred to the corporation with little or no public consultation.

“It’s time to have an independent audit of the financial activities and relationship between the Surrey City Development Corp. and the City of Surrey,” he said.

Mayor Watts said city-owned development corporations have been successful in other Canadian municipalities.

Watts said developing city land is a way to generate income for city services, like parks.”

Read more:

A message from Ross Buchanan, independent candidate for mayor of Surrey.

Two things for you today on the campaign trail in Surrey!

Recently Ross received an email from a reporter asking him “what your previous political/leadership experience is and why those experiences qualify you to run a major Canadian city with a huge budget, council process, hundreds of policemen and major crimes.”

Valid question, absolutely, and one that would have greatly served the voters of Surrey to hear in totality. However, the truth is there are tight word and space limits for reported stories and so the answer was understandibly abbreviated to the line ” Ross has leadership experience”. No criticism  or reflection on the reporter at all, in fact they did a great job on the focus of the story- but I felt that the small line about leadership experience doesn’t really convey the wealth of total experience and knowledge Ross brings to the table. Unlike many current political leaders, he even holds a university degree in public administration. So, for those wanting to know a bit more about Ross’s experience, here is the total answer :

“Good question. I guess you have to wonder what makes anyone qualified for this kind of responsibility don’t you? The good news is that any mayor is supported by a wealth of professionals who are talented in their areas of expertise such as policing, finance, operations, etc. That is the operational excellence that I would hope to achieve at a managerial level.

What I offer to the citizens of Surrey is far beyond management…it is all about Leadership. The kind of mayor that I would be is a mayor who is focused on working “on” Surrey not simply “in” city hall.

In my capacity as CEO of Strategic Results International I have had the opportunity to work with over 1000 organizations in the last 23 years. In my two areas of specialization, Strategic Planning and Leadership, I have worked with leadership teams to help them move their organizations to new levels of success. Specifically much of my work in the last few years has been in helping clients to significantly shift self-limiting corporate cultures that have hindered their ability to best serve their stakeholders.

As a Consultant it is my job to view how other corporations and organizations could strengthen their success.

As a Strategist I will be able to help the city identify and shape a guiding vision for the future and to develop an action plan to the achievement of the goals.

Supported by a BA in Public Administration, the fact that I have no political experience is exactly why I will do a great job as a mayor. I am not a politician. I am not working towards any particular agenda nor am I owing to any political party. The only people I want to serve are the citizens of Surrey. My goal is to improve and strengthen what we already have in Surrey. The unfortunate situation we have in Surrey now -where Council is nearly a full slate of one political organization -has created a tenuous situation where debate and discourse no longer occurs, and that is what I hope to change.

My experience of providing Leadership Coaching to Premiers, Senators (USA), Cabinet Ministers (Provincial) and Mayors has been a great learning opportunity for me. Throughout my consulting career I have learned much from my clients. What I hope to achieve in terms of creating a Better Surrey is all about what I have learned from others specifically in the areas of inclusion of all and respect for the citizens.

I think the bottom line on this is, what I will be doing as Mayor of Surrey is exactly what clients have been asking me to do for their organizations for over two decades.”

~ Ross Buchanan.

Imagine that. A political leader with a university education… while I think we all agree it is not a necessary component for good leadership,it certainly is a plus.

The last thing I wanted to leave you is a feature that ran in the South Asian Journal recently, of the vision Ross holds for Surrey under his leadership. Written exclusively by him, from the heart, it speaks volumes to what we have lost in the quest for being biggest and best in Surrey, and what we stand to gain by reaching for change.

You be the judge.


Candidate for Mayor of Surrey

I appreciate the opportunity to share my vision for the future of Surrey with you. If elected, I commit to create a Better Surrey. So what does a Better Surrey look like?

To me a Better Surrey is created on a solid foundation of the ward system which will improve safety, reduce violence and foster accountability. We need wards. Our neighbourhoods are the backbone of our city and we need the ward system to help strengthen the communities.

My vision for the future of the city includes a city hall that is welcoming to ALL, not just to the elite of big money corporations and which is both respectful and responsive to all. This will require a huge culture shift at city hall and to help accelerate that shift I pledge to be on a stool at the kiosk inside the front doors of city hall for an hour every day that I am in the building. If you don’t get the help that you deserve as a citizen at city hall I want you to come see me. It is your city. It is your city hall. You deserve to be treated as a citizen not a subject and you deserve to be treated with respect.

The incidence of Violent Crime in Surrey is shameful. From 2009 to 2010 the numbers have skyrocketed. Weapons seizures are up 35%, Sexual Assault is up 30% and Home Break-ins are up 14%. What kind of fools do they think we are when they keep telling us that Surrey is safe?

My vision would be to personally head up a task force that will focus on the reality of these problems, discover the solutions and produce the results that we are all looking for. Reduced crime and a safer Surrey. A Surrey that we can all be proud of.
If you are sick and tired as I am of being taxed to death then you will want to stop the reckless, out of control spending at city hall that is driving up our taxes. In the last five years the population of Surrey has grown 4.8% and the expenditures at city hall have increased 43.8%. When is enough enough?

Spending has outpaced population growth by a factor of nearly 9 to 1. In the future of Surrey the leaders will need to stop this out of control taxation with zero based budgeting and not allow any tax increases to exceed the rate of inflation and population growth.

Building a community that works for families and keep this as the #1 priority at city hall is vital for a Better Surrey. For years the current mayor and council have made big business and the city centre “vision” their priority, and have lost sight of the core needs for families who live in Surrey. This means education funding, transportation services and health care access. We need the kind of mayor who will roll up his sleeves and fight to ensure that the citizens of surrey get “our fair share.”

My vision of Surrey does not include a new city hall. At a construction cost of $100 million and a loan repayment of $165 million to build this new city hall is a big mistake. Now is not the right time. We already have a great city hall that is centrally located and is the envy of other cities. To abandon what we already have is so wasteful.

What else do I see for the ideal future of Surrey?

I see Better Roads rather than what we are using now which in some areas are what you would expect in a third world country.

I see Cleaner Air to protect the health of our families and our children.

I see a Better Business environment that supports and fosters all business, not just big money multinational corporations. Let’s not leave our own businesses and people behind as we race into the future. I see properly constructed truck parking facilities located in the industrial zones.

I see a Surrey where we finally get “our fair share” of funding. I have had enough of the Province, Translink and Metro Vancouver sucking hundreds of millions of dollars out of the pockets of the citizens of Surrey. We need to let these other levels of government know that the citizens of Surrey are not their personal ATMs.

Our fair share of education funding, our fair share of health care, our fair share of public transportation. What this mayor and council have allowed to happen on their watch without fighting for the citizens of Surrey is shameful.

No longer can the city turn a blind eye to such a rampant, unchecked issue as the thousands of illegal suites in Surrey. I see a Surrey where legal suites should be allowed. Accommodations should be made to bring existing suites into compliance and the registration process should be inexpensive and easily completed.

Housing needs to be affordable and we need to keep a healthy supply of affordable rental housing available for all. The city through their failure to act has created this problem, not the citizens. Once the new rules are in place they should be enforced for new construction from this point forward.

I see a vibrant growing business sector that will continue to provide a wealth of job opportunities right here in Surrey. I see better planning and the provision for significant green spaces spread through the entire city. I see an increased sensitivity to the environmental issues of the day and a willingness to preserve and protect all of the wonderful natural assets that we have in Surrey.

I see a city where we welcome with open arms the Municipal Auditor to help us clean up some of what smells so badly at city hall. I am TOTALLY, 100% in favor of a Municipal Auditor.

We need an independent Municipal Auditor to unwrap the complex Enron-like accounting that includes the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars of city owned land (your land) to the city’s private wholly owned corporation Surrey Center Development Corporation that is designed with one intent in mind. To circumvent Democracy.

I see a Surrey where George Bush or any of his kind is never invited again.

This list is not meant to be complete, however in response to what would be my vision for the future of the City of Surrey these are some of the things that would be important to me. In my mind Surrey could be so much better.

We are blessed with so many possibilities. Now is our time to create and claim a Better Surrey … a Surrey that we can all be Proud of.  I am a Caring and Courageous Man who will not stand by and allow bad things to happen. Above all else I would be honoured to serve the citizens of Surrey and to serve Democracy.  Please join me in restoring Democracy to Surrey city hall.

 ~ Ross Buchanan