Surrey councillor and Liberal candidate Marvin Hunt says council will decide if he steps down, council members say no, the decision is his.
There appears to be several differences of opinion between Councillor Marvin Hunt and the rest of his council, when it comes to who really is making the decision if he should stay on council, or resign, if he wins a seat in the upcoming provincial election.
As reported by both the Surrey Now and the Surrey Leader, Councillor Hunt stated clearly that the decision would be made by his colleagues on council, and neither Mayor Watts or councillor Linda Hepner refuted or disagreed with his statements when they were interviewed in the very same article linked to above.
This created a lot of buzz in the city -particularly since nothing further was reported to indicate a decision had been made -and I began receiving emails from Surrey voters asking if I knew which way council decided. Shortly after however, I was told by a resident in the riding, that Hunt said that council didn’t want him to step down and trigger a by-election, and so he would be staying on until January 1st.
Surprised to hear this, I asked Councillor Hunt directly and he did confirm this for me, citing an approximate cost of $600,000 for a by-election :
(When Mayor Watts reported a day later much larger numbers for a by-election than Hunt claimed, I contacted the City Clerk at Surrey city hall, who is responsible for those issues and figures. Her rough estimate was between $500,000 and $750,000, contingent on variables like the number of polling stations ,staff, etc. )
With Marvin Hunt having publicly put the onus on his colleagues at city council to decide, the questions then began to arrive asking who on council was in support of him staying on, and who was against it.
I asked everyone on Surrey council, including Mayor Watts, the following question:
Recently, Councillor Hunt confirmed to me that the indication he was getting from council was that you wanted him to stay on to avoid triggering a by-election.Voters in Surrey would like to know from each council member, if you support Marvin Hunt doing both jobs should he win the seat of Surrey Panorama, or oppose the idea, and why.
I received three replies back.
Councillor Tom Gill:
With all due respect, as you are well aware, the decision solely rests with Councillor Hunt.I understand that current legislation would in fact permit him to continue with both elected positions.I understand that should Councillor Hunt be successful in his efforts to become an MLA for the Surrey Panorama riding; that Councillor Hunt would continue in both positions for a total of 232 days until January 2, 2014 to avoid a civic by election and resign his civic position at that time.As you are well aware, the costs associated to a by-election would be upwards of $ 900,000 and as Chair of Finance, I don’t believe this would be the best use of Tax payers funds given the relatively short time remaining as it pertains to the next municipal election.I further understand that Councillor Hunt indicated that he would donate his Councillors indemnity to a local charity should he be elected as an MLA given the circumstances.In a effort not to bias the current provincial election process, I would be prepared to make additional comments post provincial election.
Councillor Barinder Rasode:
I applaud Marvin for stepping up and putting his name forward to serve as MLA in this Provincial election. His years on Council and work at the regional level will serve our community well if he is successful.
The decision to remain on Council if he is elected is one only Marvin has the authority to make.
I can only speak to what I would do considering my own standards and capacities. I would choose not to hold two elected positions. The responsibility I feel as an elected Council representative is a significant one. It brings with it a substantial time commitment and advocacy role on behalf of residents with the regional, provincial and federal governments.
I recognize that a By-election comes with a cost attached. However, funding comes from the statutory authority which is always available in our budgets. I do believe that a conversation about electoral reform could look at what happens in these situations. Should we discuss alternatives, for example, that the next candidate with the most votes at the election get this opportunity or other options?
Councillor Bruce Hayne:
Good morning Laila,Thank you for your email regarding Marvin Hunt’s running in the provincial election. I notice that you have received two differing opinions from my colleagues regarding this matter. The bottom line is that, as both Tom and Barinder point out, the decision rest with Marvin, not with Council.I believe the solution that he presented; staying on until January of 2014 and donating his salary to charity, provides the residents of Surrey with a cost effective and reasonable way of dealing with the situation.Thank you.
Mayor Watts, Linda Hepner, Mary Martin, Barbara Steele and Judy Villaneuve did not respond.
Both Hepner and Watts are on the record in the Leader regarding Hunts role on council should he win the riding:
“Hepner said at first blush she would find it hard to support having him do both jobs, noting the task on council is huge. She also pointed out there could be conflicts for Hunt representing both levels of government.Watts said Hunt would just have to watch for those and step aside for those votes.
“I know that he is very vigilant not to cause a byelection,” Watts said. “I fully understand the argument that it is a lot of work. It’s a matter of weighing things out to the cost of a byelection, and I don’t think the taxpayers want to foot the bill for a byelection.”
Veteran Surrey blogger Paul Hillsdon expressed why he felt Marvin Hunt should step down – and many Surrey residents are telling me they feel the same way.
“Despite his commitment to give his Council salary to charity, there’s a much bigger concern: conflict of interest.
There are huge opportunities for conflict of interest on both sides of the table. The only way to reduce these conflicts would be to sit out on a large amount of decision making and discussions in both Surrey and Victoria. By choosing to stay in both jobs, he will end up comprising his duty to serve either properly.
Leaving his seat empty in January 2014, as per his suggestion, causes additional problems. It would leave Council’s decision making process crippled. With Hunt, there are nine votes on Council. Without him, Council could face any number of tie votes, forcing an automatic failure on a motion. Leaving his seat empty does a disservice to Surrey citizens who elected him.
Holding a by-election this summer is a sound decision. His Council term is only half way complete. The next municipal election is not until November 2014, over 20 months away. It has been stated that a by-election would be costly, but that’s the price of democracy.
It would certainly be cheaper and more convenient if we had a dictator or king make the decisions, but we live in a society where we choose our future and our leaders. That process takes time and costs money but it represents the principle of self-government.
We should not abdicate that principle to save a few dollars.
Marvin Hunt needs to commit to leaving Council if elected to the Legislature and support a municipal by-election to choose his replacement.
I agree : the cost of a by-election is the cost of democracy, and it’s the right thing to do in this situation. Frankly, by placing the onus on his colleagues on council to make the decision, Hunt has tried to avoid criticism in triggering a by-election, and has created an awkward situation for everyone on council.
That being said, until these responses came from Gill, Hayne and Rasode, no one from the city or council has refuted or denied anything Hunt said multiple times to several different media outlets. So what gives?
It leaves me with only one more question for everyone on Surrey city council : Has anyone considered what the voters in this city want?