Surrey’s ethics commissioner has found Coun. Rob Stutt violated the city council’s code of conduct by participating in an integral vote to discontinue the transition to the Surrey Police Service (SPS).
However, it’s unclear what, if any, repercussions will come from the finding as the commissioner made no recommendations “as to a potential outcome or further measures council should take in relation to the complaint.” The complaint had been lodged by the Surrey Police Union on Feb. 27.
The union claimed Stutt was in a conflict of interest because Stutt’s son was a Surrey RCMP officer when Stutt voted last November to maintain the Surrey RCMP. Stutt’s vote could be considered the tiebreaker as the result was 5-4 in favour of the Mounties.
Ethics Commissioner Peter Johnson wrote in his report to council last week that Stutt was not in a direct or pecuniary conflict of interest under the Community Charter, the legal guidelines that steer municipal councils.
That’s because the charter does not deem the pecuniary interests of a councillor’s immediate family member to also be a pecuniary interest of the councillor.
However, Johnson found Stutt (a retired Surrey RCMP investigator) contravened Section 21 of the City of Surrey code of conduct by participating in the vote because “there was a personal interest in the matter under consideration that a reasonably well-informed person would have concluded might influence a member of Council in Councillor Stutt’s position.”
Section 21 deems a council member must disclose any conflict of interest in accordance with Section 100 of the charter, which also has a rule stipulating “another interest in the matter that constitutes a conflict of interest” must be disclosed.
Johnson said Stutt acted in good faith during the vote and did not make specific findings that he obtained a benefit for his child, who has since left the Surrey detachment.
"The Ethics Commissioner advised that moving forward Councillor Stutt will need to be mindful of the potential for a conflict of interest in respect of Council decisions that could affect the employment of Family Member #2 (the officer)," stated Johnson.
Coun. Linda Annis stated Wednesday that the findings “beg the question why [Mayor Brenda Locke] 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,” stated Annis.
Annis said the vote should not have taken place and a subsequent vote on June 15 behind closed doors to accept the Surrey RCMP’s plan to re-staff to a full complement and dissolve SPS should have been conducted in public.
Locke — whose anti-SPS slate with Stutt holds a majority of five — only previously informed the public that the in-camera vote affirmed the Mounties as council’s choice and said councillors are legally bound not to disclose the vote outcome, including if Stutt voted.
On Wednesday afternoon, Locke largely dismissed the commissioner's findings and provided more information on the in-camera vote, including the fact Stutt did vote.
"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.”
Simon Fraser University political scientist Stewart Prest said he “would be surprised, given there’s no recommendation, if council acts further than the lack of recommendation from the commissioner.”
“This is more a question of political accountability than it is legal accountability,” said Prest.
Editor's note: This story was updated to include Brenda Locke's response.