In what often seemed more like an upbeat community celebration than a formal ceremony, a new White Rock council was sworn in at its inaugural meeting Monday evening.
A capacity crowd of some 250 people at White Rock Community Centre applauded and cheered as new Mayor Darryl Walker and Couns. Helen Fathers, David Chesney, Erika Johanson, Scott Kristjanson, Anthony Manning and Christopher Trevelyan took the oath of office before provincial court Judge Edna Ritchie.
In the most marked departure from formality – also cheered by the crowd – Walker left the dais to offer a welcoming hug to Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell, who had arrived late after attending the City of Surrey’s inaugural meeting.
Later, indirectly referring to the checkered history of relations between the SFN and White Rock over the last council term – which included disputes over water supply and consultation over the rebuilding of Memorial Park – Walker vowed to rebuild a partnership with what he termed “our closest neighbour.”
“Our relationship has been stretched to the limit (in recent years) and for that, I apologize,” the mayor said.
Chappell welcomed the new council and also thanked all those who had run for office, before delivering a First Nation blessing and song.
In earlier remarks, Walker – who campaigned with Johanson, Kristjanson, Manning and Trevelyan under the Democracy Direct banner – said he had heard from many residents who “cared about their community, wanted to talk about their community, had ideas about their community.”
“I suggest to you that not only do you want to be part of it, we want you to be part of it,” he said, noting that while he and the members of the new council have only known each other for a few months, they have developed a mutual trust.
“The work we are going to do is going to be honest and truthful and we are going to go forward together… We don’t always agree on stuff, we don’t always agree on how we’re going to deal with stuff. But we will go forward and, with your help, make this community what a lot of people want it to be – to, as I say, kind of give it back.”
He also thanked former and unsuccessful candidates for their work campaigning to represent the community – “that’s what democracy is all about” – and said residents who candidates had met on the campaign trail had “one thing in common – they were frustrated.”
“They saw something they didn’t like, they wanted to change it, and they didn’t necessarily know how,” he said.
Walker criticized the way the city has handled communication with residents and businesses, and said that people had felt excluded from decisions.
“They wanted their city back. We gave them that promise and I believe they gave us the mandate we have because they trust us. We need to deliver, and you need to help us deliver. We need your help, we need you pushing from behind.”
He reiterated campaign promises of “balanced development and a review of the Official Community Plan,” plus “water that is safe and clean for everyone to drink,” transportation and “an open city hall.”
Walker received loud applause when he said that not only would council reinstate question period at regular council meetings, but that it would become “a question and answer period.”
Among those on hand to witness the inaugural meeting were former mayors Catherine Ferguson, Judy Forster, Hardy Staub and Gordie Hogg (now White Rock South Surrey MP), and former councillors Bill Lawrence and Ken Jones (also a former MLA).
Invocation for the new council was conducted by Rev. Georgina Harris of the Church of the Holy Trinity.