ZYTARUK: Surrey council has a storied history of Monday Night Fights

Break out the popcorn, folks

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So let it be written…

The recent spat between Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum and Councillor Steven Pettigrew, whom he threatened to have removed from chambers as Pettigrew tried to get his point across, was by no means the first time civic politicians crossed swords in this city.

It was more like a toothpick fight, really, in the broader spectrum of things. But it certainly stirred some memories for this long-time Surrey reporter. Like when five RCMP cruisers showed up at city hall when a pimple of a quarrel blew up into a Mount Baker of overreaction.

I was chatting with former Mayor Bob Bose the other day, hearkening back to that frozen Monday night in December 1995 when debate got so heated between himself and Councillor Judy Higginbotham that he called the cops on her.

“I only wanted one officer, a female, if need be,” Bose recalled. “It was never acted upon. The problem was when the RCMP was contacted it wasn’t explained to them that this was not a riot and they sent, I think it was 17 police officers. That was unfortunate, and I took a hell of a hit for that one.”

Grant Learned, who was a Surrey Mountie at the time, remarked that while police often get called to break up bar fights, they don’t get called to enforce Robert’s Rules of Order.

READ ALSO: Surrey councillor ‘concerned about democracy’ after tensions boil over with mayor

Higginbotham remembered that bizarre night like it happened yesterday. How could she forget?

“Normally Bob and I were like oil and water on council,” she recalled. “We had very different points of view. Bob and I, when we got out of council, were friends.”

They say time heals all wounds, and this rings true with both former political rivals.

“By the way, I get along with Judy Higginbotham just fine,” Bose stressed. “I have no bad feelings. She was a good council member, and so was Bonnie Schrenk. Bonnie Schrenk gave me bloody hell.”

Schrenk was a feisty pro-development redhead, who came to be known in preservationist circles as Queen of the Bulldozers. She was the first Surrey councillor to die in office, in its first 114 years. Remarkably, she climbed out of her deathbed to cast a critical vote on a project before succumbing to cancer on Aug. 15, 1993, at the young age of 50.

“That was an experience I will never forget,” Bose recalled. “Her role as a council member was so important to her; it was her soul, it was who she was.”

On a much lighter note, I remember Schrenk telling me about a candy war breaking out in council chambers one night in March, 1987 with the aldermen – that’s what they called councillors back in the days of yore – chucking mints at each other. “It was like war,” she said.

Nearly a decade later, when McCallum replaced Bose as Surrey’s mayor in November, 1996 he declared an end to the in-fighting on council, that he planned to be a consensus-builder and would also bring an end to closed-door meetings and improve public access to the mayor’s office. I guess history will be his judge.

I won’t fail to mention that infamous pen-jabbing story out of White Rock city council, which I also covered back in the day.

On June 23, 2003, Councillor Margaret Woods made headlines in the Beijing News after she was accused of punching Councillor Cliff Annable in the head and poking his face with a pen during a raucous in-camera debate over city roadwork.

She was charged with common assault but the Crown eventually stayed the charge. Woods tried to get the city to cover her $24,991.91 in legal bills, reasoning she should be indemnified as the situation arose during a council meeting. Council disagreed, reasoning that striking another councillor was not in her job description.

Delta council, to my recollection, has been like a high-tea party in comparison.

Must be the water.

So let it be done.



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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