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Watts' inaugural speech targets policing, economy

Surrey’s mayor-elect Dianne Watts promised action on the economy and policing at an inaugural council meeting that went far more smoothly than her “dramatic” first session as mayor in 2005.

After the mayor and councillors were sworn in last night, Watts delivered an opening speech where she highlighted public safety and economic turmoil as some of the most important issues facing B.C.’s second largest city.

Watts announced her first act this term will be to create a task force – which will draw on the expertise of community development, education and business leaders – to help boost investment and employment. The mayor also confirmed that former Prime Minister Tony Blair will be speaking at Surrey’s 2009 Regional Economic Summit.

(Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani spoke at the 2008 summit last September).

On public safety, Watts promised to fund more RCMP officers and lobby the federal government to pay a greater share of policing costs. She said Surrey spends close to 50 per cent of its operating budget on public safety while Ottawa’s funding commitment has declined by approximately 20 per cent over the last two decades.

The council meeting lasted about half an hour and was devoid of the tension and confrontation that marked her inaugural session in 2005, said Joel Giebelhaus, the mayor’s media liaison.

Three years ago, Watts ousted long-time mayor Doug McCallum but had to deal with a council dominated by members of his Surrey Elector’s Team. Resentful about their leader’s defeat, the SET council challenged Watts’ authority by rejecting her nominations to the Greater Vancouver Regional District.

“There was almost a riot in council,” Giebelhaus said. “It was definitely not as dramatic this time around. It went pretty smoothly.”

Geoff Dembicki is a staff reporter for the Hook.

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