More questions than answers

Shortly after they were sworn in the current Whistler council and senior municipal staff held a strategic planning workshop, in February of 2003, to set goals and priorities for their three-year term. Key issues that were deemed to be urgent were:

• affordability and affordable housing;

• the 2010 Olympic bid;

• Whistler. It’s Our Future, comprehensive sustainability plan;

• transition strategy for the next few months;

• Class 1/6 issue, classification of short term overnight accommodation;

• provincial relationships; and

• communication issues in the community

More than two years later, some of these urgent matters have still to be addressed. The comprehensive sustainability plan, now known as Whistler 2020, has dominated the agenda at municipal hall for more than three years but is now the lens through which every policy and decision is viewed. The affordability strategy, the first of 16 strategies to be developed within Whistler 2020, was recently released. Affordable housing is on the horizon – as it always seems to be – with the Rainbow lands proposal, but whether any housing is built during this council’s term remains to be seen.

The Olympic bid, of course, was successful. The class 1/6 tax issue remains a problem, perhaps in part because relations with the provincial government still need improvement. And voters can judge for themselves whether communication has improved.

But perhaps the most symbolic event of this three-year term happened this week with the announcement that administrator Jim Godfrey has been appointed to the new position of executive director for the 2010 Games, Whistler. That Whistler needs a full-time, professional liaison with VANOC to look out for its interests in the planning and staging of the Games is accepted. The City of Vancouver appointed its general manager of engineering to a similar position last December.

Mr. Godfrey’s abilities have never been questioned. His standing within the world of municipal government has been recognized by many, including the provincial government which chose him for its resort task force. It may well be that there isn’t a better person in the world to represent Whistler in this position.

But there is also more going on here. What hasn’t been said, but is an open secret, is that some members of Whistler council have been frustrated by what they see as a concentration of power and control of information that has developed in the pairing of Godfrey and Mayor Hugh O’Reilly. They became mayor and administrator at the same time, nearly nine years ago, and have been instrumental in setting direction on things such as the Whistler 2002 document, adoption of The Natural Step and making "sustainability" a part of our vocabulary. The mayor and administrator also sit together on the boards of Tourism Whistler, One Whistler and VANOC and therefore are the connection between these organizations and the rest of council. That seems to be where the frustration lies, in the venturi of the mayor/administrator and through which all information and direction must flow. Or not flow.

This issue was partially addressed in 1996 by consultant Mel Shelley, who in his governance review helped redefine the role of the administrator and his relationship to council. Shelley also recommended that because the administrator is the conduit between municipal staff and council and it is a position with enormous responsibilities and pressures, the administrator’s position be a limited term – he suggested five years – personal services contract.

Godfrey was hired in the fall of 1996 on a five-year contract. Three years later it was announced he was leaving Whistler to take a position with the District of West Vancouver. He was then enticed to stay in Whistler with a new five-year contract and an increase in salary. That contract expired last year, about the time the position of deputy administrator was created and a governance review was initiated. Godfrey has been working under contract extensions since then.

It was, according to Shelley and the policy statements adopted by previous councils, clearly time for the administrator to move on. Publicly, there was no hint this was going to happen even though the decision had apparently been in the works for months. Tuesday it all came about at once: effective immediately Mr. Godfrey had a new position and council was beginning a search, expected to take up to six months, to find a new administrator.

If it had been in the work for months why wasn’t a search for a new administrator begun months ago? But maybe the more precise question is, what decision has been in the works for months?


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