If you listen closely to Mike Furey you might pick up on some telltale clues about the man now behind the top position at municipal hall.
Throughout the ebb and flow of conversation in his first media interview since becoming the Resort Municipality of Whistler's new CAO, there's a subtle Gaelic lilt to the odd word that can be traced back to Furey's Newfoundland roots. He unashamedly calls himself "a small town guy at heart."
But he's spent more time off the Rock now than on it, his accent diluting over time and across Canada in his 25 years in government service with the federal and provincial governments. Now, for the first time, he's in charge of running a municipal government. And not just any municipality; the one that drives the largest tourist revenues to the province, and one that is under enormous public scrutiny in the wake of three years of tax hikes. A small town with some big issues.
But fresh eyes and new perspective means changes are afoot at the hall and the long-held perception that it's staff controlling the show is now being laid to rest; mayor and council set the agenda, said Furey, not the other way around.
"I've worked in government, as I said, for a long time," he said, sitting at a boardroom table in the hall, flanked on one side by Mayor Ken Melamed, on the other by communications manager Michele Comeau. "As a public servant we take direction from the elected officials. So when I was with the province, Cabinet and the Premier gave direction on what areas they wanted the ministry and staff to work on and I see the same concept here."
He speaks with the kind of confidence that comes from years as a career public servant, knowing intimately how bureaucrats and elected officials work together.
Just days earlier his predecessor Bill Barratt initiated a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal against the Resort Municipality of Whistler (see related story p.12), the culmination of a long tug-of-war between the CAO and current council.
"In the past, I think you could say, the former CAO really tried to weigh in personally on a number of issues and wasn't necessarily successful in changing public opinion and so we see that as something to modify our approach," said the mayor.
He will now be the official spokesperson for the media and staff names will not be used, their comments for background information only, much like provincial policy.
The mayor also dispelled the perception that staff has been setting the agenda and controlling the direction of the municipality.
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