It was a catfight at Whistler council as politicians voted to hire a consultant as part of a new engagement process around user-pay parking.
An argument ensued among councillors after Bob MacPherson, the Resort Municipality of Whistler's general manager of community life, delivered a presentation expounding on the next stages of implementing user-pay parking in Day Skier Lots 1 through 5.
In his first council meeting after a lengthy leave of absence, MacPherson urged quick action on a consultative framework that would see the municipality begin its work within days.
"Proposed engagement must be done quickly," he said. "It's just time to get this done."
MacPherson said that if council approved the engagement process, the municipality would hire a consultant within the "next few days." On July 5, the municipality would hold a pay-parking workshop with its consultant, council, and community stakeholders such as Tourism Whistler and the Whistler Chamber of Commerce.
July 6 through 18 would see the Parking Lot Operations Committee and the consultant review input from the workshop, model options for how to structure parking rates and release an online survey. July 19 would see a second workshop held, where the municipality would present survey results and implications for community finances.
Ultimately, with the framework that MacPherson presented, he hoped to obtain council's endorsement of parking rates at a September 6 council meeting.
Already, he said, the municipality had foregone "significant revenue" because Whistler council hasn't approved proposed parking rates that would see day rates go from $12 a day to $13.50 and pay parking implemented in Day Lots 4 and 5, which are currently free.
As it stands, the agreement between the municipality, Whistler Blackcomb and the Province does not allow pay parking to be charged for less than $12 a day in the summer time and $8 a day in the winter, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by Pique Newsmagazine through a Freedom of Information request.
Councillor Ted Milner, a strong critic of the pay parking initiative, chastised MacPherson for focusing on municipal revenue over community business.
"You constantly referred to the unfortunate loss of revenue you want so much," he said. "I think all business starts with your customer and I think you ought to start thinking about what your customer will bear, and worry about the revenue after that."
Milner approved of the engagement process... with a caveat. He moved a motion that council approves the engagement process so long as councillors had a chance to approve the consultant first.
The idea drew immediate blowback from Mayor Ken Melamed, who said it should be left to staff to decide who the best consultant is.
"I don't think we have the expertise," he said. "Staff have gone out and spoken to consultants and they can make that decision without us stepping into their jurisdiction, so I'm not going to support the motion.
"Your contention, we're the only ones who can do it right? I find that offensive to our staff."
Councillor Chris Quinlan also didn't support Milner's motion.
"I think we have two days to get this done," he said. "I certainly don't have the expertise to decide who's a good consultant. It's a tight timeline. Let's just do this, it's a full and comprehensive, chronological layout here, let's get it done."
Councillor Grant Lamont later voiced his support for having council approve the consultant. He said when he hires a babysitter for his children, that he wants to know what they look like and what they can do.
"Hurry up and wait is something that I'm reminded of here," he said. "Having a couple of days to choose a consultant is not what I consider to be adequate for this. No, I am not a parking expert; obviously neither is anyone else in this room. I think it's really important that we see the people and the qualifications of what they have."
Melamed, drawing on this, accused Lamont of suggesting that council interview the consultant before hiring them - a point to which Lamont, throwing up his hands, clearly took exception.
"I'd like to know who they are!" he exclaimed.
"You said you want to meet them," Melamed responded.
Administrator Bill Barratt, trying to calm an escalating debate between the councillors, suggested that staff send council members the names and qualifications of consultants.
"The recommendation, if you feel, as a council, that you need to have a meeting to deal with that issue specifically, then you can let us know, otherwise they'll proceed with the recommendation," he said.
"Fine," Milner said, before he, Forsyth, Lamont and Councillor Eckhard Zeidler voted to endorse a motion that will see council approve a consultant.
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