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Council in Court... and Keeping out of it
It can't but help having a savvy lawyer in the top council seat in this litigious world of claims, counter claims, lawsuits and the threat of lawsuits. Lawyer and mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden knows how to play the game. Intimately.
She is a personal injury lawyer in the world outside local politics. In november her two worlds got a little too close for comfort after she filed a lawsuit in the supreme court against the Squamish Lillooet Regional District (SLRD), the province, and the pemberton valley trails association for her client who was injured while mountain biking in 2010.
Wilhelm-Morden stepped down from her position on the SLRD board, a position long held by whistler's mayor, in part due to a conflict of interest. She appointed councillor Jack Crompton in her stead.
The fallout of this case remains to be seen in 2013. In the meantime, the mayor brings her wealth of knowledge of the legal system to the council table. More often than not, that table is behind closed doors, without the bright spotlight of public debate.
Yet, when the issues come to light, they offer more insight into the difficult job behind the council façade.
Here are three different examples of how Whistler played the game this year, and three more examples of Whistler dodging the legal bullet.
At the end of February council, in a closed-door meeting, agreed not to appeal the decision by a B.C. Supreme Court judge who ruled in January that the town's only asphalt plant is legally allowed to operate on the fringe of the new Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood. The lawsuit, which was initiated by the former council, was close to $600,000. That includes associated costs including a report on relocation options as well as the work done on implementing the air quality monitoring system. Cheakamus residents, who kept up the political pressure to initiate the lawsuit, were disappointed in the decision not to appeal but had hopes that council would resolve the situation through third party negotiations. Those negotiations failed completely in 2012 after council cut out the Whistler plant from any municipal contracts. The plant continues to operate beside the residential neighbourhood.
Whistler's longest running legal battle — 25 years long with the Vancouver-based Saxton family — ended in July. The case centered around the creation of Rainbow Park, which in 1987 was simply lakefront land that belonged to the Saxton family. Council of the day expropriated 44 hectares of this land to create the park. It paid the family $367,000 at the time. The Saxtons believed it wasn't enough and they argued their case all the way to the B.C. Supreme Court. In March 2010 a Supreme Court judge agreed and ruled that the land was worth $1.3 million in 1987. But that didn't take into consideration the interest. In May the court awarded the family $1.5 million in unpaid interest; they had argued for a minimum interest payment of almost $4.5 million. The family filed an appeal. Whistler swiftly filed a cross appeal, signalling it was prepared to continue the fight. In July, the family abandoned their appeal, settling for a total payment of $2.4 million.
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