Municipal hall in need of some outside help

Anyone who has followed the goings on at Whistler’s municipal hall recognizes that over the last couple of years there have been some disappointments, some things that have dragged on, and some failures.

High on the list would have to be the CSP process, which started with council and staff rejecting the community’s first choice of consultants in favour of cherry-picking a consulting team and then led to the dismissal, 18 months later, of the director of planning. An affordability strategy, which has been a priority for a couple of years, is also still pending. Individual development projects, such as the library/museum and the Nita Lake Lodge, have suffered setbacks.

There have been accomplishments, too. The non-cost housing initiatives, the recent inventory and assessment of land for housing, tax relief through the Home Owner’s Grant is now available to more people, the Olympic bid and the work done on the CSP in the last six months are all positive steps.

But weigh the accomplishments of the present council against the priorities they established for themselves in February of 2003 and the scales are decidedly light on the accomplishment side.

There have certainly been extraordinary circumstances that have complicated the situation – the economy has yet to rebound, the Olympics have added new pressures, senior levels of government have not always co-operated or reacted as expected.

And, importantly, there is still time for the present council to add to its list of achievements.

The point is not to lambaste council or municipal staff for their record in recent years. The point is this council still has another year and a half in office and a lot of important work to do. But they are frustrated and we – all of Whistler – need the situation to improve.

Part of the solution might include some sort of retreat, to address conflicts and get council members working as a team. But the list of problems and unresolved issues over the last couple of years also calls out for some sort of independent review of how municipal hall operates. The enormous pressures the Olympics will bring in the next few years only reinforces the need for such a review.

This point, of course, was made by Councillor Kristi Wells last November, when she put forward a motion for a full review of how the municipality operates. Her motion was defeated but a governance review committee was struck. That committee finally met for the first time in February.

The committee is made up of Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, Councillors Nick Davies and Gordon McKeever, and Administrator Jim Godfrey. An independent, outside facilitator was considered but never hired.

All four of these people are extremely bright, hard working and have done some very good work. But they are critiquing themselves. There isn’t going to be any meaningful assessment of how things work or don’t work at municipal hall if the assessment is done by the people who established the current governance model and working environment and are in charge the people who work there.

The governance review committee was originally scheduled to complete its work this month. Part of the reason for that deadline was to be fair to Mr. Godfrey. The administrator is under a personal service contract to the municipality, as recommended in the last review of municipal operations seven years ago, and his contract expires in November. But the terms of the contract say he must be given six months notice whether the contract will be renewed or terminated. That six months notice is due next month.

However, the latest word is that the governance review committee won’t complete its work until July.

In addition to the governance review there has been some debate over the depth, timing and appropriateness of a full review of municipal operations. To date, no commitment to such a review has been made.

The record of municipal hall in recent years and the frustrations of council members suggests there is a dysfunctional situation that needs to be addressed. The actions of municipal hall suggest that situation has yet to be recognized.


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