Washed up on the rocks

It appears as though Whistler’s summer of discontent will sail into the fall, which officially begins next week, and right through to the November municipal election. But when ships end up on the rocks it can usually be traced back to navigational errors made earlier in the voyage. And this shipwreck has been a long time coming.

Let’s go back to 2003, when questions within Whistler council about how things were being done – specifically the information council was receiving and the decisions and direction that were being taken – led to a governance review. Councillors Gord McKeever and Nick Davies, Mayor Hugh O’Reilly and administrator Jim Godfrey formed the governance review committee. Bringing in an independent, outside party was discussed but never materialized.

The governance review committee presented a draft of its work in the summer of 2004. It led, eventually, to the breakup of the mayor/administrator duo representing council on most of the important committees and boards and establishment of some new committees with councillor representation. Administrator Godfrey, whose contract expired in May 2004 and who was part of the governance review committee, was initially given a six-month contract extension, and then a month-to-month contract. Meanwhile, Bill Barratt was promoted to deputy administrator.

But some real issues were still brewing. That was confirmed in April of this year, when Godfrey was hastily moved sideways, out of the administrator’s position and into a new position as Whistler’s representative to VANOC on the 2010 Olympics. There was supposed to be a press conference announcing the change and promoting it as a new opportunity for Whistler to maximize its returns from the Olympics, but the surprise announcement was made in a one-page press release.

The fact was the move was a compromise. There was enough agreement among councillors to remove Godfrey from the administrator’s position but not enough to sever ties completely.

As Whistler emerged from another disappointing winter the municipality now had the deputy administrator working as the acting administrator. About this time a series of allegations by a disgruntled property owner led to an internal investigation of the deputy administrator. Whether there is any merit to the allegations has yet to be determined but they have undoubtedly added pressure to an already difficult position.

In June, word of the proposed deal to move the Paralympic arena to Squamish surfaced at a regional district meeting. The fallout from the decision to leave the people of Whistler out of the discussion began to gather momentum in July and August.

At the beginning of August the mayor announced that he would not seek re-election but was moving to Hawaii to sell real estate for the company that also happens to be Whistler’s largest employer – effective immediately, although he would be back for important council meetings.

Toward the end of August the public finally heard the municipality’s rationale for trying to make a deal to have the Paralympic arena built in Squamish. The people of Whistler were also, finally, asked for their input.

Also late in August, it became apparent how many major issues are still facing the municipality – without a resident mayor, without an administrator and with a deputy administrator with a cloud over his head – before the November election. In addition to the arena, the Rainbow lands development and the tennis resort re-development are the major building projects requiring decisions soon. The athletes village is on the horizon and the sinking Eva Lake Village has not been publicly addressed.

On the affirmative action front, Whistler council adopted an energy policy – just before midnight at the Sept. 6 meeting, with little discussion – that will bring about significant change, including, possibly, putting the municipality in the energy business.

But to show how truly rudderless the good ship Whistler has become we have to return to the arena debacle. At the last council meeting a suggestion to ask VANOC for a six-month extension to make a decision on the arena was defeated. No direction was given to staff to ask for an extension, but apparently by mutual agreement VANOC and the municipality have decided on a one-month extension. What is to be done with that extra month is not clear, as to date there has been no formal direction to staff from council to investigate the matter further.

Meanwhile, the municipality’s former administrator, and highest paid employee, is to come to council soon to give them his job description.

With another two months before the municipal election, and a mountain of work to get through, Whistler is desperate for someone to take the helm.

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