The choices we face

With municipal election campaigns officially underway this week it’s already clear that Whistler will see some big changes at municipal hall. There will be a new mayor, as we’ve known since August when Hugh O’Reilly announced he would not seek re-election. That vacancy and the current malaise Whistler finds itself in have prompted a lot of interest in the top position. Two current councillors, one former mayor and three others have announced they are seeking the top job. A third councillor is also expected to announce he is running for mayor. And with one current councillor not seeking re-election that means there will likely be a maximum of two incumbent councillors seeking re-election.

There will also be – or may already be – a new administrator. That decision is being made by the current council, even though at least three of them will not be returning to municipal hall to work with the new administrator. On the one hand, this makes sense: a group of elected officials, aided by an executive search firm, should be able to make an impartial decision about the most important civil servant in Whistler. On the other hand, the current council could sit in front of a clock and have difficulty coming to a consensus on the time of day.

And the administrator’s position is critical. Under Whistler’s municipal structure, the administrator is supposed to be the venturi between council and all municipal staff. The mayor, as the top elected official and theoretically the only full-time council member, has to work closely with the administrator, but the administrator is still accountable to all of council. It can be a difficult balancing act.

It could be more difficult in Whistler with the appendage on the municipal hierarchy of the Olympic liaison position. That position, held by former administrator Jim Godfrey, is responsible for some of the biggest issues that will face Whistler in the next three critical years, including the Paralympic arena, the athletes village/legacy village, the Nordic centre and the post-Games Legacy Society that will operate the Olympic facilities.

The combination of political variables facing Whistler in the fall of 2005 – a new administrator, possibly someone new to Whistler; a new mayor, although possibly someone with previous council experience; and at least four new councillors, although again some may have previous council experience – and a local economy that is still trying to turn around after four consecutive winters of declines, make November’s election critical. And sadly, after three years of working on the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, the issue for some candidates and voters is Whistler’s lack of clear direction. Whether that’s a fair statement or not, it’s the perception a lot of people hold. And it may be a burden current councillors have to bear when facing voters.

So what are voters looking for? Whistlerites are an oxymoronic group. Leadership and clear direction are important, but they also want to be heard; opportunities for dialogue and input must be increased. That begins with one of Whistler’s age-old problems, better communication.

But it’s a two-way street. Too few of us can say exactly what it is we want Whistler to be, or what direction we want to go. Officially, we want to be the premier mountain resort community, whatever that is. All of us had the opportunity to object or suggest something different, but we didn’t, or we didn’t put forward a persuasive argument for something different. So we all bear some responsibility for our current meandering state.

We need to question more; we need to listen more. Community involvement can be a slow, painful, sometimes unpleasant process. And we have to recognize it’s going to take time to turn things around.

It’s also unfair to place all the responsibility on one individual; the mayor, the administrator or anyone else. It has to be a collaborative effort to run a town.

And given the multitude of choices for mayor and a new administrator, the importance of electing six strong councillors who can work together and recognize what we are all working towards is perhaps the most critical issue facing voters in November.


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