Mayor's 'dream team' days coming to an end as election nears 

Expect outgoing councillors to throw their support behind some candidates

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRAD KASSELMAN/ COASTPHOTO.COM - consensus council  At her swearing-in ceremony in November 2011, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden talks about her new council team.
  • Photo by Brad Kasselman/
  • consensus council At her swearing-in ceremony in November 2011, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden talks about her new council team.

For the past three years, the most divisive issue at the council table has been the freestanding McDonald's sign in the Marketplace parking lot.

It was this issue on Aug. 20, 2013 over which two councillors broke ranks, and raised their hands in opposition, while the majority allowed the sign to go ahead under a development variance permit.

Who remembers why Councillors Andrée Janyk and Roger McCarthy opposed?

The McDonald's sign vote stands out because it is one of just two public votes, out of hundreds, that wasn't unanimous this term. (In the other, Councillor Jayson Faulkner opposed sending an administrative report to BC Parks as part of Whistler's input on the Draft Garibaldi Park Management Plan Amendment.)

By all accounts, the behind-the-doors voting In Camera, arguably dealing with more challenging issues, was equally unanimous.

Unprecedented harmony at a council table long troubled with discord.

And while perhaps the identical voting record ruffled feathers in some corners, it certainly allowed council to plow through work and get the job done.

"I'm very, very proud of what we've done and how we've worked together," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

She may not have come right out and called them "the dream team" in her first speech as mayor, but the mayor knew she had a line-up of individual superstar councillors at hand after the 2011 election.

What she didn't know is how they would all work together.

They were a random selection of seven candidates, hand-picked by the community to forge a way forward after a blow-out election.

Not one of them, barring the mayor, had any council experience. No one really knew what to expect, save that expectations of the community were high.

That night, Dec. 7 2011, in her inaugural speech Wilhelm-Morden called out Jayson Faulkner as her Bobby Orr and Roger McCarthy and Duane Jackson as her Sedin twins "except that they're from New Zealand," she joked.

Who could have predicted that almost every decision from that moment forward — from the momentous to the mundane — would be unanimous?

"In a way it was prescient," said the mayor of the analogy between her new council and the hockey team. "I had expectations and desire for us to work as a team. I had no idea that we would in fact work as well as we did together."

The issues of the day haven't been a bed of roses. The asphalt plant is still operating, albeit much less than it once was. The new Official Community Plan is dead in the water, its future very uncertain. Pay parking is chugging along, resolved in some minds, not in others.

While this team wasn't able to find perfect solutions to the hot-button issues three years ago, they exhausted every opportunity trying.

Take the asphalt plant, operating beside Cheakamus Crossing, one of the biggest issues in 2011.

"If we could have moved it, we would have," said McCarthy.

Instead council found a creative way to address the problem — implementing a three-kilometre residential buffer for any municipal asphalt work, thereby forcing the asphalt work from the plant, the biggest contract at that plant — a decision that added $55,000 to the municipal contract with the plant's owner Frank Silveri, as materials had to come from his plant in Squamish.

"The job (of council) is about getting stuff done," added McCarthy.

The cohesive combination of the last three years could be tough to replace, never mind the brain trust from the three outgoing councillors.

And so, as Wilhelm-Morden turns the corner with this council with just two public meetings left to go, she can't help but feel bittersweet.

Sad to see half her team move on — her power-play forwards McCarthy and Jackson and her defenceman Faulkner — but happy to be looking forward with fresh perspectives and three incumbents at the table.

"I am sad to see the end of this group because we have worked so well together," said the mayor. "Again, these elections come about and one expects change... I'm confident that the incumbents will be re-elected (but) with three new voices at the table there will be some new perspectives and that's always exciting moving ahead. But it is sad."

Even those who are leaving have mixed emotions. Jackson, along with the others, feels like he dropped in for three years, made some changes, and now it's time for new blood.

"A lot of us have fulfilled our role," he said.

There were several factors at play that made this a Stanley Cup team.

Each person brought a specific skill set to the table with their years of experience in hospitality, education, retail, the ski business, development and technology. Not to mention the legal expertise in their leader, Wilhelm-Morden.

"In terms of skill sets I can't think of one that's really missing," said McCarthy.

With that experience and skill came credibility. There were no insecurities, in that sense, at the table, said Faulkner.

"There are a lot of reasons," he said, of why the team worked so well together. "But fundamentally, egos were checked at the door and I don't know if you can overstate how important that is."

McCarthy echoed that.

"A huge piece of it is attitude," he said. "It's the attitude of looking for the best possible solution instead of standing raising shit because that's what you think is your job. The job is about getting stuff done."

The mayor said her style is to trust the right people to do the job — and in that respect she had the pick of the litter in council — and let them get on with it.

So the past three years has seen a resurgence of the committee model, with much of the work getting done in smaller, specialized sessions before coming to council table.

Faulkner was on the Economic Partnership Initiative (EPI) committee; McCarthy had human resources and the Tourism Whistler board and the Festivals, Events & Animation (FE&A) committee; Jackson, called "king of the spreadsheet" said the mayor, was placed on the illegal space task force and finance and audit.

As the campaign season now gets underway with 10 candidates vying for six spots, the three council members who are hanging up their hats are considering publicly backing candidates they feel are up for the task at hand.

"Do we have a responsibility to say so?" questions Faulkner. "I think we do."

He can't help but wax a little nostalgic.

"It would have been really nice to keep the band together for another tour," he sighed.

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